Teach Your Patients About Oral Health and Overall Wellness

Maria A. Smith, DMD


A new survey from the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) shows that some Americans are unaware of the connection between their oral health and overall wellness. This may not surprise many general dentists, who may encounter this patient perspective in practice, but it’s worth taking a closer look at the results of our recent study

In our survey of more than 1,000 adults in the United States, only 25% of respondents said they associate going to their general dentist with getting screened for oral cancer. Half of the survey respondents indicated that they don’t view their general dentist as an expert on prevention, and only 4 in 10 (41%) said they see their general dentist as an expert on overall health. 

Based upon some of this data, it can be concluded that general dentists have an immense opportunity to play a greater role in educating patients to change public perceptions through the following methods:

  • Better Communication: It’s crucial for general dentists to have open communication with their patients by explaining all aspects of twice-yearly dental checkups. General dentists are routinely screening patients for oral cancer at these appointments, though many patients may not realize it. Actively sharing our expertise and knowledge at these appointments by informing our patients of our findings in their mouths and encouraging them to take an active role in their dental care is critical not only to raise their oral health awareness but also to enable them to accept responsibility for those oral conditions that present clinically.
  • Risk Factor Awareness: Cases of oral cancer have increased over the past two decades. General dentists now have a greater obligation to explain the importance of routine oral cancer screenings as well as to also communicate to patients the risk factors, which include alcohol consumption, tobacco consumption, and sexual activity. Early detection is key in the management of oral cancer, and referrals for biopsies of suspicious oral lesions are critical in its successful treatment.
  • Continuous Education: AGD general dentists spend many hours every year on continuing education, keeping up-to-date on new instruments, technologies, and scientific studies. However, only 29% of survey respondents consider their general dentist to be an expert resource on the latest innovations and technology in dentistry. AGD’s continuing education offerings and Fellowship and Mastership awards foster and recognize continuous learning, enabling dentists to provide the most current treatment modalities for comprehensive care of their patients.
  • Patient Experience Enhancement: In today’s economy, patients typically are empowered to improve upon their experiences in the dental office or, in some cases, change dentists who are providing their care based upon those experiences. In our survey, 25% of patients said they were willing to make changes to improve their experience, whether with their current general dentist or in seeking a new dental care home. Also, 27% of survey respondents said they changed dentists to better improve their overall dental experience.

To summarize, remember to have open communication with patients, pay attention to risk factor awareness (especially when it comes to oral cancer), stay on top of continuing education, and always work to improve the patient experience. These components are the key pillars to a successful dental practice and are all supported by data in AGD’s recent survey.

By opening lines of communication between dentists and patients, we allow ourselves the chance to further enhance our dental practice and strengthen relationships with patients. Since patient experience is so important in today’s economy, it is crucial that we prioritize it in our day-to-day work.

To learn more, please visit agd.org, or check out AGD on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Dr. Smith is president of the AGD and has been practicing dentistry for 32 years in Shelton, CT. He earned her dental degree at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, where she was a preclinical instructor for first-year students in general restorative dentistry and for third-year students in dental auxiliary utilization. She is a visiting clinical instructor at the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine as well. For more information, inquiries may be sent to Laura Winchester at laura.winchester@finnpartners.com.

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