The wellness factor

March 21, 2012
Renee Knight
Issue 4

Many patients who walk into ORA Dental Studio for the first time are dentally exhausted. They’ve had bad dental experiences in the past and feel like they’ve lost control, that they’re not able to take charge of their own oral health.

Many patients who walk into ORA Dental Studio for the first time are dentally exhausted. They’ve had bad dental experiences in the past and feel like they’ve lost control, that they’re not able to take charge of their own oral health.

That feeling doesn’t last long, said Dr. Steven Koos, an oral surgeon at the practice. The team members at ORA  don’t try to sell these patients treatment. Rather, they empower them to be involved in their own care as a valued member of the team, and encourage them to ask questions and really consider what’s best for their overall health. They follow a wellness-based model of care that includes education, a focus on prevention and integrated therapies such as massage.

Within 8 to 9 months, these patients have a new smile and a new attitude about their dental health and overall well being.

ORA Studio is an Eco-Dentistry Association™ (EDA) Gold Certified green dental practice-the first one in Chicago. Dr. Koos and the rest of the team spent a lot of time determining the best products to use and the best design for an environmentally friendly practice, but they also recognized going green isn’t just about changing the products you use and reducing your practice’s waste. It also involves the way you look at patient care, and realizing it’s about more than just teeth. It’s about treating the person as a whole.

Becoming a wellness-based practice

Wellness-based dentistry has four components: maintaining optimal health and correcting imbalances early or preventing them before they occur; recognizing the interrelationship between systems; use of integrated therapies; and recognizing a healthy physical environment is key to overall well being, said Susan Beck, EDA Director. Incorporating these elements into your practice will not only result in better care for your patients, it will help make them feel more relaxed, even happy, while they’re getting that care.

“This is really where dentistry can start to transform lives,” said Beck, who also is the former office manager at Transcendentist, the first green dental practice. “There are patients who because of values or bad experiences think the dental office is a door that’s closed to them. Dentistry that doesn’t harm the environment and that’s provided in a way that’s respectful and not insulting to their intelligence opens a door that they couldn’t imagine coming into before.”

What it means to treat the whole person

There is a connection between oral health and the rest of the body, said Dr. Fred Pockrass of Transcendentist and co-founder of the EDA, and dentistry as a whole is making the shift from a sickness-based model to a wellness-based model. That’s what patients who come to his California practice are looking for, what they expect. New patients fill out a detailed questionnaire that includes questions about medical conditions, supplements they take, their nutrition and what they do to relieve stress.

The first appointment lasts about 2.5 hours and includes a thorough examination and time to talk with Dr. Pockrass and other team members. Education is a big part of this “new client experience,” which also includes an oral cancer exam, full-mouth probing and diagnostic images.

From the beginning patients know the team at Transcendentist is there to take care of them, not just their teeth, said Ina Pockrass, co-founder of the EDA.

The same is true at Dr. Valerie Woo’s practice in Virginia. At her pediatric practice, she stresses optimal health and prevention. Education is key to getting there, so Dr. Woo and her team at NOVA Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics spend a lot of time educating parents about how they can help keep their child’s mouth, and ultimately that child’s body, healthy.

“These elements of care go hand in hand with being green,” Dr. Woo said. “Always seeking to maintain optimal health and always addressing any concerns before they really become an issue is the same thing as being green because we’re considering our environment and seeing how there is a link between a healthy environment and a healthy person. There’s always been a link in terms of your oral well being with your total body wellness. When you have a healthy mouth typically you have a healthy body as well.”

Integrated therapies

Most patients don’t like going to the dentist. But if they know they’re getting a foot massage and some real time to themselves while they’re sitting in the chair, they might change their mind. At Transcendentist, that’s exactly what happens. Patients get color therapy glasses and a blanket to make them feel more relaxed and less exposed. They can listen to soothing music on their iPod. The foot massage they get during the procedure and the pleasant smells that come with aromatherapy make them forget they’re in a dental office. Some of them even fall asleep, Ina Pockrass said, because they’re so relaxed and comfortable.

And that relaxation not only puts the patients more at ease, it enhances the effects of any treatment they get. True healing can only occur when a patient is in a deep state of relaxation, Dr. Pockrass said, a philosophy he and his staff members practice by.

“You’re going to lie in a dental chair for an hour, so why not turn that hour into a relaxation experience?,” Dr. Pockrass said. “Most people feel like they have to be focused to help you get through the procedure. We’re saying you are allowed to totally relax.”

Your patients will love it

That type of attention, that type of experience will make your patients want to come see you-and want to tell their family and friends about what a great experience they had. You won’t have to ask your patients to recommend you to others looking for a dental home. They’ll basically do your marketing for you.

Beyond that, patients who are concerned about their overall health aren’t going to start cancelling dental appointments because the economy is bad, Beck said. They’ll make cuts elsewhere, and they’ll stay loyal to a practice that holds the same beliefs and values as they do. The wellness approach helps you create a bond with your patients, who feel like they are your only focus during their time at your office.

“People are excited to come to the dentist when they consider it to be a healing experience,” Beck said. “When people come to cleanings, our hygienist touches them on the shoulder and says ‘you have some time for yourself right now, take this time and relax. Put on the color therapy glasses, close your eyes, listen to some music and take this time to rejuvenate yourself.’ That’s how our patients experience their dental appointment, as a time to step away from their busy lives and to be cared for. That’s the experience we provide and that’s what they share with their friends.”

Beyond the dental practice

Going green and the wellness-based model doesn’t end inside your practice. It should carry over to the community you serve. Remember the steps you take toward a green, wellness-based practice only means good things for the health of everyone in your community.

But it goes the other way, too. If you’re producing a lot of waste and pollutants, you’re not doing your community any favors. You have to be aware of the physical environment and how it affects overall health and well being, Beck said.

If possible, it’s a great idea to work with your community on green initiatives. Dr. Woo first became interested in the green movement because the county she lives in challenged local business owners to go green. Because of that, it’s easy for her to find local companies to work with. So she’s not only helping her community stay physically healthy, she’s providing some financial support as well.

It should come naturally

These types of things-providing education, looking at patients as a whole person and being environmentally conscious should be a natural part of what dentists do. Clinicians need to take a step back and think about what they’re already doing to be more green and what they can do to take it even further to benefit their patients, their community and their practice.  

“As dentists we can be wasteful in our procedures, and it’s actually easy to try to be more green,” Dr. Woo said. “And because we help our community and are servants to our community, we should be stewards of our environment as well. We as clinicians promote wellness and should in turn promote wellness in our environment.”