06.05.09 Issue #378 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Carol Tekavec
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Helping Patients To Understand Their Perio Treatment Helps Your Bottom Line!

It is commonly believed that patients will always choose the least expensive treatment, particularly in tough economic times.  While it is true that patients may be cutting back on discretionary items, dental treatment does not have to be one of them.  The key is to help patients understand why investing in their dental health makes sense.  This can be pursued in a variety of ways, but one of the best is through education and a simple appeal to their own best interests and desires. 

All you have to do is take a look at any women’s magazine to see that good health and good looks are important topics to women.  Men’s magazines focus on similar topics; athletic appeal, healthy good looks, and the pursuit of the opposite sex. Promotion of good looks, good health, and a good looking smile is evident everywhere!

How can this interest in good health and good looks be translated into the acceptance of periodontal treatment by your patients? Consider the following:

  1. Periodontal disease is very common, but does not always have distinct symptoms.  It is an inflammation and infection of the supporting structures of the teeth that can eventually result in tooth loss.  Even if teeth are not loosened and lost by the disease, it can cause bad breath, a bad taste in the mouth, gums that appear red and swollen, or teeth that appear longer.  It does not add anything to a nice looking smile!
  1. Various studies have shown that perio disease affects as many as 30-60% of the population and is implicated in many types of systemic disease. 
  1. Patients who are health and appearance conscious want to address their mouth issues. They may ask about simple whitening procedures or standard cleanings, but will listen to you if their problems exceed these solutions.
  1. A healthy, good looking smile never goes out of style!

There are various types of patient education tools. DVDs and brochures are excellent for reinforcing staff explanations of treatment recommendations, particularly where perio disease is concerned.  Your staff needs to be ready with easy-to-understand explanations when patients ask questions.  For example:

Q:  How often do I need to have my teeth cleaned?

A:  The old system of everyone having their teeth cleaned only twice a year has fallen out of favor.  In fact, many believe that the idea actually came from the recommendation of a 1940 toothpaste advertisement!  While some people may be able to maintain their dental health with semi-annual cleanings, many patients find that their mouths and teeth stay in better shape when they have their teeth cleaned more frequently.  Most dentists and hygienists now set up a patient’s cleaning schedule based on their personal needs.

Q:  You say I have periodontal disease and need to have root planing and scaling.  What is periodontal disease? What is root planing?

A:  Periodontal disease can be described as an inflammation and/or infection of the gums and bone which support the teeth.  Left untreated, periodontal disease can result in an unhealthy condition and appearance of the mouth, in addition to having a possible bad influence on your general health. Root planing and scaling are healing treatments designed to remove the toxins and bacteria from the root surfaces of the teeth, allowing the body’s immune system to begin its’ process of rejuvenation. These procedures are a complete treatment in some stages of periodontal disease and as part of preparing the mouth for surgery in others. After you have received treatment, you will need to come back more frequently in order to maintain your periodontal health.

Q: Will my dental insurance pay for maintenance of my periodontal health?

A:  The simple answer is “partly.” Many insurance plans pay for periodontal maintenance twice a year, even though most patients require appointments at least four times a year. Insurance plans limit the number of exams, cleanings, and periodontal maintenance appointments they will cover because these are the types of treatments that many people need to have frequently. Therefore, when a plan is “on the hook” for payment, limits go into effect. 

Q:  If my insurance plan only pays for periodontal maintenance twice a year, why should I have it done more often?

A:  Your insurance plan can help you pay for the treatment you need, however, it was never designed to pay for everything.  Most plans typically pay a minimum regardless of what you might need as an individual. It is a mistake to let benefits be your sole consideration when you make decisions about your mouth.  People who have lost their teeth often say that they would pay any amount of money to get them back!  Your teeth, smile, attractiveness, ability to chew and enjoy food, and general sense of well being are dependent on your dental health.  It is worth the time and expense it may take to keep your teeth for a lifetime.

It is obvious that making sure patients get the treatment they need is a priority for dentists.  When we work with patients to help them understand what they need, a mental evolution can occur where a patient’s “need” becomes his “want.” When patients want treatment they keep their appointments, and when they keep their appointments they help our bottom lines!

More answers to patient questions can be found in my brochure, “What is the Difference Between a Regular Cleaning, Root Planing, and Periodontal Maintenance?” available from McKenzie Management.

Carol Tekavec CDA RDH is the president of Stepping Stones to Success, and a practicing clinical hygienist.  She is a consultant to the ADA Council on Dental Practice and was the insurance columnist for Dental Economics for 11 years.  She is also the author of the Dental Insurance Coding Handbook and the creator of the “First Encounter™” Chart.  

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