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THE NEXTDDS Student Ambassador Blogs

Cars, Dentistry & Our Patients

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How can we consistently engage our patients in their oral health? Why should we want to engage and involve them in treatment and prevention planning? Let me start with a simple, but true and very relevant story.

I know nothing about cars. All I know is that I need to get mire tires rotated every 5,000 miles and my oil changed every 3,000-5,000 miles. I take my car into the shop about every three to four months, pay for the oil and tire rotation, and then pay for some of the fixes the mechanics always seem to find. Notice my language here, I have never been extremely trusting because it seems like there is always something that needs fixing. Also, I don't know any better so I always feel like they are taking advantage of my lack of knowledge. For years, I wasn't able to find one car shop that I trusted or felt good about. Until recently when I had an experience at this new car shop that changed my perception of car repair, oil change, and dentistry altogether.

After servicing my car they told me there were a couple things that I needed to consider moving forward. However, they didn't try "sell" me on any fixes because they didn't have to, they let some simple images and descriptors educate me and do all the talking. They said when you get home, you'll get an email from us with the full workup of your car, give us a call when you've looked it over. They sent me an email with a personal login to open my own portal. When I logged in I was able to see 20 images of my tires, engine, tubes, spark plugs, filters, etc... Each image included a simple descriptor that explained the deficiency shown in the image and how urgent that problem was. They provided a timeline for repair with each image. This changed how I saw car shops, car mechanics and eventually dentistry!

All of the sudden, I had a foundation of knowledge to be able to ask appropriate questions and to become engaged in the car repair process. I felt like they weren't trying to trick me into repairing something that didn't need repair. I trusted this shop and became a lifelong customer because they gave me the tools to become involved in the process. I'm hoping you've been able to see the connection between my limited knowledge about cars and how I felt, and what our patients know about dentistry and how they feel.

In 2006, United States Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Kenneth P. Moritsugu said, “Low health literacy is a threat to the health and wellbeing of Americans. And low health literacy crosses all sectors of our society. All ages, races, incomes, and education levels are challenged by low health literacy" (CDC, 2013). Kelly and Haidet (2006) concluded that doctors commonly overestimate patients’ literacy levels. So what can we do to educate, engage, and involve our patients into this foreign world of dentistry?

For starters, let’s provide our patients with the tools to OWN their oral health. Just like the car shop did for me, we should be searching for methods to engage our patients by providing them with relevant images, personalized descriptors, and an online portal they can access away from the office. Keeping terms simple, visual, and accessible online are crucial factors to our patients becoming more engaged in their treatment and prevention plans. I’ve been searching for years for an online system or software that provides all three tools for dental patients (simple, visual, personal and accessible online). The one I recommend, and enjoy the most is found at https://livesmileapp.com.

I’ve been out of dental school for just five months but I’m confident using the tools I learned at the car shop, and available through LiveSmile, has improved my case acceptance, my patient retention, and overall patient experience.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (2013). Lead health literacy initiative. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tools/leadliteracy.htm

Kelly, P., & Haidet, P. (2006). Physician Overestimation Of Patient Literacy: A Potential Source Of Health Care Disparities. Patient Education and Counseling, 119-122.