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Aspects of mobile dentistry for the dental hygienist: Uncovering the secrets to success

Oct. 1, 2020
Do you want to know the best-kept secret about mobile dentistry? It’s not a solo sport. Refuse to do it alone. Find your community. Create strategic partnerships with other businesses. Join professional associations, coalitions, and clubs.

Editor’s note: In parts one and two of this series, Melissa Turner, BASDH, RDHEP, EFDA, discussed how dental hygienists play pivotal roles in providing mobile and teledentistry to patients outside of the traditional brick and mortar dental practice. She then considered how thinking like an entrepreneur will create a solid foundation when collaborating with dentists and other members of the care team. In part three, she focuses on the secret and not-so-secret components that help mobile providers make the biggest impact.

Though mobile dentistry has been an effective delivery model for decades prior to this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, a combination of innovative technology, shifting cultural tides, and patients who prioritize convenience has ushered in a new age of how we do dentistry. Modern mobile dentistry is efficient, safe, and effective. Mobile clinicians can be more mobile and better connected to the dental team at the same time. But to some of us, mobile delivery still lives in a haze of mystery. To clear this haze, I’ll uncover a few secrets that mobile providers know in the hopes that you will take steps toward becoming a mobile provider.

As I write this, dental professionals across the country are discovering a new normal as they phase back into their clinical environments. If you had asked me six months ago, I never would have imagined terms such as “social distancing,” “six feet,” and “quarantining” would be part of our common vernacular. I never would have imagined that our beloved dental hygiene profession would top the list as one of the most dangerous jobs in America due to the high and constant production of aerosols. Yet, here we are, and as we navigate through clinical life with new personal protective equipment requirements, mandatory distancing requirements for patients, and ways to reduce aerosols within our operatories, safety remains our number one concern—for ourselves, our patients, and our loved ones. 

Read on to discover how safety tops the list of the secrets to success for mobile providers.

Secret 1: Taking dental care to the patient reduces risk and thus, increases safety. 

Taking dental care to patients during the pandemic is a way to contain the disease, reduce travel, and care for those who are diseased.

Not only does mobile delivery of care eliminate the number of trips for patients, but it places risk on the dental provider instead of the patient. It makes sense for licensed clinicians—who are already educated in the processes and procedures necessary to eliminate the exposure and spread of bloodborne pathogens—to travel around their towns instead of patients. Just think about how many times you’ve gone to the grocery store and shaken your head in disbelief at the incorrect ways people wear their masks.

Providing mobile care in a patient’s home is an effective way to contain the aerosols produced during procedures. To put it simply, any “germs” released during a procedure are most likely already present in the patient’s environment. While it is still necessary to abide by the current recommendations from Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Dental Association, when possible, providing oral health care as close to the patient’s natural environment as possible makes sense as opposed to introducing the patient to a new environment.

As licensed care providers, we know that addressing infection, pain, and routine dental care is high priority, especially in immunocompromised patients. When a patient presents with cancer, an autoimmune disease, aspiration pneumonia, or takes multiple prescription medications, dental hygienists understand the implications these have on oral and systemic health. It is no different when a patient tests positive for COVID-19. Consulting with the patient’s primary care physician and working together to address the oral infection, pain, and routine dental care may help in the process of healing.

Secret 2: Teledentistry is a small piece of the mobile delivery pie.

During the shutdown and practically overnight, dental practices around the world implemented virtual visits to allow for additional touchpoints with their patients. These real-time dental appointments were great for consults, post-op visits, aligner checks, and emergency advice. However, the truth is that virtual consults, and the broader teledentistry delivery model, are simply the newest form of mobile health care, and neither the provider nor patient need to be physically present in the brick-and-mortar dental practice.

Prior to the shutdown, there were only a handful of teledentistry apps and platforms. Now, there are more than 50 platforms that claim to provide some aspect of teledentistry. It’s important to note that these platforms can be patient-facing and allow patients to connect with a virtual provider via an app, website, or phone. Others are provider-facing and have clinical components that integrate into or alongside current practice management programs. 

Other teledentistry platforms contain both patient and provider-facing elements. For example, Dentulu is an app that offers patients a way to connect with virtual providers via real-time video or chat, in addition to allowing patients to schedule a mobile provider to visit their home. Dental professionals register to be a mobile provider, choose the times they are available, and communicate with their patients on the app. Dental practices can also use the platform to generate new leads, expand their offerings, and communicate with patients.

Secret 3: Prioritize multiuse products.

Whether you are purchasing clinical supplies, tools, or technology, prioritize items that can be used in multiple ways and in multiple settings. For instance, mobile clinicians who use portable units often carry supplies in a storage box with wheels. This box doubles as counter space and as a dolly to help transport items when setting up and breaking down the operatory. 

Here are a few other examples:

AflexX Assist ArmDesigned by a hygienist, the AflexX Assist Arm acts as a third arm to hold the suction. No more hooking the suction on the patient’s mouth or asking the patient to hold it. AflexX can also be used to reduce aerosols thanks to its HVE cone, a device that is placed adjacent to the patient’s mouth during procedures.

Silver diamine fluoride—Approved in the United States for use as a topical fluoride, silver diamine fluoride (SDF) is commonly used for its off-label use as a local caries arresting agent. A single drop can treat multiple areas of decay and simultaneously act as the patient’s fluoride treatment. 

Cloud-based practice management software with teledentistry integration—Practice management software has evolved through the years, with the latest releases accessible via the cloud. A good number of teledentistry platforms have recently launched that allow providers to communicate with patients via live video or text. Using a single platform with each of these functionalities incorporated will help streamline the mobile appointment.

Secret 4: There is no right way to go mobile.

Mobile dentistry may seem simple, but when dental professionals imagine what can happen outside of the four walls of the brick-and-mortar practice, a new world emerges. They may have questions such as, do I purchase a mobile van or stick to portable equipment? Do I go to patients’ homes or their workplaces? Do I provide limited services or comprehensive services? 

Mobile health care is flexible, adaptable, and customizable. If all of these possibilities seem daunting, simply take an inward look and start defining your goals. What types of settings make you happy? What types of patients do you want to care for? Next, look at what is around you within a single-mile radius to find potential locations to deliver care. Search for community hubs and social spots such as gyms, universities, corporate workplaces, community events, and schools. Above all, pursue a path that gives you joy.

Do you want to know the best kept secret about mobile dentistry? It’s not a solo sport. Refuse to do it alone. Find your community. Create strategic partnerships with other businesses. Join professional associations, coalitions, and clubs. Build a supportive framework of colleagues, mentors, and trusted advisors to call on in times of joy and need. 

Dental patients are asking us to make dental care more convenient for them. Are you listening? Going mobile is an effective way to create a touchpoint with our patients, and the great news is that it’s never been easier! Stay tuned for the final installment of this series, where you will have the chance to reimagine mobile dentistry like never before! 

I invite you to visit the following resources to learn more about teledentistry.

  • I Heart Mobile Dentistry private Facebook group: facebook.com/groups/IHeartMobileDentistry/
  • American Mobile and Teledentistry Alliance: amda.net
  • National Mobile and Teledentistry Conference: nmdconference.com
  • Sonya & Melissa’s Mobile Dentistry Tour 2020: nmdconference.com/mobileandteledentistrytour/
  • DiGangi P, Purdy C. Teledentistry and DentalCodeology: Critical Decisions Workbook: Teledentistry Pathway to Prosperity.
  • American Telehealth Association: americantelemed.org
  • American Teledentistry Association: americanteledentistry.org
  • Mobile Healthcare Association: mobilehca.org

MELISSA TURNER, BASDH, RDHEP, EFDA, is a valued thought leader, dental advisor, and speaker. With extensive experience in both teledentistry and mobile delivery, she is cofounder of the National Mobile and Teledentistry Conference and the American Mobile and Teledentistry Alliance. She is chief hygiene officer at Cellerant Consulting, and is creator of I Heart Mobile Dentistry, a Facebook networking group for clinicians who practice mobile dentistry. Turner’s passion is to improve the dental experience for patients and providers alike. She can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Melissa Turner, BASDH, RDHEP, EFDA

Melissa K. Turner, BASDH, RDHEP, EFDA, is a fresh force of change and is on a powerful mission to transform the future of dentistry for both patients and practitioners. She is a fractional executive and advises companies and DSOs on brand strategy and product growth. A top millennial influencer and KOL, she is cofounder of The Denobi Awards, the National Mobile & Teledentistry Conference, and the I,Woman podcast. Reach Melissa at melissakturner.com.

Updated May 22, 2023