Treatment coordinator Ann Hewitt shows that it is possible to take on a new role and new responsibilities – and make a change – at any age and any stage of their career.
Eighteen months ago I started a new role as a treatment coordinator and this opportunity has exceeded my wildest dreams. It is gratifying that my previous 43 years as a dental nurse has not gone unnoticed and dental partners recognised that I could add real value to the patient’s journey.
They allocated a room in the practice where I work in Conisbrough and encouraged me to offer free face-to-face conversations in the hope that taking a one-to-one approach in a non-clinical setting could help motivate patients who are more anxious about treatment, to engage more and ultimately improve their oral health.
With the unfortunate state of the NHS, accessing care is challenging for many patients. People end up in emergency clinics with abscesses, decay down to the root and seriously poor dental issues. They often leave with no offer of further help and are unable to receive ongoing care to ensure this does not happen again.
There is also a cohort of people for whom visiting a dentist is a scary prospect and getting them to cross the threshold is a challenge.
This is where my role as a treatment coordinator can make a difference. My first contact with patients is over the phone when I will suggest this face-to-face conversation.
The appointment is free, and I offer to listen to what might be worrying them about their teeth. I have been asked why individuals who typically dislike visiting the dentists would actually turn up for this appointment to meet me.
Beauty of the TCO
All I can say is that they all seem reassured when I tell them I have no instruments in the room, that I am not a dentist, and that they will get my full attention while I listen and endeavour to help them. The number of patients who agree to this appointment is increasing.
The beauty of the treatment coordinator taking on a counselling role is that the patient can be 100% engaged in an unthreatening setting. There is no treatment being carried out, just an Itero scan (photography) offered.
First, I just prompt them to tell me about themselves and they are delighted that someone takes the time to listen to stories about their lifestyles and what worries them about their teeth.
Once they are engaged, I offer them a scan, and during this, patients start a dialogue with me about what they can see on screen – you sort of demystify dentistry with images of their mouth and teeth.
Patients during a general check-up often dismiss the offer of a clean because they do not realise how beneficial this would be.
Improving oral health
With the Itero scan, patients can really visualise their dental issues, their plaque levels and start to understand what you are advising them, so that they will more readily go along with your recommendations.
Seeing the inside of their mouth on camera can also be reassuring for some patients who have convinced themselves that the state of their oral health was almost irreversibly damaged. So when you give them options, they just want to do something to improve their oral health.
I carry out 20 to 30 scans a week and dentists in my practice undertake a lot of referrals from me as a result of this. It is quite amazing how many questions patients ask when the scan has taken place.
It can be about plaque, a filling that has broken down, a desire to replace a missing tooth with an implant, Invisalign treatment, whitening, you name it. I am not a dentist but I can point them in the right direction.
Patients always leave excited and keen to come back for treatment, and that is so rewarding and motivating for me.
I also guide them with ways to look after their teeth at home and with recommendations for products which could help them.
Thirty years ago I was given a newly launched Sonicare toothbrush to trial. At that time, it had a big chunky handle but I absolutely loved it and felt it was the best toothbrush I had ever experienced.
The brush lasted a lifetime and I only ended up replacing it because it had turned yellow as the plastic had aged, but the technology was still outstanding. My second and current Sonicare brush is about 15 years old, and it just does not let me down.
It is so robust and I have appreciated that the handle has always worked with all the interchangeable heads introduced throughout the years.
I have been given other brushes but, for me, there is nothing comparable to a Sonicare brush.
Over the moon
So after the face-to-face consultation, many of my newly engaged patients will buy a Sonicare from the practice; typically, the entry model to get them to familiarise themselves with an electric brush.
The two-minute timer helps a lot and there is no concern that people might over scrub and damage their teeth as the bristles are so gentle.
The brush also holds its charge and there is no need to carry the charger everywhere, which means they can take their brush with them, even when they travel.
I think I have sold just under 200 Sonicare brushes since I started my new role, and patients are over the moon with their improved oral health when they come in for a consultation with our hygienists or dentists.
I even have patients come back to purchase more brushes for their family members. When you know that so many patients have not seen a dentist for years and that they suddenly embrace their oral hygiene and are keen to see the dental team, that is so motivating for me to continue and help more patients.
During our consultations, we go through all the different financing options which are available to them. Of course, there is still that stigma that the NHS should be available but when trust is gained, patients start appreciating the various options to help them access the care they need.
That is a giant step from initially seeing some patients hide their mouth and say how much they hate their teeth.
As patients improve their oral hygiene, I also get queries about tooth whitening. Interestingly, the dentists at my practice were not performing whitening treatments at the time I started my new role.
They had tried different systems but had not been entirely happy with results. Because of my conviction with the Philips brand and my love of Sonicare I convinced them to try the Philips’ Zoom home whitening and Sonicare brushes and despite a cautious start, we have been using the brand for 18 months and everyone – from dentists to patients have been fully satisfied.
In January 2023, a 10% offer from us generated more than 30 sales of Zoom whitening home treatments. This has been an amazing result as after the festive period funds are low.
I am proud to say that my role has really made a positive difference to the practice, and I am so grateful that Dental Partners has given me the trust to fulfil my role. I believe every practice could see the value of introducing a treatment coordinator.
It is a win-win situation for everyone and I am so happy that an increasing number of patients benefit from the right level of care thanks to my help.
For more information visit www.philips.co.uk.