Back to work and making it betterNews
Posted by: The Probe 19th August 2020
By now you might be back at work or preparing to return. Social media has been a godsend at connecting us during the Coronavirus outbreak, allowing us to keep in touch with colleagues and share lockdown stories, stresses and jokes – yes, it was still OK to share a laugh when everything seemed, at times, so sad and hopeless. You may have also used social media to stay up-to-date with other professional networks, outside the practice.
Whatever your current circumstances, 2020 has been a reminder of just how much of a “people” industry we’re in. Many patients spent months without access to dental care while the UK was in lockdown forcing practices to cancel routine appointments. In April, The Guardian newspaper asked patients and professionals to share their experiences of dentistry under lockdown. Although there were dental “hubs” around the UK, for individuals with an emergency, it found anecdotal evidence that many quickly became “overwhelmed by high demand” which, along with “a lack of personal protective equipment”, left people facing the distress of “broken teeth, abscesses and severe toothache”.[i] Maybe you worked at one of these hubs, maybe you have more positive experiences. What is clear is the value of good oral health. We should be motivated by this and, although things will be different within your practice at first (and will continue to be different, for an indeterminate period) you may be buzzing with ideas about how you can make the preventive message even stronger.
There will be lots of challenges, of course. However confident you are in your practice’s infection control protocols, there will be many anxious patients. What has altered is how safe some people will now feel stepping into the dentalcare environment, when they won’t have given it a minute’s thought six months ago. Patients must understand that infection control is not only instinctive and innate for all dental practitioners, but every practice already has an excellent foundation on which to the add the enhanced measures. Use the practice website plus Facebook page/other social media, to outline your new safety policies, clearly and concisely, and what the procedure will be when patients come for their appointment. You may want to call every patient the day before, to check they know what to do. This is particularly important for elderly patients who may not use the internet, or who will need extra support.
To reduce the amount of people in the practice at any time, larger teams are likely to be rotated. Communication is essential. If you found you were “chatting” more with colleagues than ever before during lockdown, keep this going! Keep talking, keep sharing, keep checking in with each other. No dental practice is the same, so you will have your own unique obstacles; there will be a lot to learn in the weeks and months ahead. Positivity is what your patients will expect (as part of the excellent care you deliver) so make sure you are a cohesive team. Over the last few years, there has been a great deal of analysis about professional stress in dentistry, and how many talented people have left the profession because they felt overwhelmed and unsupported. Taking care of each other has never been more important. If your practice is using a rota, perhaps time away from the workplace could be used for additional learning and development; for example, finding out about initiatives like “virtual” oral health clinics, which we are seeing being rolled out.
To return to the theme of the value of oral health, all changes to how you work should be focussed on delivering this central message even better. Good oral health, and sound daily hygiene practises are fundamental to wellbeing. When the mouth is healthy, because the patient knows the correct way to clean their teeth and gums, general health will improve. Twice-daily brushing, including interdental brushing using correct, high-quality tools – TANDEX has changed its packaging, to help practitioners support patients to find the right-size brush – is the basis of a solid routine. But that’s just the start, as true preventive dentistry will encourage patients to think about things like diet and nutrition, smoking, alcohol consumption and stress. These are not just modifiable factors for oral disease like caries, but also for other serious, systemic conditions from certain cancers, to respiratory disease and type-2 diabetes.
Has the Coronavirus outbreak given us the chance to make our message stronger? Possibly, as it has never been clearer that we must help our patients to take good care of themselves, by giving them the tools and information they need to support their own health and wellbeing. The pandemic has also shown how resilient people can be, to adapt to the most challenging of circumstances and do it successfully. Maybe this is the most important thing to remember, as we all move forward together.
Author Kimberley Lloyd- Rees on behalf of Tandex
Kimberley graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2010, where she now works as a clinical tutor in Dental Hygiene and Therapy as well as working in practice. She has spent her career working across a variety of specialist private and mixed dental practices, for the MOD and volunteering her time to a dental charity in Nepal.
[i] Dentists say lockdown measures are causing ‘unnecessary suffering’. The Guardian, 14 May 2020. Link: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/may/14/dentists-say-lockdown-dental-measures-cause-unnecessary-suffering-patients-agony-ppe-england (accessed 22 May 2020).
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