Is your dental practice offering all that it could be when it comes to your patients’ health? Dental professionals and hygienists are so much more than people who clean teeth. “Because so many illnesses first show up in the mouth, we can play a key role in our patients’ healthcare provider network by helping people get the care they need sooner,” explains Brandi Hooker Evans, owner of dental consultancy Stellar Outcomes LLC.
In honor of National Dental Hygiene Month, here’s a closer look at why our work is so important to our patients’ overall health and how to build medical screenings into patient care.
How dental professionals can help
Most dental professionals now routinely include oral cancer screenings as part of a patient’s hygiene appointments. But there are many other health problems that can be detected during a dental appointment.
- Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, affect 23.5 million Americans. Often the first signs of these diseases appear in the mouth.
- Cardiovascular disease kills 800,000 Americans annually and is largely preventable. Most people see the dentist far more often than they see the doctor. A blood pressure reading at the dental office may be the first indication that heart disease is on its way.
- Alzheimer’s Disease affects up to as 5.8 million Americans afflicted with the condition, not to mention the heartbreak their families suffer. Recent scientific research has discovered that P. gingivalis infection, the main cause of gum disease, is linked to Alzheimer’s Disease. After starting in the mouth, this bacteria may make its way to the brain.
If the warning signs of any of these problems are caught and diagnosed early, patients can visit their doctor and start treatment earlier, exponentially improving their quality of life and the effectiveness of treatment.
How to improve patient health screenings
Patients now accept that oral cancer screening is simply part of their regular hygiene exams, but it wasn’t always this way. By integrating other health screenings into patient visits, we can offer more benefits for our patients. Since many of the diseases that can be detected in the mouth primarily affect seniors, who account for the majority of dental patients, the need for this service is clear.
“Dental hygienists are trusted professionals who can help shed a light on patient health problems,” Evans explains. We’re not as intimidating as doctors can be, so patients are often more likely to listen to us.
At each visit, have the patient update their medical history with any new information such as health concerns or new medications they are taking. Also do a blood pressure reading, an oral cancer screening, and a full mouth periodontal chart probing with bleeding points at all six locations of every tooth. Explain the reasons for each step. Given that almost one-third of Americans don’t know what periodontal disease is, most of them don’t know that it can be a sign of more serious health issues.
If you find something that’s concerning, such as high blood pressure, explain to the patient what you’ve found and why it may be a problem, and recommend that they visit their doctor for further testing. Be sure to note the conversation in their chart and follow up on the next visit to see if they did visit their physician.
Finding time for patient health screenings
Unfortunately, a lot of dental offices are mainly concerned with getting patients in and out as fast as they can. While it is important to stick to your schedule and reach production goals, offering additional health screenings adds a lot of value for the patient and doesn’t have to take a lot of time. After all, you could potentially save a patient’s life. How much is that worth
Lighthouse 360 can help. Lighthouse 360 software automates recall notices, appoint reminders and confirmations to keep patients visiting the dentist on a regular schedule. Communications can be sent via text, email or phone directly from your PMS. The Front Desk Task List feature automatically scans tomorrow’s appointments and creates a list of actions that should be taken with each patient, such as updating health information or contact numbers.
You can even use Lighthouse 360 to educate patients about the connection between oral health and full body health by creating attractive, professional email messages to send to patients. By saving the average practice 16.8 hours per week, Lighthouse 360 frees up time so you can spend more time on what really matters—like providing patient health screenings.
Learn more about using oral health screenings for early detection. Attend Brandi Hooker Evans’ free webinar, “So Much More!” Thursday, October 14 at 5 PM PDT/8 PM EDT and receive 1.5 Continuing Education credits. Sign up now to reserve your (virtual) seat.