The hygienist’s blog – a great initiative, here to stay

virtual online oral health clinicWith lockdown keeping patients away, Claire Berry introduces the innovative virtual online oral health clinic from the BSDHT and Oral-B.

We have been in lockdown now for over 10 weeks. I can’t help but think about all my patients who I usually see on a three monthly basis. It makes me sad that there are so many people out there requiring our services (knowingly or not). Yet we cannot be there to help maintain and support them at this time.

Many patients are contacting me since lockdown started. Many are concerned they are going to see their periodontal health deteriorate without my intervention. For the few that have the motivation to contact me, there will be plenty who haven’t got the means or knowledge about how to do this. They sit at home in lockdown with these same thoughts.

You can therefore imagine my delight when the BSDHT (British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy) asked to see if I want to help with a virtual online oral health clinic sponsored by Oral-B. I jumped at the opportunity.

Virtual online oral health clinic

The concept is extremely innovative in these uncertain times. It gives patients a platform in which to have 1:1 contact with an oral health expert.

The initiative has gone from strength to strength and every week we are seeing more and more patients. Is this a new way of reaching and advising patients, even after we lift lockdown? I would like to think so.

Of course I advise each patient to see a hygienist as soon as dental practices are able to accept them. To be clear, this doesn’t remove the need for physical treatment or replace the need for disease screening. We make this clear to the patients when they book. This platform is to give them a point of contact for tailored oral hygiene advice, preventing caries and gum disease in alternative ways and in some cases, bridge the gap between their dental appointments at a time when we don’t know when they will be able to see their dental team again. We maintain motivation, teach new techniques, advise the correct oral hygiene aids and reassure the public.

Each appointment is a Zoom call with 30 minutes of 1:1 advice, based on the patients’ oral health needs. As it is so focused on the individuals’ specific requirements in a relaxed way (and more importantly with it being outside of the anxiety of a dental surgery), they really take the information on board. This allows for an improved ability to create behaviour change, the fundamental role of a dental hygienist.

After the appointment the BSDHT sends them information about the products and techniques I advised for them. So they have this advice to take away.

Making a difference

Since starting this I have had patients worry their periodontal health will deteriorate. Particularly in the absence of the non-surgical periodontal therapy (NSPT) that they have at three monthly intervals.

One patient had noted increased bleeding and was anxious that they’d lose their teeth. This was causing them to lose sleep and they appeared quite stressed about this. They know this isn’t something to call 111 for. But by having contact with me I could reassure them and advise them on what products they could use to self-treat in the absence of NSPT. I’ve had online appointments with families and young children to discuss what causes caries, how to prevent it and how to implement good routines to help with their children’s toothbrushing.

I’ve had patients who are experiencing advancing periodontitis with increasing mobility. One of which clearly presented with mobility of his anteriors. Their dentist said there was no option but to eventually lose teeth. They had no discussion of seeing a hygienist, having periodontal treatment with said dentist or a referral to a periodontal specialist. I was able to connect that patient with a hygienist locally for as soon as he is able to commence with treatment via direct access. From there he will get the treatment or referral he needs to help stabilise his condition.

Without this service, would he have eventually lost teeth unnecessarily? Probably, but by having a service he could access easily with no obligation he now knows what he needs to do at home to start his self-care routine and what he needs to do in the long term to help him stabilise his disease moving forward. I have no doubt I will have made a difference in his life and that feels good. It’s why we do what we do.

Spread the word

Oral-B and the BSDHT are hoping this initiative works to become something the public can access for the long term. Not just a COVID-19 offering. It will help connect the public with clinicians. They can help alleviate anxiety for those patients too nervous to come straight into a dental scenario, help motivate periodontal patients between visits and educate the public about oral health. Please help us spread the word so we can access as many people as possible.

Become a Dentistry Online member

Become a member