Louise McAllister explains what The Essex Dental Clinic is doing to be considered ‘notable practices’ at its latest CQC inspection.

‘Treat every patient as you would want to be treated,’ is the mantra of the team at The Essex Dental Clinic. Owned by principal dentist Dr Louise McAllister, this purpose built, family-friendly practice works hard to deliver excellent quality care with a strong emphasis on ‘prevention is better than cure’.

Surrounded by green fields, the NHS and private practice is located on a business park a short drive outside of Earls Colne in Essex. Louise explains her team’s patient-centric approach to dentistry, ‘Here the patient experience is everything, from the moment someone enters the front door until they leave. It is important to us that everyone is treated with kindness and how we would like to be treated ourselves.’

With this in mind, Louise has created a dental practice that offers beautiful surroundings, a welcoming environment for patients of all ages and the very latest dental equipment and techniques. She sees the out-of-town location as a real asset: ‘Our patients experience none of the stress or hassle associated with a town centre location. With plenty of car parking right by our front door, we find that parents with pushchairs and those with restricted mobility find it particularly easy to visit us. With patients ranging from zero to our eldest who is 99 years, access is really important.’ Since opening nearly seven years ago Louise believes their location creates the perfect backdrop for a relaxing atmosphere where the warmth of friendships between the staff members really comes through in the care delivered to their patients.

The practice has four dental surgeries, all of which make use of the latest equipment. Louise explains: ‘We have intra-oral cameras so that patients can see inside their own mouths on the screen and we can highlight any problem areas that need special attention such as staining or calculus, for example. These cameras also help our dentists to educate patients and explain why a particular course of treatment has been recommended. When patients see this magnified view of problem areas, it really helps them to understand the treatment required. Laminated sheets showing photographs before and after treatment are also appreciated by patients.’

Oral health care

Promoting hygienist visits and individualising oral health care is central to the team’s work. Louise emphasises: ‘We make an effort to ensure all our oral health advice is specific to the individual and are especially keen that patients understand what is going on in their own mouth. By explaining and sharing basic periodontal examination scores at each visit, patients can look back over time and feel the effort they are making with their cleaning regime is paying off. This can be a great motivation to continue.’

The practice is a real advocate of interdental cleaning and power brushes and uses its Oral-B Test Drive system to help patients hone their brushing techniques. Angela Cass, the practice hygienist, elaborates: ‘For patients who are persuaded to start using an electric brush or for those who need to fine tune their brushing, we will book a session with myself or Carly Bateman, our therapist. Using the Test Drive single use demonstrator heads and hygiene sheaths, we are able to show the patient exactly how to use a power brush to clean every tooth surface. We are then able to talk to them about areas they might be missing and help them experience the right technique. We also have a range of different brush handles for patients with varying needs, such as ones for arthritis sufferers who find gripping difficult.’

Challenges for parents

This year Louise and her team have set themselves the challenge of doubling the number of under-fives coming to visit the practice. With 3.7% of her patients falling into this category, some 200 patients, this is a formidable task. Their approach is to target young mums and health visitors and have recently held an open evening. Louise explains: ‘We discussed the challenges parents experience in implementing good oral health practices at home and provided advice on the use of brushes and paste. Our aim is to encourage parents to start brushing children’s teeth as early as possible and to bring them into the practice so they have a positive experience of visiting the dentist and so that good oral health practices can be embedded at the earliest age.’

The good work of the team goes beyond the practice, Louise explains: ‘We take our mission to educate and promote good oral health out in the community very seriously. Throughout the year we carry out a raft of activities both in and out of the practice. In addition to regular practice open days, we like to get out and visit local schools. For National Smile Month, this year we organised a brushathon for the primary school children, which was a huge success. The team also produce a monthly newsletter providing the latest health, practice and local community information for patients. Recently we focused on dementia and for Halloween we suggested sugarfree alternatives to sweets. Our head nurse is even undertaking the annual London to Brighton charity walk to raise funds and awareness for Dementia UK.’

It is a credit to Louise’s team that these undertakings were considered ‘notable practices’ in the CQC’s inspection report of July 2017, commenting: ‘In particular we heard from people of how [this] learning had impacted on young patients and led to improvements in their knowledge, understanding and confidence when attending the dental surgery.’ Louise concludes: ‘I could not wish for a more knowledgeable, dedicated and committed team who love their jobs and working together. I am very proud of them and that our work to promote oral health out in the community has been recognised by the CQC.’