Texting patients a must, dentists told

New research suggests text message reminders could ramp up dental attendance.

Research carried out by the British Dental Association (BDA) discovered that at least 3.5 million dental appointments are missed in England each year, and is a common problem across the whole of the health sector.

But a study from overseas has shown that text message reminders could be a solution to improve attendance rates.

In a recent trial, dentists in India who sent their patients a text reminder found that four in every five people attended their appointment on time.

Although text messaging is used by many dental practices in the UK, it is not widespread and with an estimated 91% of adults in the UK owning or using a mobile phone it is the most ubiquitous form of communication.

While it remains to be seen whether the system would eradicate missed dental appointments in the UK, it is a solution that should be given further consideration, according to chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation. Dr Nigel Carter.

Dr Carter said: ‘At present, individual practices are responsible for how they communicate with their patients. However, with such a large number of people not attending dental appointments, it’s obvious better communication is needed.

‘A text message is a very simple, efficient and cost-effective way of communicating in modern society. With so many mobile phones in use, it could be the answer to the problem.’

The cost of NHS dental treatment, allied with dental anxiety within the population, accounts for the reason three in every four people think twice about looking after their oral health.

With basic NHS dental charges due to increase on 1 April 2012, Dr Carter believes now more than ever patients need to be informed about how important their oral health is.

Dr Carter said: While patients may have genuine reasons for not attending dental checkups, the Foundation has previously reported on other factors, particularly financial constraints, influencing dental treatment choices.

‘The general public need greater access to information to educate them on how important their oral health is. It has been proven that looking after your oral health can reduce the risk of getting infections which in turn can spread to other parts of the body. For instance, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, pneumonia, pancreatic and colon cancer are all problems made worse or even caused by poor dental health, particularly gum disease.

‘If people realised that dental care is not a luxury that should be overlooked, regular checkups can identify early signs of gum disease. The cost of not doing so has health implications, not to mention more extensive cost implications.’

The research, carried out on 206 people attending outpatient clinics at the ITS Centre for Dental Studies and Research (ITS-CDSR), Muradnagar, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India, found the rate of attendance on time was found to be significantly higher in the test group (79.2%) than in the control group (35.5%).

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