Technically Speaking – let’s talk about communication

To kickstart off their brand new column, Technically Speaking, Eleanor and Emily Pittard discuss communication between dentists and technicians, and how working as a team is important for the patient journey. 

It’s all about the patient journey. That’s why we all do what we do, no matter who is making the teeth, who is prescribing the teeth or how we all got to this point. We all work for the patient.

So, why have we not figured out a way to work more cohesively within the dental team?

Often labs are seen as separate entities to the practice. And yes, in terms of business models and ownership we are completely different – but not in terms of end goals.

We all want the same outcome – a happy patient.

A typical example

Let’s take a step back and look at a typical example of practice and lab communication. A patient comes into the practice for a check up but unbeknownst to them they need a new crown.

The dentist now needs to gain patient acceptance for this, not necessarily an easy task as now the patient needs to pay more money than they first thought. However, they accept the dentist’s treatment plan and come back in for their prep and impression or scan depending on how digital the practice is.

Now here we could pause to reflect on the debate of which method produces a more accurate result – but that’s a topic for another article. Suffice to say at this point that there is room for discrepancy in both.

Either way, that impression or scan now gets sent to the lab along with a lab ticket prescribing a new UR2 PBC along with a shade and return date.

Now everyone knows how busy dental practices are right now. We live in a crazy time. But do you think from that scenario that the patient is going to get exactly what they want at the next appointment? Unlikely.

What information do we need?

So what else do we need and whose responsibility is it to get that information? Rarely – in our experience – is a tooth just one block shade. Especially in the anterior region (unless the surrounding teeth have already previously been restored in this way).

The nuances are many, so we need photos – as many as you can! And preferably in good lighting with the mirroring tooth also in the photo.

Ultimately it is the dentist’s responsibility to take these. But it is also the technician’s responsibility to prompt for them to be sent and to be fully transparent in what is achievable if they are not received.

When a shade is provided it is everyone’s responsibility to know what shade guide was used. In addition, if, as a lab, you know you get better results from a different shade guide, it is your responsibility to tell the dentist that.

As technicians we understand the materials intimately. So it is our responsibility to have a conversation with the dentist if we think a different material is needed to achieve what the patient wants.

Don’t be afraid to have that conversation. And dentists, don’t be afraid to ask.

Understanding the patient

As a clinician, never underestimate the importance of your prescription.

There is a big difference between ‘UR2 PBC – shade A2, match shade either side’, and ‘UR2 PBC – body of teeth either side A2, core is A3, please make with a translucent tip and note the margin is slightly orange. There are natural but notable striations in the teeth either side and a few flecks of white – please see photos. Make the crown 0.5mm out of occlusion and match the shape and position of the mirroring tooth. Patient wants to achieve a natural looking smile. Any questions let me know!’

As a lab, this is the dream because now we understand the patient so much more.

It is also important for the technicians to understand that sending photos mid-design and asking for thoughts may take more of your time. But the dentist has seen the patient’s mouth. Therefore, you are far more likely to achieve the prescription if you work closely together throughout the creation of the tooth.

Work as a team

In addition, it’s important to understand communication styles and methods and to work together on this.

Looking at DISC profiling for example, you may find that, as a dentist, you are more of a C or D personality type. This may then mean you either like a lot of communication or very specific communication. It also impacts on how you give information to the laboratory and how well it translates to the team.

This is why developing effective communication channels. So, do you prefer to send videos via Whatsapp, write everything on the lab ticket or send an email? Are you open to discussing alternatives with the laboratory or are you generally confident in your material knowledge?

The more open you are to these discussions at the beginning, the better your relationship will be and the better the outcome for the patient.

In summary, when we communicate as one team we are far more likely to achieve the patient’s goal and our joint desired outcome. There is a lot that goes into it, but we all want to achieve that perfect fit and happy smile at the first appointment!

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