Wanted: Personal oral health trainers!

Dec. 1, 2001
I want to interview the 100 most successful personal oral health trainers to determine what it takes. Are you one?

I want to interview the 100 most successful personal oral health trainers to determine what it takes. Are you one?

My guess is you spend most of your day working as a periodontal therapist, with little time left to focus on prevention. Hygienists really are personal oral health trainers, but most of our time is taken up diagnosing and treating periodontal disease. How many times daily do you wish for just a little more time with a patient? Appointments never seem long enough, do they?

You wouldn't know it from your busy schedule, but dental decay and periodontal disease are completely preventable ... if the right strategies are used. What are those strategies? We don't even know! We're too busy treating disease to figure out how to effectively prevent it.

The reason we spend so much time treating disease, rather than preventing it, is that traditional dental practice focuses almost entirely on disease, rather than prevention. That's the dental focus, not the dental hygiene focus.

I don't want to give you the impression dentists don't want or believe in oral health — they do. It's just that they get paid for treating disease, so their livelihood depends on disease. Just think about this difference in focus between hygienists and dentists.

If hygienists were allowed to work in settings outside the traditional dental office, we would see some impressive new preventive strategies. I've written about my "mouth-spa" idea, which uses technology for whole mouth brushing and irrigation at one time. It only would take 10 seconds to effectively remove plaque and irrigate all surfaces in the mouth. People want results and they want them quickly. With new technology and innovative strategies, hygienists will become the personal oral health trainers they are qualified to be. We may soon see hygienist-owned oral health stores in the malls and as part of gyms and fitness centers.

We already have some highly effective, personal oral health trainers in our profession. Are you one of them? You just might be! I'm looking for hygienists that achieve optimum oral health for their patients within the traditional dental-office setting. If you can achieve oral health within a system that depends on disease for income, just think what you could do in an environment devoted to oral health. It would be amazing!

Eliminating supervision rules would allow hygienists to work in many unconventional settings, providing preventive strategies. Hygienists should be allowed to work in schools to provide diagnostic and preventive services. A full-time hygienist should be at every school to offer effective preventive strategies. Dental hygiene visits every two weeks for Swedish school children eliminated all gingivitis and prevented nearly all dental decay. Maybe weekly visits with the dental hygienist would prevent all dental decay. We need to test these new preventive strategies.

Considering the potential for further disease after the first area of decay is treated, it's financially advantageous to prevent disease in the first place.

Kids go to the physician more often than they visit the dental office, so I predict hygienists, as preventive specialists, will soon be employed by pediatricians to provide oral exams, oral hygiene instructions, fluoride treatments, and sealants.

Our traditional practice approaches do not allow implementation of predictably successful programs of periodontal therapy or prevention. We see so much dental disease each day; it's no wonder we don't remember that these diseases are completely preventable.

Just add up the numbers. If a hygienist sees eight patients a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, that allows for 2,000 patient visits or six-month recalls for 1,000 patients (8 patients/day x 5 days/week = 40 patients/week x 50 weeks = 2,000 patient visits/year) That leaves no room for new patients or periodontal visits. In addition, we know the six-month recall doesn't really prevent dental disease. If it did, six-month recall patients would have no decay and no periodontal disease ... and therefore no subgingival calculus. If that were the case, we would never run late!

How many patient visits are available in your office each year and how many patients do you have in your practice? Chances are, you have more patients than hygiene visits. No wonder you run late and never seem to catch up. You're expected to do the impossible, from a preventive perspective. From a dental perspective, you're a success if you have lots of dental work scheduled from your chair.

Now, just imagine you were able to keep these 1,000 patients healthy. No new decay and no periodontal disease. You could go along like this for a little while, but soon the dentist would want new patients ... patients with dental disease who need restorative work. Add in new patients and before you know it, your once successful dental hygiene system is turned into a terrific source of dentistry! It's simple. Traditional practice, owned and managed by dentists, needs disease to stay in business.

Hygienists, on the other hand, focus on preventive dentistry. Scientific findings and technological innovations provide the potential for hygienists to establish consistently successful treatment and preventive strategies, if they are allowed to do so. It's not a surprise that current supervision laws keep hygienists from preventing dental disease. If hygienists were allowed to work outside the traditional dental office, kids might grow up without dental decay or gingivitis.

Hygienists will always be employed as periodontal therapists, but we soon will see new positions available as preventive specialists. Without the dental supervision rules, hygienists will determine what it takes to successfully prevent dental disease.

I want to interview the 100 most successful personal oral health trainers to determine just what it takes. Are you one? Do your patients consistently achieve optimum oral health with your help? If so, I want to talk to you! Please give me a call at 800-374-4290 or send me an e-mail at [email protected]. Thanks!

Trisha E. O'Hehir, RDH, BS, is a senior consulting editor of RDH. She also is editor of Perio Reports, a newsletter for dental professionals that addresses periodontics. The Web site for Perio Reports is www.perioreports.com. She can be reached by phone at (800) 374-4290 and by e-mail at [email protected].