by Linda Holeman
Cutting-edge technology, a caring attitude, and a firm commitment to patient education proved an unbeatable combination for the team at Lifelong Smiles. In a ceremony on September 25, Discus Dental and RDH presented this practice with the RDH PEARL Award. The PEARL Award honors prevention, education, accessibility, responsibility, and loyalty in dental hygiene.
"We're so honored and thrilled to be selected from all the practices throughout the country," says Dr. John Sieweke, who established Lifelong Smiles in 1983 in the Atlanta suburb of Covington, Ga. "The credit goes entirely to Lynn for taking it upon herself to submit our practice for this honor."
"Lynn" is Lynn Pierson, one of two hygienists on staff at Lifelong Smiles. In practice for 14 years, Pierson has been a member of Dr. Sieweke's staff since 1997. "We have an exceptional team here that chooses to work together for common growth and success," says Pierson. "I can't say enough about how important this is in creating a successful practice." Hygienist Wendy Cloudt, chairside assistants Harriet Hanson and Shelly Wilbanks, and front-desk personnel Janie Culbertson and Hallie Mitchell complete Dr. Sieweke's dedicated team.
Lifelong Smiles takes a whole-health approach to preventive dentistry. Their treatment philosophy has evolved from mechanical debris removal to one that focuses on the connection between periodontal health and overall patient health. They recognize that probing is but one step in a periodontal evaluation and consider tissue health an essential component in diagnosing and treating periodontal conditions. "It has to be cleansable," emphasizes Dr. Sieweke, "or it will fail."
First-time visitors to the practice are immediately aware of its special ambience. The spacious facility has a tasteful and relaxing nature décor. The first visit serves as an information gathering session — both for the patient and the practice. The office welcomes new patients as members of the family; the staff gives patients a tour of the facility and introduces them to the practice's philosophy of total health. They then thoroughly screen patients for existing or previous periodontal conditions. Hygiene team members utilize radiographs, perform a complete perio charting with a computerized probe, take a thorough medical and dental history, and do a soft-tissue examination. The hygienists also evaluate recession, loss of attachment, furcation, and plaque control; patients also receive a complete oral cancer screening.
Patients who exhibit signs of periodontal disease are assessed for therapy. Therapy begins with patient education, and may include perio charting printouts, radiographs, intraoral camera images, patient education charts, or Dr. Gordon Christensen's educational videos. "It's important to us that our patients understand the interplay between periodontal health and general health," states Pierson. This commitment to patient education requires additional time, yet the staff considers it time well spent. Thorough education means better compliance; Pierson adds that virtually all of their perio patients commit to and follow through with treatment.
The practice re-evaluates patients four to six week after the final scaling. This evaluation includes another computerized probe charting, soft-tissue evaluation, and home care follow-up. After stabilization, recare continues on a two-, three-, or four-month basis. The staff continues education and reinforcement, and monitors patients with a "plaque score" that helps them understand the effectiveness of home care efforts. The staff will also consult with the patient's primary care physician to address any correlating health issues.
The staff at Lifelong Smiles believes that patients expect — and deserve — state-of the-art care. They are resolute in their desire to meet this challenge and have incorporated the Florida Probe and ultrasonic scalers into their treatment model. Staff members frequently consult with periodontists and other professionals to stay abreast of the latest equipment and techniques.
Lifelong Smiles has also merged technology with their patient education efforts. The practice's on-hold messaging includes informational recordings that introduce patients to their services and updates them on the latest treatment advances. The practice also has initiated a Web site to better serve and inform patients.
The commitment to education extends to the staff at Lifelong Smiles. The practice encourages team members to master their areas of expertise and supports their endeavors both verbally and financially. "A team member who works to become better is an advantage to the entire team effort," Pierson emphasizes. The practice also supports continual study through courses and publications in an effort to stay updated on products and technology. "There's no room for complacency or fear of change in this office," states Pierson. "In order to provide the highest degree of care for our patients, we must be willing to switch gears, lay aside our old ways, and welcome new information and technology."
Meetings play a vital role at Lifelong Smiles. In an atmosphere of encouragement and support, team members evaluate their protocols, pinpoint trouble spots, and brainstorm for solutions. "We don't just talk about teamwork — we are a functioning team," says Pierson. She likens their practice to an orchestra; meetings serve as an opportunity to "tune" their operations.
The staff at Lifelong Smiles takes this caring attitude into the community. Dr Sieweke serves on the board for World Relief, an organization that provides lifesaving humanitarian aid and development to the world's most critical regions. The staff often sees emergency patients — many of whom are refugees — free of charge or at a reduced rate.
The staff particularly enjoys dental education outreach at Covington's area schools. Pierson is also looking forward to participating in career day events at local high schools, where she will discuss opportunities in the dental field.
Lifelong Smiles considers each team member's commitment to their patients the key to its success. "From the first phone contact to each dental visit we try to make our knowledge accessible to our patients and their families," says Pierson. Their moniker succinctly conveys this practice's philosophy; "Lifelong Smiles" means a total commitment to lifelong dental health for their patients.