Getting patients back on the right path

22 April 2021
3 min read
Published:

Diane Rochford explains how dental hygienists and therapists can help to solve problems caused by DIY dentistry.

Dental services are now getting back to normal – well, the new normal. But one concerning thing that has become abundantly clear in the wake of the pandemic is that thousands of individuals have had to take dentistry into their own hands or have turned to non-professional sources of information.

Worryingly, it has come to light that thousands of people may have resorted to “DIY dentistry” during the lockdown period when regular dental services weren’t available. In fact, one source claims as many as one in four people performed DIY dentistry on themselves during this time, meaning thousands of people performed home treatments that could have caused far more damage than good.

Examples of DIY dentistry include drastic measures such as people extracting teeth that were causing them pain, to more general fixes such as trying to treat cavities at home or taking painkillers to override dental pain. It goes without saying that these actions come with a number of risks. Performing traumatic measures such as a tooth extraction at home can lead to some serious complications, and even attempting to treat cavities at home can result in lasting consequences, such as permanent damage to the teeth or even increased risks of decay.

Another worrying trend that has flourished during the pandemic is misinformation around oral health. The video sharing app TikTok, in particular, seems to have given a platform to a number of dangerous practices during the last year. One of these videos featured a person using three per cent hydrogen peroxide on their teeth as an at home whitening hack. Obviously, this is incredibly unsafe if used without a custom-made tray, resulting in tooth sensitivity and damage to the gingiva if not applied correctly. Another shocking video on the app featured a woman using a nail file to file down her teeth. Again, this is clearly a bad idea, as doing so can damage the structure of the teeth and wear away the protective enamel, leading to higher chances of tooth chipping, decay and sensitivity.

What makes this misinformation particularly worrying is that these “trends” often go viral, resulting in millions of views on the platform. This means that potentially thousands of impressionable people are likely to have tried some of these hacks at home, possibly causing irreversible damage to their dentition.

So, what can dental hygienists and dental therapists do to help prevent more people resorting to these measures and falling for beauty “hacks” they see online? As with many issues, educating patients is paramount to avoid these mistakes in the future.

Dental hygienists and dental therapists are well placed to speak to patients about these topics, especially as many patients may be unaware about just how dangerous these actions are. You may have already seen some patients post lockdown who have signs of treating their own teeth or following misinformation, and this is the perfect opportunity to speak to these individuals about their motivations and to explain why these actions are dangerous.

Think about the patients who are most likely to use apps such as TikTok and who may be easily influenced – use TikTok as a conversation starter and speak to them to see if they have seen any of these hacks and ask if they would consider doing them. This way, you can highlight the dangers and hopefully prevent these individuals for falling for any misinformation.

This is also a good way to promote services within the practice you work in. For example, if a patient has ideas about tooth whitening, you can always offer them whitening methods done professionally, drawing in revenue and ensuring that they remain safe from harm.

As always, it’s also a smart idea to explore different methods of communication when speaking to these patients. Some may be drawn to more visual presentations such as videos or diagrams, while some may better understand things when demonstrated on a model. By talking to your patients about how they learn best, you can choose the most appropriate way forward.

In the end, the pandemic has been a very difficult time for millions of people, and therefore it’s important not to lay any blame on people who have tried beauty hacks or resorted to desperate measures. What dental hygienists and dental therapists can do best is educate people and put them back on the right path.