A dentist whom I greatly admire started what he named his “80/20 Club” more than a decade ago. This celebrates with his patients who have reached the age of 80 and still have 20 or more of their natural teeth. The goal of preserving teeth for a lifetime has been a “life centering health goal” for many of his older patients. But, while celebrating acheivements is great, addressing dental loss is also important.
Often, I think about what it means to my older patients, who are naturally experiencing dental aging, to lose a measure of health. By that I mean, how does it affect them emotionally when they lose a tooth or must have crowns replaced, or develop the periodontal disease after decades of maintaining excellent oral health? Some go through a grieving process as they become aware of these signs of aging. Some feel anger that years of regular dental care did not prevent this from occurring. Some take dental aging in stride but have difficulty making a choice to move forward. Some are eager to do whatever it takes to be able to eat with comfort and smile with confidence, but they wonder how much they can or even should invest in their mouths.
For my patients and ultimately all of us, it is a deeply personal experience. As individuals, we must sort through our feelings and decisions ourselves. This is not only natural, but it is appropriate.
In my Boynton Beach dental practice, we respect the uniquely individual feelings and thoughts of our patients. Unlike many dental practices, we have learned it helps patients to “stay on the question” of what they want to do until they are ready to decide. By this I mean we don’t hurry patients into making the next appointment to restore health. But, we do encourage them to take the next step. Frequently, this means they come back for a “conversation with the doctor” in my office. We talk about their options and what they think might be most appropriate for them. They may come back with a family member or close friend to review the findings, choices, and costs. Or, they may come back for a thorough dental cleaning and re-evaluation within three to four months of the last visit instead of waiting six months.
My hope is that we can stop further oral health losses while patients are deciding what they want to do and that our “clinical patience” of staying in the question does not result in such a delay that a patient is forced to need more extensive dentistry or emergency treatment. So, staying in the question is a “balancing act.” I never want patients to feel pressured by us “to do dentistry.” I want them to want their treatments and to appreciate them. I also don’t want to “watch” oral health losses occur and not do something about it.
We care about our patients, and I don’t sleep well at night knowing I could improve someone’s quality of life and total health. So, from time to time, I have sincerely genuine conversations with patients about the gravity of their oral condition and lovingly help them see the true benefits of the treatment they could receive. Facilitation of oral health is much more than clinical evaluations and treatments. Facilitation of oral health is a heart-to-heart and mind-to-mind process of developing understanding and creating opportunities for patients to discover what they truly want to do.
We love serving patients of all ages in our practice, and we have expertise with the issues that affect aging patients and individuals who have a complex of multiple dental loss problems. If you are looking for a dental practice like ours, for yourself or a loved one, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can even schedule a complimentary consultation to tell me what concerns you most, get to know me a bit in person, and then decide if you want to schedule time in the dental chair.
With respect for all persons,