6.4.10 Issue #430 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

David Clow
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Self-Help Healthcare

The national debate over changes in healthcare policy involved a number of different delivery models, provider points of view and government roles - but two of the principal voices that need to be heard were largely missing.

Dentists seemed not to have been taken appropriately into account. With billions of dollars at stake and millions of new patients receiving assurance of improved coverage, the value of dentistry as a preventive measure would seem to be of greater importance than ever, and certainly a worthwhile topic for media coverage. The links between quality oral health and overall systemic wellness are well-documented already; doubtless, new connections will be discovered that make them even clearer. Dentistry merits a place at the table when we’re preparing to spend fortunes remediating illnesses that need not happen in the first place.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes extensive mention of dentistry, mostly in the context of training, service provision funding, etc. The ADA, almost a year before the Act was passed, explained to the president that “Oral health is not elective; it is an integral component of overall health and well being,” and further, said that “for too long we have ignored the dire unmet oral health needs of a growing number of Americans unable to access dental care due to economic status, geographic location or a myriad of other barriers.” Their recommendations including “adequately funding community-based prevention measures, such as water fluoridation, school-based sealant programs, and oral health promotion and education programs,” were adopted into the bill, but coverage of them in the media was hardly visible at all. People still don’t understand as they ought to that dentistry equals proven preventive care.

The other voice that was missing was that of the dental patients. Plenty of people delivered their opinions as taxpayers and as voters, some quite loudly. But anyone from either side of the political debate over public healthcare spending could have raised the quality of discussion by emphasizing the patient’s role in the whole healthcare question. A nation consumed by rising healthcare costs cannot long avoid the issue of a patient’s own responsibility in the issue. We cannot reconcile rising national investment with declining personal discipline; we cannot excuse ourselves from common sense and rely on the safety net to catch us. All the education programs in the world won’t matter if patients remain indifferent or uninformed. Someone standing up at an impassioned town hall meeting asking about dentistry might have been laughed out of the room for saying it, but there would have been no greater common-sense suggestion for the national health picture than one reminding people to floss their teeth; if only we could calculate the cost of fixing damage that could be prevented with a daily one-cent investment in clean gums.

Jump into the Discussion
You might not talk politics with your patients, but you can make this connection to your mutual benefit. Many of us feel a little helpless as we confront the national-level questions about policies and programs, and while there’s no shortage of opinions about it, there’s far too little actionable intelligence that serves us in our day-to-day decisions about taking care of ourselves. We don’t need more Op-Ed commentaries, lobbyists, experts debating or conflicting arguments about whether the Founding Fathers would reimburse for a CAT-scan. We do need some calm face-to-face counsel about our own roles in our own health.

Dental health is the tip of an iceberg. Under the surface of a neglected mouth and inflamed gums lie a frightening range of problems that only get worse with time. Information alone isn’t the solution; often the more information we get, the more worry we feel, and the more denial we live with. What we need most is trust. There’s the increasing prospect for many patients that we’ll never have a close personal relationship with our physicians. It’s very realistic that our dentist might be our first and best resource for practical healthcare advice, encouragement and a push in the right direction. It’s a role you can play with authority and conviction, given your willingness to do two things:

  1. Take the time. Make sure that your average appointment incorporates just a few minutes for you to look, talk, and share your observations and suggestions with your patient. Clarity from you makes it easier for them to sleep at night.
  2. Step out of your “dentist” box. I’m your patient, and your advice can have a great effect on me. Don’t limit yourself to being concerned only with my teeth.

The dentist who provides this level of personal care can be a true healer, and have enough loyal patients to run a very successful practice.

On behalf of McKenzie Management, David Clow consults with dental professionals on practice culture, case acceptance, and patient expectations.

David Clow is a writer/consultant for Fortune 100 companies. His book, A Few Words from the Chair, is the first book written by a patient for dental professionals and students and is available here.

Listen to David’s FREE podcast. Click Here

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