Amber Ojak explains how hygienists and therapists can grab this opportunity to change the way dentistry is delivered to patients.
COVID-19 has caused a lot of uncertainty in the dental world. There are many of us who are currently feeling a bit apprehensive about returning to work. Especially dental hygienists and therapists.
Reading many forums and posts on social media, it is clear many professionals do not know how to approach the next step. Or what the future of dental hygiene and therapy holds. The fact COVID-19 has shaken the dental world so much to cause some hygienists and therapists to quit their roles completely really saddens me. But it also makes me wonder how can we look at the positives of this unusual situation. Maybe it is time to create a new phase in hygiene and therapy.
Oral hygiene and COVID-19 links
Some of you may have read or watched Dr Victoria Sampson. Her research shows oral hygiene is a risk factor for COVID-19. This sparked multiple thoughts for me.
As dental care professionals, we are highly trained in giving oral hygiene advice and educating our patients on a daily basis. Perhaps as we are currently unable to use AGPs. There is uncertainty in how quickly our full scope of practice can resume. We should take our oral hygiene education to the next level and utilise our skills where possible. It is not an unknown fact that a lot of patients consider hygiene appointments as just a scale and polish. We now have the perfect opportunity to turn this around.
Just because the use of our ultrasonic scalers and airflow machines are halted for the time being, we can tell our patients their hygiene appointments will solely focus on enhancing their oral hygiene. We could mention the potential link with coronavirus.
Addressing this before patients come in will mean they know what to expect. Perhaps we could offer this as an online service. It could help ease any issues patients have if they do not feel comfortable coming into practice.
I really believe that highlighting this link, as well as the other systemic diseases linked to poor oral health, will get patients to finally realise the importance of improving their oral hygiene. We can then bring patients in for their appointments. We can help help patients understand everything from the importance of interdental aids to toothbrushing techniques. This time can help ensure patients fully understand what to do and the tools they need. We can ensure patients see the role we play in the bigger picture of their dental care. Instead of just seeing the hygienist as a scale and polish machine.
Once we move forward, I see dental therapists becoming a huge necessity in every practice.
There is going to be a huge backlog with patients needing routine care that some of our scope of practice covers. Therapists can help treat patients that need care to avoid overwhelming dentists with huge waiting lists.
It also highlights the potential need to give dental therapists NHS list numbers. Without these, we are just waiting for direct access patients or referrals from dentists. Having a list number would increase access to patient care. They will have access to more dental professionals who are highly skilled in restorative treatment and may prevent further problems.
Of course, currently we can use our hand instruments etc with the correct PPE and making sure we risk assess correctly. But I think by focusing more on educating our patients will change how they perceive us as well as their own oral health.
With a new dawn of digital dentistry coming, we can follow up our patient appointments more easily. We can interact on Zoom calls and support their journey post COVID-19.
Grabbing this opportunity to change the way patients perceive dental hygienists and therapists shows how we can take all the positives from a negative situation.