Dental Health

12 Methods Dentists Are Upping Their Recreation

This feature was written by Studio MSP writers. While some of our advertisers were sourced, no advertiser paid to be included.

Providing excellent care is table stakes at dental clinics across Minnesota—and priority number one. Yet that doesn’t mean that patients always look forward to seeing the dentist. Some people deal with anxiety while others find that getting dental work can mean a significant commitment of time. 

In recent years, dentists have worked to transform their practices to address patients’ concerns and improve their overall experiences. Many have given their dental offices a boost, including adding new technology that speeds up care. Others have enhanced ways for patients to communicate with their practice and incorporated different ways to put people at ease. 

These changes are apparent whether it’s a child receiving a routine cleaning, a teenager getting braces, or an adult having their smile restored. Read on to learn the 12 ways dentists have rethought and reimagined how they provide this essential care to patients of all ages.

1. Flexible Schedules and Scheduling

Dentists understand that it can be tough for people to fit in two dental visits a year per family member. Parents dislike taking their kids out of school, and there often are sports or other activities afterward. Adults typically want to hold onto their vacation or sick time instead of using it to take care of their oral health. These days, though, dental work doesn’t just happen from 8 to 5.

Many clinics now provide appointments into the evening, while some schedule on Saturdays. Dr. Christopher Steele, president of multilocation Park Dental, says it commonly holds dedicated pediatric Saturdays where parents can check that must-do off of their to-do list. Another convenience is online scheduling. These days, Park Dental patients can go online to make routine care appointments—a fan favorite for those who don’t enjoy making phone calls. 

2. One-stop Shops

At many dental clinics, staff regularly structure appointments so that all of the kids—and sometimes even the parents—can get their routine care completed at once, says Dr. Megan Beuckens of Ethos Dental in Richfield. Talk about efficient! 

Other clinics offer a variety of specialists under one roof. At Park Dental, many patients prefer not to go to an unfamiliar provider for a root canal or to have their wisdom teeth removed, Steele says. It also makes it easier for staff to seamlessly coordinate such care with in-house providers. The practice’s dentists and specialists like orthodontists and periodontists share the same patient medical record and consult fluidly with each other about treatments, eliminating any potential hiccups for patients, he adds. 

Some dentists offer multiple specialties all on their own. Dr. Mitchell Loeb of Kid Grins Pediatric Dentistry in Edina is board-certified in pediatric dentistry and prosthodontics—the specialty focused on replacing missing or deficient teeth. This allows him to view his patients’ development and do fillings or other restorative work like crowns with a dual lens. And for families whose kids need help with missing teeth, Loeb can treat them at their regular clinic.

3. Super Settings: Adults

Sometimes adults need a distraction or a bit of TLC when they are having dental work done. At Ethos Dental, patients can have their care completed in a private suite. There, staff can adjust the lighting, offer a cozy blanket, or stream entertainment to televisions on the wall or ceiling, Beuckens says. The clinic also reserves blocks of adults-only appointments for patients who benefit from a peaceful and relaxed environment. 

4. Super Settings: Kids

Helping patients feel welcome and comfortable—and even have some fun—is part of the dental visit at many practices. When little ones visit Kid Grins, they love to climb into the tree house and go down the slide in the waiting room. They can play “I Spy” on murals in other rooms or search for the squirrel brushing its teeth in an exam room tree. Even teens can be found in the tree house. “One of the foundations of pediatric dentistry is ensuring that as many kids as possible have a great experience so they don’t have those moments of anxiety and trepidation of going to the dentist,” Loeb says. “They view it as a fun experience and something they want to do versus have to do.”  

5. Easing Anxiety

About one-third of people have dental anxiety and/or a fear of going to the dentist. Dental professionals know and understand how many people feel about seeing them, and they offer numerous ways to help. Some clinics have been pulling out all the stops to help people through their appointments, whether it’s a cleaning, filling, or root canal. 

At Morgan Family Dental in Prior Lake, Dr. Tom Morgan offers a menu of options. Patients can put on noise-cancelling headphones to play their favorite tunes—and block out the sound of dental equipment. Relaxing in a massage chair with a blanket can bring comfort, too. And then there are pharmaceutical options to calm those nerves, from nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to help patients float through a procedure, or even conscious sedation with an oral medication to put them lightly to sleep, Morgan says. No one needs to suffer in silence.

Some pediatric dentists will provide general anesthesia when kids have anxiety, significant tooth decay, or need to have several cavities filled at once. That way, they can have all the work done at once instead of needing to come back for multiple appointments, Loeb says. He also spends time getting to know patients at their level instead of rushing them into the chair, seeking to provide personalized care that puts kiddos and parents at ease.  

6. Careful Coordination

When people find out they need an implant, or they want to do a whole-mouth restoration with veneers, learning the details about the process can get overwhelming. There’s a lot of information to absorb. At Boger Dental in Plymouth, patients can consult with a treatment coordinator. Often, they are hygienists or other staff people with years of experience in dentistry. Coordinators sit down with them in another room to answer questions, detailing all of the steps, how the work will be staged, what to expect during the treatment, and patients’ expected insurance coverage and costs. 

“It’s someone who understands the treatment and can walk patients 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,” says Dr. Chad Boger. “Or when they leave and have other questions, they have someone they can call.”

7. Better Anesthesia

You know the drill. When it’s time for dental work, most dentists will use a topical treatment to start the numbing process, then use a syringe to administer more pain-blockers. This results in patients not feeling anything, but many leave the dentist’s chair with a numb mouth for hours. 

Some dentists have started transitioning to single tooth anesthesia. This allows them to numb just the necessary tooth, avoiding the gums and lips. Using The Wand, a computer-guided single tooth system, Beuckens inserts droplets of anesthesia as needed, instead of using a syringe full of medication. Patients hear a blip and feel a bit of pressure as the anesthesia goes in. “It’s more comfortable and less traumatic for patients—especially kids,” she says. “They don’t even know I’m using it.” 

8. No More Goop

It’s long been one of the more dreaded parts about dental work: those goopy impressions that create molds revealing how the teeth, arch, and gums are situated in the mouth. Thanks to 3D imaging technology, many other clinics no longer use old-school impressions to capture the structure of patients’ mouths. These digital scans immediately show dentists and patients what their mouths look like without needing to wait for impressions to return from the lab. Even better, the images are far more precise and accurate, Beuckens says. 

Morgan often uses 3D imaging to make whitening trays and mouth guards for patients instead of taking impressions. In addition to using these scans for porcelain veneers or orthodontic clear aligners, Beuckens also uses them for wellness checks. The images help dentists more clearly see cavities, crack lines in teeth, and patients’ bites. 3D scans also allows them to easily compare images to determine whether something has changed between visits. For example, if Beuckens suspects that a patient grinds their teeth, she takes 3D images to identify whether the teeth have changed over time so that she can suggest treatment.   

9. Faster Procedures

For years, it’s been common for dentists to require two visits to fix a problem tooth with a crown. At the first visit they prepare the tooth and make an impression for an outside lab to create the porcelain cap for a tooth. Patients leave with a temporary crown in place and return in about two weeks when their permanent crown is ready. To speed up the process without sacrificing quality, some dentists have upgraded their technology to offer same-day crowns. 

They combine 3D imaging with in-office milling using CEREC machines. After dentists prepare the tooth in the traditional way, the machine creates ceramic crowns while patients wait in the office. Dentists then place that permanent crown and patients go on their merry way. “We’re finding that the long-term result of the care is better, and no impression material is needed,” Steele says. “We’ve created a model now where it’s easier on the patient and the net result is better from a clinical perspective. That’s a big win.”

10. Improved Communication

Enhanced imaging also allows dentists to communicate more effectively with patients. When someone has a broken tooth or needs a bridge, dentists can show them what is going on in much more detail thanks to 3D scans. Morgan finds that it helps him explain the situation more clearly and allows patients to better visualize the proposed restoration. Overall, 3D imaging eases patients’ anxiety and sets expectations for what they will experience. 

If people are considering two options to straighten their teeth, say with Invisalign or composite resin bonding, Morgan shows them different versions of what their smiles will look like. “I tell patients that we’re almost like an architect showing them two different versions of what a house can look like,” he says. “It’s a really nice visual so that people can see what both of their options would look like.” 

11. Improved Overall Health

Scientists and clinicians have confirmed links between oral health and overall physical health. It makes sense—the mouth is part of the human body, after all. Dentists are increasingly playing an even more important part in general health. To start, they already see people twice a year, allowing dentists to identify, address, and monitor issues in the mouth that could be affecting patients’ general health. 

For example, there is a connection between gum disease and heart disease, as well as between gum disease and diabetes. When patients have these conditions, Morgan says, many dentists recommend that they come in three to four times a year for cleanings to treat it. That extra care can help people improve their oral health and better control their other medical concerns. 

12. Tech of the Future

Some people are leery of artificial intelligence, but it’s already being used to improve dental care. The technology will continue to improve and enhance dentists’ abilities to provide excellent oral care. Boger has found that using an AI system called Pearl serves as a second opinion when he looks at patients’ X-rays. After evaluating images, Boger will run it through the Pearl software to confirm what he found. The technology also can spot concerns before the human eye can see them, allowing dentists to monitor conditions more closely or treat them earlier. Using machine learning, AI tools will continue to improve and become even more accurate in the near future, Boger says. 

Down the road, 3D printing will likely be another frontier in dentistry, Steele says. Some dentists have started testing printed 3D crowns made from composite resin. Eventually the technology could be used for creating dentures, clear aligners, and mouth guards as the dental world understands the technology better and tests its clinical results.

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

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