12 Ways Dentists Are Upping Their Game

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Providing quality care is the top priority and number one priority for Minnesota dental offices. But that doesn’t mean patients always look forward to seeing the dentist. Some people deal with anxiety, while others find that getting dental treatment can mean a significant time commitment.

In recent years, dentists have been working to change their practices to address patients' concerns and improve their overall experience. Many people have made upgrades to their dental offices, including adding new technology that speeds up care. Others have enhanced how patients communicate with their clinics and implemented different ways to put people at ease.

Whether it’s a child getting a routine cleaning, a teenager wearing braces, or an adult restoring their smile, the changes are noticeable. Read on to learn 12 ways dentists are rethinking and reimagining how they provide this essential care to patients of all ages.

1. Flexible time arrangement

Dentists know that it can be difficult for every family member to see the dentist twice a year. Parents don't like to take their children out of school, which is usually followed by sports or other activities. Adults often want to reserve vacation or sick time instead of using it to take care of their oral health. Today, however, dental treatments are no longer just available from 8 to 5 in the morning.

Many clinics now offer evening appointments, while some offer appointments on Saturdays. Dr. Christopher Steele, president of multi-location Park Dental, said the company typically hosts dedicated pediatric Saturday events where parents can check off must-do items on their to-do lists. Another convenience is online scheduling. Today, Park Dental patients can go online to make routine care appointments, a favorite for those who don't like to make phone calls.

2. One-stop shop

Dr. Megan Beuckens of Ethos Dental in Ridgefield said that at many dental offices, staff schedules appointments regularly so that all children, and sometimes even parents, can complete their daily care at once. Talk about efficient!

Other clinics offer a variety of specialist services under one roof. Steele said that at Park Dental, many patients are reluctant to go to an unfamiliar medical facility for root canal treatment or wisdom teeth removal. It also makes it easier for employees to coordinate such care seamlessly with in-house providers. He added that the clinic's dentists and specialists such as orthodontists and periodontists share the same patient records and consult with one another fluidly on treatment issues, eliminating any questions that patients may have.

Some dentists offer multiple specialties themselves. Dr. Mitchell Loeb of Kid Grins Children's Dentistry in Edina is board certified in pediatric dentistry and prosthodontics, which specializes in replacing missing or chipped teeth. This allows him to observe a patient's development and perform fillings or other restorative work, such as crowns with dual lenses. For families whose children need help with missing teeth, Loeb can treat them at their regular clinic.

3.Super setting: Adult

Sometimes adults need a little distraction or some TLC while getting dental work done. At Ethos Dental, patients can have their care completed in a private suite. From there, staff can adjust lights, provide comfort blankets or broadcast entertainment through TVs on the walls or ceilings, Bokens said. The clinic also reserves adult-only appointments for patients who benefit from a peaceful and relaxing environment.

4. Super setting: children

In many offices, helping patients feel welcome and comfortable, and even have some fun, is part of the dental visit. When little ones visit Kid Grins, they love climbing into the treehouse and sliding down the slide in the waiting room. They can play “I Spy” on the murals in other rooms or look for squirrels brushing their teeth in the exam room trees. Teenagers can even be found in treehouses. “One of the fundamentals of pediatric dentistry is to ensure that as many children as possible have a good experience so that they don't feel anxious and fearful about going to the dentist,” Loeb said. “They see it as a fun experience and something they want to do rather than have to do.”

5. Relieve anxiety

About one-third of people have dental anxiety and/or are afraid of going to the dentist. Dental professionals know and understand how many people feel when they see them, and they offer a variety of ways to help. Some clinics have gone out of their way to help people get through their appointments, whether it's for cleanings, fillings or root canals.

At Morgan Family Dentistry in Prior Lake, Dr. Tom Morgan offers a range of options. Patients can wear noise-canceling headphones to play their favorite music and block out the sound of dental equipment. Relaxing in a massage chair with a blanket can also provide comfort. There are also medications that can calm these nerves, such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas), which can help patients stay awake during surgery, and even conscious sedation via oral medications to help them fall asleep easily, Morgan said. No one needs to suffer in silence.

Some pediatric dentists offer general anesthesia when a child has anxiety, severe tooth decay, or needs to have multiple cavities filled at once. That way, Loeb said, they can do it all at once instead of having to come back for multiple appointments. He also takes the time to get to know his patients on their level, rather than rushing them to sit down, and seeks to provide personalized care that puts children and parents at ease.

6. Careful coordination

When people find out they need dental implants, or they want a full-mouth restoration with veneers, understanding the details of the process can be overwhelming. There is a lot of information to absorb. At Boger Dental in Plymouth, patients can speak with a treatment coordinator. Typically, they are hygienists or other staff members with years of dental experience. The coordinator sits down with them in another room to answer questions, detailing all the steps, how the work will be performed, what to expect during treatment, and what insurance coverage and costs the patient can expect.

“This person understands the treatment and can walk the patient through the logistics. We want to have another person who can sit down with them and make sure they understand everything and answer any questions,” Dr. Chad Berg said. “Or they can call someone when they leave and have other questions.”

7. Better anesthesia

You know what to do. When performing dental treatment, most dentists will use a topical treatment to start the anesthesia process and then use a syringe to inject more pain medication. This results in the patient feeling nothing, but many people leave their mouths numb for hours after leaving the dentist's chair.

Some dentists have begun turning to single-tooth anesthesia. This allows them to numb only the necessary teeth, avoiding the gums and lips. Bokens uses The Wand, a computer-guided, single-tooth system that injects drops of anesthetic fluid as needed, rather than using a syringe filled with the drug. The patient will hear a “click” and feel a little pressure as the anesthesia sets in. “They don't even know I'm using it.”

8. No more gunk

It's long been one of the scariest parts of dental work: those gooey impressions that create molds that show where your teeth, arches, and gums sit in your mouth. Thanks to 3D imaging technology, many other clinics no longer use old-fashioned impressions to capture the structure of a patient's mouth. These digital scans instantly show dentists and patients what their mouths look like without having to wait for impressions to come back from the lab. Even better, the images are more precise and accurate, Bokens said.

Morgan often uses 3D imaging to create whitening trays and mouthguards for patients instead of taking impressions. In addition to using these scans for porcelain veneers or corrective clear aligners, Beuckens also uses them for health exams. These images can help dentists see cavities, tooth cracks and a patient's bite more clearly. 3D scanning also allows them to easily compare images to determine if changes have occurred between visits. For example, if Beuckens suspects a patient is grinding their teeth, she takes 3D images to identify whether the teeth have changed over time so she can recommend treatment.

9. Faster programs

For years, dentists often required two visits to repair a problem tooth with a crown. During the first visit, they prepare the tooth and take an impression for an outside laboratory to create a porcelain cap for the tooth. The patient leaves with a temporary crown and returns approximately two weeks later when the permanent crown is ready. To speed up the process without sacrificing quality, some dentists have upgraded their technology to offer same-day crown fabrication services.

They use CEREC machines to combine 3D imaging with office milling. After the dentist prepares the tooth in the traditional way, a machine creates the ceramic crown while the patient waits in the office. The dentist then puts the permanent crown on and the patient can go on with their happy life. “We found that the long-term results of care are better and no impression material is required,” Steele said. “We have now created a model that, from a clinical perspective, is easier for patients and ultimately has better outcomes. This is a huge win.

10. Improve communication

Enhanced images also enable dentists to communicate more effectively with patients. When someone has a broken tooth or needs a dental bridge, a dentist can show them a more detailed picture of the condition through a 3D scan. Morgan finds this helps him explain the situation more clearly and allows the patient to better visualize the proposed repair. Overall, 3D imaging reduces patients' anxiety and sets expectations for what they will experience.

If people are considering two options for straightening their teeth, such as Invisalign or composite resin bonding, Morgan can show them different versions of their smile. “I tell patients that we are like an architect showing them two different versions of a house,” he says. “It's a really nice visual that allows people to see what their two options look like.”

11. Improve overall health

Scientists and clinicians have proven the connection between oral health and overall physical health. This makes sense—the mouth is, after all, part of the human body. Dentists play an increasingly important role in overall health. First, they see patients twice a year, allowing dentists to identify, resolve, and monitor oral problems that may affect the patient's overall health.

For example, there are links between gum disease and heart disease and between gum disease and diabetes. When patients experience these symptoms, many dentists recommend that they visit the dentist three to four times a year for cleanings, Morgan said. This extra care can help people improve their oral health and better manage other medical problems.

12. Future Technology

Some people are skeptical of artificial intelligence, but it is already being used to improve dental care. This technology will continue to improve and enhance dentists’ ability to provide quality oral care. Borg found that using an artificial intelligence system called Pearl could provide a second opinion when he looked at patients' X-rays. After evaluating the image, Borg will run it through Pearl software to confirm his findings. The technology can also detect problems before they are visible to the human eye, allowing dentists to monitor conditions more closely or treat them earlier. Borg said that through machine learning, artificial intelligence tools will continue to improve and become more accurate in the near future.

Steele said 3D printing could become another frontier in dentistry in the future. Some dentists have begun testing 3D-printed crowns made of composite resin. As the dental community better understands the technology and tests its clinical results, the technology could eventually be used to create dentures, clear aligners and mouthguards.

This article originally appeared in the May 2024 issue Mpls. St. Paul Magazine.

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