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Quick Tip: Converting Emergency Patients into Complete Care Patients

In this edition of Increasing Case Acceptance, I want to talk about converting an emergency patient over to somebody that is going to desire more advanced complete care.

Every one of us have emergencies coming into our practice every day, and many of these patients are focused on the problem at hand. It might be a broken tooth, might be something that's bothering their tongue, or it could be a full-blown abscess where they're in pain. What we have to remember is, if you think about this, it is rare - it's extremely rare - that the only thing that's going on in their mouth is related to that emergency.

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So there's two things that we need to balance.

One is we definitely need to address the immediate concern of the patient. That doesn't mean that we have to treat that area definitively. The patient's in pain, and we might be able to take the pulp out of the tooth if they're trying to save that tooth and get them out of pain.

But what I would tell you is that when you're making your diagnosis, take your periapical, take your bitewing of the area, do your clinical exam, but then also take four photographs. Take an upper and lower occlusal shot, take a full-face, take a smile shot, and maybe take a close-up picture of the area that's bothering them. What we will do in our practice is that we will address the immediate concern of the patient, then we'll sit the patient up, get knee-to-knee with them, talk to them a little bit about the concerns of that area, and then also start addressing some of the other things that we see going on.

My goal with the emergency patient is to get them to desire to go to another level of care, which we call optimum oral health, where we have every surface of every tooth cleanable from a periodontal standpoint and from a restorative standpoint. And that this patient has an occlusion where the masticatory system (that the muscles, joints, and teeth) are all working together and in functional and anatomic harmony. If we couple those things together, we can create an environment where that patient can keep their teeth in health and function for the rest of their life.

So remember, it is our responsibility as the dentist to hold the standard.

We have to decide the standard of care that we're going to have with our practice. Look at emergency patients as a unbelievable opportunity to not only help them with the problem they're having today, but also implementing some communication skills to get them to choose a better level of care as they move forward. I think if you do that - just simply a little more talking, few more photographs, visualizing this big picture with them - you're going to find that a lot of these patients are going to reach for that other level, and you will start having increased case acceptance. So with that, try it and good luck.

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Picture of Dr. John Cranham

John Cranham, DDS is a co-clinical director of The Dawson Academy, where he teaches many of the lectures and hands-on courses. Dr. Cranham runs an esthetic-oriented practice in Chesapeake, Virginia. Dr. Cranham is an internationally recognized speaker with 25 years of experience.