Life-changing dental therapy – why a patient-led approach is best
Award-winning dental therapist Hawa Azhar reveals why her patient-led approach enables her to provide the best care possible.
Dental therapist Hawa Azhar won a clutch of awards at last year’s Dentistry Awards and Oral Health Awards. She scooped the titles of Best Therapist South and Overall UK’s Best Therapist at the Dentistry Awards as well as Best Recently-Qualified Therapist and Best Therapist at the Oral Health Awards.
It was the first time she has entered any awards since qualifying in 2016. She says she is ‘incredibly humbled and grateful for the recognition from the panel of judges’.
So, in a year when a pandemic proved a huge challenge for the profession, why choose 2020 to enter?
Hawa, who practises in various clinics across London and Essex, explains: ‘The main reason was to gain exposure amongst peers as well as patients. As a dental therapist, the pool of networking is limited compared with dentists. I also hope greater exposure will bring more awareness to my social media presence, benefiting patients via the dental content I share.’
Indeed, raising awareness of the role of a dental therapist is a mission close to Hawa’s heart. She believes it remains hugely underrated within the profession.
She explains: ‘Making efficient use of our mix of skills within practice has the ability to positively transform the way patients are treated.
‘We carry out more treatments than most people realise, taking the pressure off our dentist colleagues and reducing the waiting times for patients.’ A factor definitely worth considering in today’s COVID-19 climate, perhaps.
A holistic approach
But, raising the awareness of what she does is equally important with patients. Hawa’s approach is very much patient led.
With COVID-19 inevitably proving a turbulent time for us all, Hawa is mindful of the fact that patients will have major concerns beyond their dental health.
She says: ‘We have to remember we are humans first and clinicians second. It’s vital to treat patients holistically. In fact, sometimes delving into other parts of patients’ lives outside of their dental needs may give us a better understanding of how to give them the best care.
‘Many times I’ve been a shoulder to cry on and a friend to confide in before the person addresses their dental concerns, and that really is a privilege.’
While her empathetic professional approach may have changed patients’ lives, she believes the benefits are reciprocal.
‘Equally, patients have changed my life; it’s a two-way street. Sometimes this is in the pleasure of giving dental advice and, other times, it’s more significant such as picking up cancerous lesions.’
She says: ‘My oral health advice is always tailored to each individual and their particular lifestyle.
Incorporating evidence-based statistics into my chats with patients illustrates the importance of good oral health. You can’t challenge the science, nor can the positive effects of consistent good oral hygiene. Patients can feel the difference themselves without us having to convince them. That, in essence, is what creates a lifetime of good oral health.’
She adds: ‘I think the quality that can sometimes be overlooked in any dental professional is the ability to understand and effectively communicate with patients. This can make or break the all-important patient-clinician relationship. Once you have this skill mastered, which isn’t always as straightforward as it seems, you’re onto a winner.’
Hawa is also a big fan of engagement using the Oral-B Test Drive model on patients. This enables them to feel the effects of an electric toothbrush.
‘It is so helpful in my patient education and their compliance. I think it’s genius. We all love a sample or tester, whether it’s perfume, cosmetics or something else. So the idea of being able to try out a toothbrush, which typically would be impossible in a retail setting is definitely something patients love. They get an idea of how it looks, feels and works. A lot of patients, especially those switching over from a manual, are worried they won’t like the way it feels so having a test drive is ideal.’
Her enthusiasm for patient education is evident in what she posts on her Instagram account. It includes a nod to her ‘favourite’ toothbrush.
She writes: ‘Oral-B is my favourite when it comes to electric toothbrushes. The IO is the newest in the range. I did a full review a few months back (saved to my highlights). You can see all the technology and features that it has.’
So, how important is it to connect with patients via social media platforms about their oral health and the tools to maintain it?
Hawa is unequivocal: ‘We have to change with the times and, let’s be honest, most people are probably spending more time on Instagram than looking up oral hygiene tips. It’s a great communication tool. I even have my Instagram page up on the TV in the surgery and use it to show patients ‘before and afters’, as well as oral hygiene instruction videos, which they can refer to at home as well.
‘Dental professionals are more accessible now than ever before. The patient-clinician relationship is ever evolving. It’s amazing to be able to reach out to so many people at once to help and advise them.’
Winning ways: what does it take to be awards-worthy?
- Integrity – do the right thing when no one is watching. Patients put trust in you as a clinician to do and advise what is in their best interest. Put your patient first and you’ll never go far wrong
- Evidence – try to collect as much evidence as possible of all the things you want to mention when entering, whether it’s pictures, videos, patient testimonials or self-reflections. It will help to explain what you are trying to show through your presentation
- Mindfulness – always remember that winning an award is not a measure of your success. Rather, it is how your patients feel under your care and upon leaving their appointment that matters
- Humility – winning an award is just the beginning. My mission now is to continue the good work. To educate and guide many more patients in the future to better oral health
- Appreciation – always remember those who support you. I am thankful to my parents, Dr Ravi Rattan and Dr Sameer Patel, who have championed my career progression, and Adam and Linda Brownlee of Roots Dental Group, who gave my first ever dental-related job at the age of 16. Plus, the panel of judges for choosing me as their winner.
For more information about the Dentistry Awards, visit www.thedentistryawards.com.