By Laura Thill

Orthodontists today stress patient education and the ability to serve an increasingly versatile patient base.

Patient education has always been a priority for dental professionals. But, as social media continues to influence the public, and more and more people rely on Google for expert advice, specialties like orthodontics are finding it more important than ever before to connect with patients early on.

“Today, we have teenage and adult patients who trust a post or smartphone app as the authority on most topics, including their orthodontic care,” says Carl Gioia, DDS, an orthodontist with Louisville, Kentucky-based BracesBracesBraces, which is a Mortenson Dental Partners brand. “Educating my patients and their families on what we do and why we do it has become my top priority, because in a time of endless information consumption, we need to make sure our relationships with our patients are built on trust. At BracesBracesBraces, we say eight is great, meaning it’s important to begin educat- ing our referred patients – as well as their parents – at the age of eight, long before their orthodontic treatment actually begins.”

Will Engilman, CIO, president of support services, Mortenson Dental Partners, and an orthodontist and founder of BracesBracesBraces, agrees. “Ten years ago, the focus was on building relationships in our physical com- munity,” he says. “Now it is about being engaged in both our physical and digital community.” Particularly given the increase in general dentists offering different forms of orthodontic treatment – from Invisalign to Six Month Smiles – and the growing number of lab-to-consumer offerings, such as Smile Club and SmileLove, “we are now tasked with educating patients about what orthodontists can do for them, long before they come into our office,” he says.

At the same time, the orthodontic market is seeing a shift from primarily pre-teen/teenage patients to a balance of pediatric, young adult and even middle-age patients. “As more esthetic-conscious, middle-age people are looking to have a great smile, in addition to the traditional teenage patients, it’s becoming more important to have a practiceversatile enough to cater to patients of all ages,” says Gioia. Advances in technology have made it easier for orthodontists to measure their performance and quantify the patient experience, adds Engilman. “With these newer resources, we can focus on what’s important to our patients – what they truly value – and how we can deliver these services.” Indeed, technological advances have made it easier for orthodontists to customize patients’ treatment more efficiently, Engilman continues. “Every case is different, and now we can hyper-target each patient with a specific care plan that is best for him or her.”

“We have tailored our orthodontic appliances to work in concert with each patient’s biology,” Gioia points out. “The biologic tooth movement tends to be most efficient for our patients. Whether we are working with newer wires or clear aligner therapy, we’ve been trying to apply more light, continuous forces, which hopefully will increase the efficiency of the tooth movement.”

Communicate, communicate, communicate As orthodontic practices become increasingly focused on patient education, they depend on the dental teams at general practices to deliver a consistent message to patients. “There is nothing more reassuring to a parent than when a general dentist refers [their son or daughter] to our orthodontic practice, and they receive the exact same information with regards to a diagnosis or possible treatment,” says Gioia. “It’s a powerful tool in building our patient base and it builds a sense of trust between the families in our community and our dental colleagues. As orthodontic specialists, we need to spear-head that conversation in our communities.”

“I would add that great communication is a team effort,” says Engilman. “All members of the dental team have an opportunity to help convey the message of oral health, and how orthodontics plays a part. This builds patient trust and ease of mind. That said, the orthodontist should work toward adding value to the referring dental practice with outstanding patient care, education and delivering piece of mind to the parents and patient regarding treatment. We work very hard to preserve our relationship with all of our referring dentists, as well as the dentist-patient relationship.”

An empowered team

Being part of a large DSO like Mortenson Dental Partners has enabled Carl Gioia, DDS, an orthodontist with Louisville, Kentucky-based BracesBracesBraces, to focus on building relationships with his patients and providing above-and-beyond patient care. “At the end of the day, my worries are about the people who come into my office and how we can get them the smile they want,” he says. “I’m not bogged down by IT or software glitches that may arise, and I’m not worried about administrative burdens of the business. I get to focus on taking care of my patients – both young and old. If our team puts our full effort behind that motivation, the success of our practice will follow.”

“At Mortenson Dental Partners, we have empowered all of our team members at all levels to think like an owner,” adds Will Engilman, CIO, president of support services, Mortenson Dental Partners, and an orthodontist and founder of BracesBracesBraces. “To do so, we employ open book management. All levels of our organization can see into the performance of each function and use this data to make the best decision for their patient, their team and the company.

“One of the biggest ways we can support our providers is to give them the tools and resources to be successful and to deliver care to their patients,” he continues. “We want our providers to focus on their patients – not payroll, marketing or human resources. By supporting them with experts in these functions, we give them the opportunity to deliver high quality, consistent care for each patient, at every visit.”