As a specialist, we usually think in terms of patients being referred to us for our specialty care. In orthodontics, we tend to think our goals are to help set up the esthetic and functional foundation for those patients referred by our general practitioners. However, there is more that we can do to support our GPs in their goals of patient care. We have an opportunity to help the patient envision treatment outcomes and develop appropriate expectations.

Here are three things you can do to better educate the patient, provide the desired results and support your GP in the process.

3 Ways to Better Educate Your Patients

1. The esthetic possibilities can be introduced in photos with templates as an added visual for what could be transformed. Place the photos taken at the initial orthodontic exam into a keynote or PowerPoint, something either you or one of your trained team members can do. Add templates to the patient's current photos with the new alignment, corrected tooth positions, size and shape. Now add in some of your photos of finished cases that have similar results for the treatment goals this patient might have. (Written permission to use photos is a HIPAA necessity here). Now your general dentist can more easily engage with the patient for a discussion on problems and concerns and see if they have an interest in learning what could be done. When the general dentist can move on immediately with some possible outcomes for them and a view of actual treated cases, it can be very powerful.

treatment example

2. Diagnostic set ups and wax ups have a dual benefit for not only showing the possibility for a future change in alignment, tooth size and shape and occlusal corrections; they then can be used for many additional steps of the treatment process as a visual of the final goal. The use of a “mock up” can help a patient really see what a possible outcome could be in the esthetic zone. Offering your mounted casts, indirect bond casts, or general study casts (since we often them as part of our diagnostic records), to the general dentist can save both the patient and the referring office time and appointments for developing a mock up. The cost of mounted casts, wax ups or set ups makes it a step that requires a financial commitment from the patient, so this option is not as easily accessible as photos can be.

3. There is nothing that beats the patients seeing a change in their own mouth. I have discovered a simple way to help make this happen by using tooth-colored Triad material. For years, I have used this to shape teeth for diagnostic set ups. I started using it in the clinic directly on patient teeth to show them what we were working toward. I use it most often on an intruded incisor when it gets to the point where it looks unaesthetic. I discuss having a temporary composite build up completed as an intermediary step that will improve appearance and allow a better final positioning for the final restoration. I tell the patient that I can show them, in a very temporary way, how much of an improvement it is when the teeth are the correct size. I also tell them that I don’t have the perfect color match that their general dentist will have. I then add the Triad to the tooth directly in the mouth and shape it with an instrument or a micro brush to create a more natural width and length and often close a space. I then light cure it to hold the shape and hand the patient a mirror.

There seems to be an immediate “Oh, I see what you mean now” response. Most patients will move forward with the composite intermediary phasing because they now appreciate the benefits. I also have used this method to show a patient why orthodontic space closure at the site of a small lateral incisor is not always the better option. By using the Triad and building up the tooth to close the space, they see a distinct improvement in the esthetics and understand that stability of the space closure is more predictable. After the patient has experienced this technique and agrees to reshaping the teeth, I call my general dentist to anticipate the patient's future visit and to confirm the plan is a viable option for them.

We have the opportunity to help our patients see the possibilities and avoid the hearing the comment “I was never told that was possible for me.” They may just as equally say “No thanks, that is not for me” and we can be confident in moving the correct direction. Keeping the focus on what the patient desires, with providers working together toward that goal, leads to the best part of what we do: a happy patient.

happy ortho patient

(Click this link for more orthodontic articles by Dr. Donna Stenberg.)

Donna J. Stenberg D.D.S., M.S., P.A., Spear Visiting Faculty and Contributing Author.