How dental practices will look in our 'new normal'

As we gradually return to the new normal, what can patients expect from a trip to the dentist?

With each passing day of the COVID-19 lockdown, each of us is getting more and more eager to return to a state of normalcy. Dentists want to open their office and practice their art. Staff members want to return to their routine and do what they do best-offer outstanding patient care. Patients are in need of cleanings and clinical procedures and the day we can all convene is coming soon.

Thus, the question becomes, as we gradually return to the new normal, what can patients expect from a trip to the dentist?

Here are a few observations, predictions, and ideas to get your practice up and running again.

The Visit

For the dentists that have invested heavily in designing a state-of-the-art waiting room in their attempt to optimize patient comfort from the onset, you will find these rooms deserted and they may have to be repurposed. The new norm will see minimal activity in the waiting room as patients wait in their cars outside in your parking lot, waiting to receive a text that it’s time to enter the office for their appointment.

Next, the patient will be discouraged from bringing any unnecessary family, friends, or partners along with them, except for instances where the patient may need help getting home due to a high dose of anesthesia or major procedure, such as having wisdom teeth extracted.

As the patient enters the office, staff will immediately take their temperature using a no-contact thermometer, while exit areas and waiting rooms will have publicly displayed hand sanitizer units.

New-look reception areas will no longer offer an open floor plan. Instead, receptionists will be totally protected by a plexiglass or glass barrier and it’s likely that the reception area itself might be totally encapsulated.

Offices will no longer accept cash or checks and will require all patients’ fees to be paid electronically.

Patients will be offered protective eye wear during each procedure, while some offices may offer them gloves. All staff will wear protective eyewear other than the receptionist.

As we look at every aspect of the patient visit, it will be interesting to see if some type of disposable protectant for dental chairs will be used.

Within the realm of safety and compliance dentists will try to squeeze as many procedures in during a single visit. Some appointments might be longer to accommodate this strategy, a modification to reduce risk.

The Practice

In general, disposables will play an expanded role in dentistry-take burs, for instance. Dentists are known for using carbides/diamonds for multiple procedures. There will be a newfound focus on single-use products-something many dental professionals and product manufacturers have been touting for years.

Instruments such as scalers, mirrors, and probes will be sealed prior to use and the autoclave will be working overtime. 

Dentists will have to improve their ability to “educate” customers using social media. The education programs will serve as a source for generating new patient visits.

On a lighter note, office magazine subscriptions should go way down.

It’s important for dentists to consider a strategy for dental telemedicine. In healthcare, telemedicine has emerged as a very purposeful tool to address a few key voids in patient treatment, including mobility, urgency, cost savings, and simply leveraging today’s advanced technologies. Although dentistry itself does not fully translate to a tele-treatment model, certain aspects of dental care can be managed remotely. Dentists need to put this on their radar in order to optimize their scope, remain competitive, and generate additional income.

The Good News

Thank goodness for the “Big 3”-the three primary drivers that will help dental practices regain lost momentum. Today, more than ever before, having a big bright smile and pearly white teeth that are perfectly aligned is nearly everyone’s goal, which is great news for the return to norm. Procedures-both emergency and elective-will help fill empty chairs as office visits are no longer restricted.

The final phase of the “Big 3” is great marketing. Recovery will take place faster if a practice’s marketing message is effective and consistently delivered. Here are some fun ways to improve your social media presence while engaging your staff.

Start a social media product review program focusing on popular dental products such as toothpastes, whiteners, floss, mouthwash, and even lip gloss. Then, you can start posting fun and creative product surveys to keep your patients entertained, engaged, and educated. It’s as simple as posting examples such as this:

  • We tried these three whiting toothpastes and here is what we found.

  • Our staff tried three different mouthwashes in a blind taste test and here is who won.

  • We tested five different types of floss/flossing tools. Can you guess which one we liked best?

You can even have your receptionist reach out to manufacturers (phone calls are best, but emails work) and let them know that your dentist/staff/office does professional product reviews. Many companies will send you free samples.

As you start to count down the days to reopening your practice, take a moment to think about what adjustments you need to make to offer your staff and patients the best experience. Recognize that although there are some naturally positive factors on your side, you’re the one that has the opportunity to have the biggest impact on your new norm office. Behind every great dental practice is a great leader. What a great time to lead.