Great expectations

21 March 2022
2 min read

Nimisha Nariapara discusses managing patient hopes through treatment.

In orthodontics, managing patient expectations is more important now than ever before. With so many external forces influencing how patients perceive orthodontics, dentists may have to tackle certain expectations regarding treatment.

Patients who have a clear image of their desired outcome may also possess an unrealistic outlook about the treatment time, method and their own level of involvement. There are no ‘quick fixes’ when it comes to changing the alignment of the teeth, but there are ways to manage patient expectations and increase the likelihood of treatment acceptance.

Managing patient expectations
With so many digital platforms available that parade the ‘perfect smile’, some patients may approach their dentist with a fully-formed image of the outcome they wish to attain. However, the internet can encourage the misunderstanding that such results can be achieved immediately, or with little effort from the patient. Experiences shared by friends and family may also encourage certain ideals regarding treatment.

In this age of convenience, patients may wish to undergo treatment that can deliver swift results, with minimal disruption to their everyday routine. Clear aligners are one potential option, with research demonstrating their efficacy over traditional orthodontic solutions in appropriate cases. They are minimally invasive, and are less likely to impact oral health routines. However, clear aligner treatment can present some unexpected limitations, as they are required to be worn for at least 22 hours a day, must be cleaned regularly and taken out when eating and drinking. If a patient fails to comply, treatment outcomes may be affected, leading to dissatisfaction and potential complaints.

The role of dental professionals
Studies have shown that patients with high expectations are more likely to feel dissatisfied by the outcomes of their orthodontic treatment. Thus, dental professionals should aim for a better understanding of what their patients’ expectations are and manage these accordingly. Doing so may help dental professionals to tailor how they communicate, in order to reduce potential disappointment. One study concluded that an orthodontic patient treatment impact questionnaire (OPTIQ) proved a useful tool when identifying pre-treatment concerns. Dental professionals may consider employing the OPTIQ, or a similar method, to ascertain expectations regarding treatment experience and outcome.

Communicating the benefits and limitations of the treatment can help patients better understand how long the process will take, the costs, potential complications, as well as their own responsibilities. Each patient is different, and those with more advanced needs may require a longer treatment time. However, with meticulous planning, a correct diagnosis and a comprehensive understanding on the patient’s part, achieving a successful outcome is entirely possible.

The use of certain technologies could also help to increase patient satisfaction and treatment acceptance. Digital technologies have developed and advanced so that treatment can be impressively streamlined, which saves time and effort for both the dental professional and the patient. Certain studies have even demonstrated a patient preference for digital solutions over traditional ones, due to better treatment comfort and efficiency. By employing certain digital equipment, dental professionals can help patients become more involved throughout the treatment process.

Always one step ahead
Digital technologies have made an astonishing impression upon orthodontics; treatments can be delivered faster, with a higher chance of successful outcomes and increased longevity. Workflows between the dental practice and laboratory are made simpler and smoother, meaning patients can receive their results much faster – and now patients can even see the possible results before treatment begins with some technology. For example, Carestream Dental’s CS Model+ v5 imaging software uses video simulations to visualise treatment goals, so patients can see potential treatment outcomes first hand.

High expectations regarding orthodontic treatment can be difficult for dental professionals to manage. Every patient is different, and so are their desires for their treatment outcomes. By keeping the patient involved and informed throughout the process, treatment success and patient satisfaction are entirely achievable.

References available on request.