In your efforts to save money and also keep your current dentist, have you ever had a conversation like the following:

You: Hi, I just have a quick question. Do you accept Delta Dental insurance plans…?

Your dentist’s receptionist: Yes we do.

You: Okay, thanks!

Millions of people have that exact same conversation, about Delta Dental or any number of dental plans. Like you, they probably think it means they’re going to be able to keep their current dentist and also pay the lowest rates.

However, if that’s your goal, you need to ask a different question.

The Question You Should Really Be Asking

Want to keep your dentist and save money? What – and who – do you need to ask?

Want to keep your dentist and save money? What – and who – do you need to ask?

So, if you want to keep your dentist and save money on dental care, what’s the question you should really be asking? And whom should you ask?

The best way to learn if you can keep your dentist and pay less is to ask both your dentist and the plan carrier or provider. And the question to ask is this: Is the dentist under contract as part of the specific dental insurance plan’s preferred provider network?

Learn more: 5 Things You Should Know About PPOs

We need to pay close attention to many details when it comes to insurance products. Dental insurance is no different. Some of the most common issues we hear from people have to do with the difference between in and out of network dental. How do the costs compare? Can I keep my own dentist?

And why not? Most people love their dentists. We want to do whatever it takes to remain with them if possible. So, for instance, folks will shop for dental insurance and, before buying a plan, call to ask if their dentist “accepts” the plan.

Alert: This is when paying close attention to the details can make a big difference.

The truth is, dentists may accept any number of dental plans. But that doesn’t  mean they are in the plans’ preferred provider groups. Being a preferred provider makes a dentist part of a plan’s official network of dentists. That’s where the term “in network” comes from. And being in network or in a plan’s preferred provider pool is the real key to helping you save money.

Why all this confusion over network dental insurance?

Dentists want to keep you and your teeth healthy. However, they tend to leave the money saving part to you and your insurance provider. After all, that’s why you have a dental plan – to help you pay. Of course, dentists are running a business, as well, and contracting to be included in various carriers’ preferred provider pools is one of the ways they attract new patients and keep established ones happy.

…being in network or in a plan’s preferred provider pool is the real key to helping you save money.

Getting into the network requires your dentist to sign a contract with the plan provider. They agree to charge the plan’s lower rates for their dental work. Your dentist cannot be a part of every provider’s network. Like you, they have to choose carefully which plans to sign contracts with based on many, sometimes conflicting, considerations.

When you ask the dentist or her receptionist if they “accept” a dental plan, they answer you in an honest and efficient way. They don’t waste time probing to see whether you really understand the question you’ve asked. But the truth is, you haven’t really asked whether using a certain plan will help you remain under their care and also save some money on dental work. That is not the question they hear.

Until they’ve signed a contract to join the plan’s preferred provider network, they may in fact accept the plan but still have every right to charge higher rates than an in-network dentist would charge for the work they do. And when they do, you, not the plan, will have to pay the difference in cost.

Shop Your Dental Options Like a Pro

It’s a classic case of the heart vs. the head or emotions vs. logic. No one wants to pay more than needed for dental care. And no one wants to leave the dentist they’ve grown to know and trust just to save a few dollars.

So remember, the question to ask is this: Is the dentist under contract as part of the specific dental insurance plan’s preferred provider network? Be sure you ask your dentist and the plan’s carrier.

It’s a clear and unambiguous question. A simple yes or no will do. And, with confirmation of “in network” status from both your dentist and the plan carrier, you’ll be free to move forward with your dental work with confidence and then get on with something a little more interesting.

Thanks for reading, and please share!

Read next: Dental Insurance Companies: An Overview

If you follow our blogs about oral health, you know that dentists can detect potentially serious conditions that affect your entire body simply by looking in your mouth. A new study suggests dentists may also be able to spot bullying.

Bullying has grown into a major problem. It puts countless adolescents under heightened emotional stress. According to the New York Daily News, data collected in Brazil reveals that kids who experience bullying are more likely to grind their teeth while they sleep.

A Strikingly Common Habit

Oral health and bullying: Kids who were verbally bullied were four times as likely to grind their teeth.

Oral health and bullying: Kids who experienced verbal bullying were four times as likely to grind their teeth.

Researchers looked at the oral health and academic experiences of over 300 children ages thirteen to fifteen.

Sixty-five percent of the bullied students ground their teeth.

“Both children and adults tend to grind their teeth when suffering from stress,” says Dr. Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation. “…bullying is a significant contributor here,” he says. “Sleep bruxism can be particularly damaging as we are often unaware that we do it.”

What Causes Bruxism?

An abnormal bite can lead to bruxism. However, dentists usually attribute tooth grinding to stress, anxiety, and sleep disorders like sleep apnea.

In 2017, actor Demi Moore confessed to Jimmy Fallon that over the past two years, stress caused her to grind her two front teeth. In fact, she ground them so hard that her dentist had to remove them. The two, shiny front teeth she sported on The Tonight Show were fake.

Symptoms of bruxism include worn down teeth, hypersensitive teeth and jaw aches. As Dr. Carter said, most bruxism sufferers don’t know they grind their teeth. Not, that is, until someone who sleeps in the same room hears them in the act.

While people usually grind their teeth at night, some sufferers grind their teeth while doing chores or driving, the BBC reported.

A Vital Insight into a Child’s State of Mind

With this new evidence about the likely cause, nonprofits like the Oral Health Foundation are taking action. They are urging parents and school nurses to view these symptoms in children as signs of bullying or other emotionally debilitating problems.

“Bullying of any form is absolutely abhorrent and can have both a physical and psychological impact,” Dr. Carter said. Moreover, “when experienced in childhood, [these] can lead to trauma that might last throughout adulthood.”

“Grinding teeth may not sound like a priority within the wider picture,” Dr. Carter added. However, “…it could prove to give a vital insight into a child’s state of mind and could be an important sign for us to identify bullying at an earlier stage.”

Grinding teeth could be an important sign for identifying bullying at an earlier stage.

Dentists who detect bruxism may fit the patient with a plastic mouth guard to help protect the teeth. Arguably, the most effective way to break the habit, however, is to relieve stress via exercise, meditation, or even psychological counseling.

The only way to know if you have bruxism or your symptoms are a cause for concern is by going to the dentist at least twice a year. The cost of preventing this and other oral health conditions will far outweigh the cost of repairing damage.

Read next: Back to School Dental Care Checklist

Few if any dentists have Instagram accounts more popular than Dr. Nicholas Toscano, who boasts over 150,000 followers. Though he does have an affinity for shocking before-and-after photos from operations, Dr. Toscano’s tremendous following can largely be attributed to the countless photos of supermodels, or as he calls them, patients.

profile of a beautiful woman supermodel

Dr. Toscano’s patients have included supermodels, SEAL teams, sitting presidents, and prominent members of Congress.

According to the New York Times, the 45-year-old from Jericho, New York is the official dentist for several major modeling agencies, making him responsible for the picture-perfect smiles of supermodels such as Abigail Ratchford, Mara Tiegen, Jasmin Tookes, Romee Strijd and Cindy Guyer. It’s common for Dr. Toscano’s patients to post selfies with him right after treatment, sending his name and face out to their millions of followers, many of whom end up in his Manhattan office shortly after.

Being the go-to dentist for dozens of supermodels means tending to the always-probable “emergency,” which often requires Dr. Toscano to rush back to his office at night to fix a broken tooth or perform a teeth bleaching before a fashion shoot.

Dr. Toscano must also be extremely flexible to accommodate his patients’ unreliable schedules. The time or date of a shoot are always subject to change, forcing patients to cancel on him three or four consecutive times at the last minute.

No Stranger to Important Patients

How did Dr. Toscano obtain such clientele and learn to deal with their chaotic needs?

For thirteen years, he was the active-duty dentist for the US Navy. Patients included post and pre-mission SEAL teams as well as sitting presidents and prominent members of Congress.

Dr. Toscano realized he wanted to be a dentist while completing an orthodontics project for an eighth-grade science fair. His father was a Navy SEAL and his brother, Christopher, is a Navy lawyer, so Dr. Toscano attended Columbia University School of Dental Medicine on a Navy scholarship.

His responsibilities soon included performing facial reconstruction on injured soldiers, examining the teeth of Navy crews heading into lengthy submarine deployments, and making sure special forces officers had good oral health before missions.

A Lesson in Pressure

Dr. Toscano eventually served at the Washington Navy Yard and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he treated Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush and Laura Bush, and a slew of politicians such as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

One of his busiest years was 2008, the height of the financial crisis and an extremely stressful time for politicians. Patients would grind their teeth during long legislative sessions, sometimes putting so much pressure on their teeth that they caused them to break.

Dr. Toscano explained that treating soldiers and politicians taught him not to let the stress of their lives pour into his own.

“Serving during a war, you put a lot in perspective, and that’s one reason many models and celebrity types come to me,” he told the New York Times. “Because I don’t get caught up in the New York nonsense and all the hubbub.”

From One Battlefield to Another

In 2009, Dr. Toscano left the military and opened his own practice, offering low rates for up-and-coming models from smaller agencies.

When asked about the difference between his previous and current clientele, Dr. Toscano suggested numerous similarities in terms of unexpected changes in schedule, abrupt treatments, and, of course, immense urgency and stress.

“It’s different, but it’s the same,” he said of soldiers and models.

It’s different, but it’s the same,” Toscano said of soldiers and models.

Both stages of his career also reminded Dr. Toscano of the importance of never judging his patients, whether it be by their lifestyle choices or small-talk.

His first piece of advice for treating politicians?

“Stay apolitical,” he said.

For a more complete list of Dr. Toscano’s patients, visit his office on Central Park South, where his patients’ work along with tributes from presidents and SEAL teams adorn the waiting room wall.

Read next: Dentists Delivering Dentures in Only Two Days

America’s opioid epidemic has killed more than 180,000 since 2000. Unfortunately, many of the victims became addicted after doctors prescribed them drugs like Oxycontin and Percocet. These prescriptions, however, were likely not their first exposure to powerful painkillers.

opioids - Doctor holding prescription pad

When health pros prescribe opioids for high school students, they are one-third more likely to abuse the drugs in the future.

According to the New York Times, most opioid prescriptions for people ages ten to nineteen are written by dentists and oral surgeons. This is largely due to the tradition of prescribing opioids after wisdom tooth removal.  This procedure is performed on millions of patients under the age of 25 every year. Almost every patient who undergoes this procedure is prescribed opioids.

When health pros prescribe opioids for high school students, they are one-third more likely to abuse the drugs in the future.

Learn more: Back to School Dental Care Checklist

“They don’t develop their addiction from that experience,” says psychiatrist and addiction specialist Dr. Andrew Kolodny. “But because of it, they’re no longer afraid of the drug and they like the effect. They’re getting their first taste of the drug from a doctor or dentist, and that increases the likelihood they would use it recreationally.”

Reducing Opioid Addiction

The first step towards reducing opioid addiction is prescribing “more cautiously,” according to Dr. Kolodny. Increasingly, oral health professionals are heeding this advice.

Leading this initiative is Dr. Harold Tu, director of the division of oral and maxillofacial surgery at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry. Last year, he successfully lobbied the school to implement a new, mandatory protocol that teaches students to avoid opioids for their clinical patients.

The first-line treatment now consists of non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. These include ibuprofen (or NSAIDs) and acetaminophen. Tu’s students only prescribe opioids if the patient is allergic to one of these or needs stronger pain relief.

So far, Tu told the Times, “we have not seen an increase in patient complaints or patients returning saying ‘the NSAIDs are not working; I need something stronger’.”

Relief Equal To or Better Than Opioids

The notion that ibuprofen combined with acetaminophen could ever treat pain as effectively as opioids might seem a bit farfetched. However, a 2013 study found that the former treatment provides equal or better relief than the latter.*

Minneapolis oral surgeon Dr. Angie Rake used to give young patients “10 to 15 Vicodin” only to hear her parents’ ask for more. She has since reduced her opioid prescriptions by about 60%.  She now makes an effort to speak to parents about addiction.  “Now I have parents thanking me for taking time to educate them,” Dr. Rake said. “And a lot of times they say, ‘We’re really going to try to avoid these.’ ”

Now I have parents thanking me for taking time to educate them. And a lot of times they say, ‘We’re really going to try to avoid these.’

Dr. Rake is a firm follower of Dr. Tu along with Dr. Douglas Fain, president of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons. He recently conducted a survey that found that half of his members have reduced opioid prescriptions. They now prescribe just three to four days’ worth of the drugs.

In addition to the number of prescriptions written, Dr. Fain has reduced dosage levels at his practice. “They’re here if you need them,” he says, but only for those in unbearable pain.

Read next: Ways to Avoid a Painful Visit to the Dentist

*Article Citation: JADA, Combining ibuprofen and acetaminophen for acute pain management after third-molar extractions, August 2013Volume 144, Issue 8, Pages 898–908.

Dentists using a new method fit patients for dentures fast. The dentures are ready the very next day.

Dentists using a new method fit patients for dentures fast. The dentures are ready the very next day.

Every year, Remote Area Medical holds a free medical clinic in Wise County, Virginia that serves about 2,000 patients over the course of three days. Among the many services available is dentistry, thanks to the approximately 450 volunteers who make up the Mission of Mercy dental team.

The team performs root canals, fills cavities, extracts teeth and even fits patients with dentures. At previous clinics, there was only enough time to supply around eight sets of dentures during the event, according to the Washington Post.

“When I started, we were doing dentures in the conventional way,” said Mission of Mercy dentist Dr. Scott Miller.

This process involved several complex steps including fittings, re-linings, and finally assembling the dentures by hand in a separate location.

Tools of the Future

However, just a few years ago, the team developed a new way to make dentures that can serve almost ten times as many people as the clinics of years past.

“We just had a need for something that instead of doing maybe just twelve patients in a weekend we could do a hundred,” Dr. Stephen Alouf told local news outlet KSNB.

instead of doing maybe just twelve patients in a weekend we could do a hundred

The new method can fit someone with plastic dentures in as little as one hour. This allows dentists to create 50 full and about 30 partial sets at the annual clinic. An acrylic material gives the team the ability take impressions one day and the dentures are ready the next.

The team’s desire to satisfy as many people on the clinic’s waiting list as possible sparked the development of the new method, Dr. Miller said.

“It’s the only way we can put a dent in that list of 800 people,” he said.

New Method for Creating Dentures

One attendee of the clinic in July 2017  was 71-year-old Larry Bays. Bays shattered his teeth in a workplace accident that also broke his pelvis and sternum.

The traditional method of creating dentures required patients to register ahead of time. However, at this year’s clinic, the new method was so efficient that the team actually had time to fit in patients without appointments, like Bays.

“Wow,” Bays told dental assistant Diana Fuller after seeing his new teeth in the mirror for the first time. “That looks great.”

The Power of a Healthy Smile — A friendly, beaming and healthy smile generally puts people at ease and makes others feel welcome in your presence.

Bays was among the many patients who drove several hours and camped out in their cars to be treated. The dentures were surely worth it, however, since they clearly help to reignite a person’s self-esteem.

“Well, you know, dentistry has been pretty good to me,” Dr. Alouf said. “I feel that it’s our role and our responsibility to give back.”

Read next: Domestic Abuse Survivor Is Reborn After Dentist Repairs Smile

relaxed dental patient - How do dentists learn empathy?

How do dentists learn empathy? An experiment at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry shows one approach.

No matter the time of the year, a Google search of “oral health news” or “latest dental news” usually reveals countless stories about free dental clinics, free care for vets, or dentists who volunteer to help those in need.

Among the many positive takeaways from these articles is that dentists love to help people.

Empathy is clearly a common trait of any sound medical professional. But how do dentists learn empathy? An experiment done at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry in 2016 shed some light on how dentists can become more understanding.

Empathy: Walking in Patients’ Shoes

At UNC, third-year dental students are required to spend eight weeks treating patients from low-income neighborhoods around the state. The program has existed for 45 years. Even so, faculty member Lewis Lampiris began to see that students, many of whom were from well off families, were still not able to truly connect with their patients.

“I would hear things like, ‘These people are bad that come to these clinics.’ ‘These parents – they don’t take care of their kids.’ ‘They don’t feed them well.’ ‘They bring the whole family to the visit,’” Lampiris told North Carolina Health News.

Lampiris decided to put the students through an exercise in empathy that the school’s nursing students use. When Lampiris introduces the exercise to the students, he tells them frankly that no mock-up can ever truly show them exactly what it’s like to live in poverty.

“This is not a game,” Lampiris tells his students. “I want you to be aware that there are some members, some of your classmates here, who have experienced poverty. This is where they came from. For them, this is real. I want you to respect that fact.”

…be aware that some of your classmates have experienced poverty. For them, this is real. I want you to respect that fact.

To begin, Lampiris splits the students into groups, or “families,” with each group member assigned a role. He gives each “family” details about their expenses and total income as well work, school, or other responsibilities.

The families use fake money to cover bills, groceries, gas and common expenses like car maintenance, health issues, or a tutor. These bills left some unable to pay rent, and forced them to seek help from a lender or a pawn shop owner.

Empathy and Understanding Patients’ Economic Decisions

At the end of the exercise, 98% of the students said that they found it helpful. That includes Kelsey Knight Cody, who was very skeptical at first.

Cody told NC News she thought of the exercise often when she worked with patients. Now, she said, she has a firmer understanding of her low-income patients’ economic decisions.

“They may just not have time, or the clinic hours wouldn’t work out, or they couldn’t take off from their job because that would mean they couldn’t feed their family that week or they didn’t have transportation,” Cody said.

Dental Degrees – How 5 hurdles and a marathon help keep your dentist on her toes

Some students told Lampiris that they identified at once with some patients when they saw their responsibilities were very similar to the roles they had played in the exercise. He believes more medical and dental schools should do this type of exercise.

“There will be more and more people that cannot access care because of the costs associated with it,” he said. “Everybody who is taking care of folks needs to understand.”

Nice, huh? Okay, then, you know the drill…please share!

Read next: Healthy Teeth, Healthy Body

Patients who are wary of the dentist may be able to relax at last. More and more dental practices around the US now offer the type of treatment you’d see in a spa.

Could a dental spa, with things like massage chairs, paraffin wax, warm blankets and movies, make you look forward to the dentist?

Could a dental spa, with things like massage chairs, paraffin wax, warm blankets and movies, make you look forward to the dentist?

Oscar Suarez, 29, admits he used to “always get nervous” before he saw a dentist. “You think, it’s going to be long, it’s going to be painful, I’m going to have to wait,” he told Greenwich Time.

Learn more: Ways to Avoid a Painful Visit to the Dentist

Those days are gone now that Suarez is a patient of a dental spa called Tri-City Dental Care, one of several Washington state dental practices that offer “spa-like” treatments.

Before the dentist gets to work, patients like Suarez can dip their hands into warm wax that softens their skin. The calming scent of lavender fills the room. Headphones play music or a TV plays as they sit in a dental chair that massages them.

The Dental Spa Concept: Turn Dread to Excitement

“When I opened the practice, I wanted to bring a good experience to every person coming in,” said Dr. Antonio Lopez-Ibarra, who owns the dental spa. “We wanted to do something where people felt comfortable in the chair.”

We wanted to do something where people felt comfortable in the chair…

The dental spa perks at Tri-City Dental Care include aromatherapy, calm music, and loads of movies to watch.

“It’s nice that when you come to a place like this, you’re not looking toward that chair, you’re looking forward to what you’re going to experience. It throws off the edge,” Suarez added.

Not Your Usual Forms to Fill Out

Among the first practices to experiment with a spa-like experience is Double Take Dental in Orem, Utah. Along with the types of things above, Double Take Dental supplies bottled water, a warm towel, a stress ball and a cool eye mask.

According to the Daily Herald, patients who come in for an exam, to have their teeth cleaned, or to have other work done fill out an “amenities card” to tailor their visit.

“Every time someone new comes in, they look at the card, and say, ‘I’ve never seen this before.’ For many, we almost have to encourage them to pick amenities,” said Double Take Dental office manager Jordan Davis.

Patients are More Willing to Make the Trip

The idea for the spa-like style emerged when the practice decided it had to set itself apart from competitors. Proof of success? How about patients who travel far beyond their hometown solely for this type of service?

Larry Blocker, for example, flies to Orem from Southern California to treat an ongoing oral condition twice a year.

“I flew in last night, and I fly back out tomorrow. I came just to have this done,” he told the Daily Herald. “Flying here and flying back tells you how much I like it.”

Patty Cox drives nearly 120 miles to Double Take, a trip the 66-year-old says she’ll make “until I die.”

More Talking, Less Rushing

Double Take’s patient-first style makes the staff more relaxed as well. This is due in part to the decreased significance of time limits in appointments.

Dr. Cameron Blake has worked in a number of practices and says they all felt rushed. That kept him from getting to know his patients and answering their questions.

How to Choose a Dentist – With something as important as choosing a dentist, it’s vital you make a well-informed choice.

“Here I can take the time to explain things to my patients without the rush to get to the next patient. I can take time to focus on their needs and concerns. I want them to have knowledge about all options available, so they can make an educated decision, and feel good about their decision and its result,” Dr. Black said.

With more and more practices popping up, you can only expect patient experience to become an even bigger priority for dentists looking to cement loyalty and brand awareness.

Know someone who would love to try a dental spa? Go ahead — share!

Read next: 4 Most Overlooked Oral Health Problems

Okay, you probably knew that headline was click bait. Still, now that we have your attention, try this little experiment: smile.

Don’t just make a smiley face, though. Do what method actors do. Think about something that can’t help but make you smile. Got it? Good! Now, smile again.

How’d that make you feel? If you’re like most people, you probably feel better – maybe even a lot better – than you did before you started reading this.

Group Of Friends Taking A SelfieHere’s another experiment you might want to try. Smile at a stranger and see what they do. There’s a very good chance they’ll smile back at you. Why?

Why, because people are wired that way, that’s why. Of course, we’re also wired to yawn when other people yawn, but that’s a blog for another day.


National Smile Week: What’s the point?

Happy, healthy smiles are the currency of our social lives. (How’s your selfie stick holding up, BTW?) So it’s hardly surprising that days and even weeks would be dedicated to these fleeting, fascinating facial gestures.

That’s the case with the second week in August each year, National Smile Week. As if anyone needed a reason to spread some smiles around.

But maybe that’s the point. Share a smile – even for the slightest of reasons. Even for no reason at all! And why not?

After all, studies have shown that putting on a smile can actually lift your spirits. You just proved that with our first little experiment.

A little mad science you can try at home

Now, it’s time to try a mad science experiment of your own. Here’s your challenge: See if you can infect your social network with a smile!

Any kind of smile will do. Maybe share one about puppies and babies, for example? Or maybe one that comes from remembering a shared experience, teacher, or loved one. Heck, if this blog made you smile, you could even share it (wink, nudge).

There are millions of types of smiles you could share. Which one will you choose?

Whatever kind of smile you share today, here’s hoping yours sends ripples of warm, happy feelings through the sea of people you count among your friends.

Have a great National Smile Week! Oh, and maybe send a thank you note to your dentist. Just saying…

Share a smile with us! Follow us on Twitterlike us on Facebook, or add us to Google+.

Would you let someone other than a dentist fill a tooth or perform an “uncomplicated” extraction? Sounds like a job for a dentist, doesn’t it? After all, dentists in the US have met very high educational and licensing requirements, and well – it’s your mouth we’re talking about.

Sadly, millions across the country don’t even have the choice. Why?

The US dentist shortage

Dental therapists could help solve the US dentist shortage.

People in rural parts of many states are coping with poor access to oral care providers, often by putting off or doing without necessary dental care.

In many parts of the nation, there is an uneven distribution of dentists, which is having serious consequences. A new dental school was opened in Maine in 2013. One of its missions? To “reverse the shortage of dentists in rural parts of the state, a trend that is expected to worsen,” NBC News San Diego reported

And Maine is hardly alone. People in rural parts of many states are coping with the dearth of dentists as well as they can, often by putting off or doing without necessary dental care.

Learn more: Dental Degrees

Kaiser Health News reported early last year that 16% of Americans live in areas with an insufficient number of dentists. Federal guidelines, according to Kaiser, call for one dentist to every 5,000 people.

Here’s another way of looking at it: Approximately 45 million people in the US reside in areas that are experiencing a dentist shortage. And where there’s a shortage, it’s very hard to get dental care regardless of income or insurance.

Free dental care events

Dentists are working to address the problem. Though they may not be able to be in every neighborhood across the country, thousands of dentists each year give their time and resources to provide free dental care to those in need.

In addition to individual dental practices that open their doors to those in need, state and national dental associations, organizations like Remote Area Medical and Mission of Mercy, and many private donors work tirelessly to provide free dental care events. One such event was held in Seattle in October. It helped nearly 2,000 people over four days, according to The Seattle Times. In New York, however, city authorities cancelled a similar event in November citing public health concerns.

And remember, many of these types of events are not just about providing care for the uninsured. Across the US, insured and uninsured alike lack easy access to dental care due to the shortage or uneven distribution of dentists.

Dental therapists or mid-level dental practitioners

Dental care must be provided by licensed practitioners. But today, there are simply too few dentists to meet the needs in many parts of the country.

Even with more dental schools, future access to basic oral care isn’t guaranteed. In fact, the problem may grow worse. That’s because new dentists are more likely than ever to specialize. In 2012, the number of active, newly licensed dentists who were specialists was up 6% over 2008, NBC San Diego reported.

One possible cure for America’s dentist shortage may be on the horizon. There is a growing movement to create a new “mid-level” type of dental practitioner called a dental therapist. Proponents of this plan say dental therapists can help to increase care and free up dentists to do other, more critical work.

In most states today, dentists alone are able to do certain dental procedures, like fillings and “uncomplicated” extractions. That is changing, however. Dental therapists have been providing mid-level procedures in Alaska for the past 10 years.

Minnesota and Maine have recently approved the use of these mid-level dental practitioners. In addition, legislation around the use of dental therapists is being considered in California, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Washington.

Dental therapists are highly trained health care professionals. They typically are selected from their home communities, educated and then return to serve their communities…

In an opinion piece in favor of considering dental therapists in New Mexico, which was published by the Santa Fe New Mexican, Howard Rhoads, DDS explains, “Dental therapists are highly trained health care professionals. They typically are selected from their home communities, educated and then return to serve their communities…. They don’t do everything a dentist does, but they provide many of the most commonly needed services, starting with dental education, simple fillings and non-surgical extractions.”

Community Catalyst, a national, non-profit consumer advocacy organization, released a report in 2013 that found that where they are allowed, dental therapists are not only increasing access to dental care for children and low-income adults, they are also helping to reduce costs for dental practices.

Retail to the rescue?

Walmart continues to open health clinics within its retail locations, as NBCNews reported in August 2014. Some people predict that they or another big-box chain will eventually open in-store clinics that will offer dental services to underserved areas.

Walmart did try opening dental clinics in stores back in 2012. However, the company was sued over the idea in 2013.

In any event, for the idea of dental clinics in big-box stores to succeed on a national level, a retailer would still need to lure dentists to work in areas of the country that they have traditionally avoided – or fill many positions with a different type of oral care provider, such as a dental therapist.

Need for accreditation standards

Dental therapists are a reality today, but their use is out of the question in most of the country. Educational programs like the one at the University of Washington, which prepares dental therapists for work in Alaska, have set their own high standards for the therapists they train. For more states to open their doors to these mid-level practitioners, the next hurdle to overcome is the adoption of national standards for accreditation.

…the potential of dental therapy education programs deserved quickly adopted, reasonable accreditation standards…

In documents filed with the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) in late November, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) both shared their beliefs that “the potential of dental therapy education programs deserved quickly adopted, reasonable accreditation standards…”. CODA will meet in February to consider proposed standards for dental therapy education programs.

Now, back to our original question: Would you let someone other than a dentist fill a tooth or perform an extraction? If so, do you feel more states should follow Alaska, Minnesota, and Maine and approve the use of dental therapists? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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dental anxiety and kids

Some dentists are great at putting kids at ease.

Unfortunately, not every kid with dental phobia can be put at ease by a dentist who dresses up as the tooth fairy. And not every father has the comic skill and parental panache to turn Hermie’s horrifying dentistry in the 1964 animated TV special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” into a lesson on the importance of proper dental hygiene.

(Who can ever forget the “misfit” elf brandishing those gruesome pliers after extracting the Abominable Snow Monster’s teeth?)

Dental phobia or fear is, of course, no laughing matter. But there is a great deal that parents, caregivers and dentists can do – and are doing – to help kids get through the experience of a trip to the dentist with a smile.

Let’s take a look at some of the most effective interventions for dealing with dental fear in children.

What’s the most effective treatment of dental phobia in children?  

As in so many things in life, when it comes to kids and fear of the dentist, good communication is key.

Parents, caregivers and dentists all have a role to play in setting the stage for not only a good first visit to the dentist’s office, but a lifelong commitment to regular, professional dental care without fear and anxiety. How we frame those initial experiences with words can be very important.

Before the first trip to the dentist

To help ensure things go well during the first visit, your dentist may provide you with some “dos” and “don’ts” in advance. Things like, when talking to kids about the dentist and what goes on during a visit to the dentist’s office, avoid using words like “hurt,” “pain,” “shot,” and other words that have a negative or fearful connotation.

Rule of thumb: only say things that are positive.

Also, experts recommend parents answer children’s questions about the dentist, but, they suggest, don’t go into a lot of unnecessary detail. Be brief. If you don’t know the answer, or if the answer is a little on the complex side, suggest that you and your child save the question for, who else? The dentist. After all, they’re the ones who have years of training and a lot of practice talking to kids about what they do in non-threatening, kid-friendly ways.

…answer children’s questions about the dentist, but don’t go into a lot of unnecessary detail.

Above all, never tell kids about the time you had a terrible (or even unpleasant) time at the dentist. Instead, be sure they understand how important it is to take good care of their teeth. Let them know the dentist and dental office staff members are nice, friendly folks who enjoy helping people, both big and small, be as healthy and happy as they can be.

At the dentist’s office

Even if you’ve done your best to prepare your child for their new experience, it’s not uncommon, and it’s completely natural, for kids to be afraid sometimes. Some kids detest spiders. Others won’t go near a clown. Whether a child cries or throws a temper tantrum, any dentist who regularly works with children will have an array of techniques at her fingertips to put kids more at ease.

Again, in many cases it comes down to good communication. Many dentists who work with kids are quite adept at regulating their tone of voice, so that they are able to go from warm and comforting to gently commanding as the circumstances dictate.

Some dentists use a technique called “show, tell, and do.” It’s a way to explain, step by step, what tools the dentist is using, how they’re used, and what the dentist is going to do next. Pediatric dentists are also trained to use language that’s appropriate for the kids they work with, and there’s a good chance yours will use kid-friendly props – such as a giant tooth or doll – to show your kids what they’re about to do.

Distraction is another communication skill that dentists use to put kids at ease.

Distraction is another communication skill that dentists use to put kids at ease. Telling stories or having a conversation can help dentists focus kids’ attention somewhere other than on the procedure itself. And when needed, most dentists know that when it comes to kids’ behaviors, simple body language can go a long way toward accentuating the positive and discouraging, if not eliminating, the negative.

What can you do if nothing seems to help?

In some instances, it may take more than clever communication to help your child get through their time in the chair. In such cases, a dentist may recommend that a child use safe and effective medications such as nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”) during their visit or take an oral sedative beforehand.

Finally, if you or your dentist feel your child’s fear of going to the dentist is extreme or out of control, therapy may be the answer. Therapeutic techniques, including psychotherapy (exploring the source of the fear), cognitive behavioral therapy (practicing practical strategies for dealing with it), and hypnotherapy, may help a child overcome their fears so they can receive and maintain the professional dental care they deserve.

Everyone is afraid of something. Learning how to face our fears is part of growing up.

Everyone is afraid of something. Learning how to face our fears is part of growing up. And you may be surprised. One day, a young adult who was frightened by a routine dental exam, teeth cleaning, or other dental procedure as a child just may decide that they, like Rudolph’s nerdy buddy Hermie, want to be a dentist.

Have you helped a child get past their fear of the dentist? What worked for you? Post your tips or a comment in the Reply section below!

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