A carefully considered dental treatment plan should be the starting point for care in any dental office. Think of a treatment plan like you would a well-planned vacation. You would no sooner pack some clothes, get into the car and take off for a trip with no chosen destination than you should begin any dental treatment without a clear idea of where you are headed!
Every Office Is Different
Every dental office has its own way of operating and treating patients. To that end, practices may differ in what information they deem necessary to create a good treatment plan.
A dental practice may start every adult patient's first visit with an interview that takes into consideration the patient's dental and medical history (and desired outcomes). They then may get a comprehensive dental clinical examination, a full set of X-rays, an oral cancer exam, diagnostic and intraoral photographs, complete periodontal charting and other exams, if needed. Being thorough and attentive to detail communicates to patients that a dental team cares, which helps to build trust between patients and their care providers.
Additionally, if the dentist feels that a patient's case is complex and will rise to an "interdisciplinary" level involving multiple specialists, then they might also refer the patient to another practitioner. That specialist, such as an oral surgeon or periodontist, would become involved in helping to create the final treatment plan and in rendering treatment, if needed.
Creating Your Plan
After considering all of the information the dental team has gathered, the team can begin to create an individualized dental treatment plan for each patient. A treatment plan should answer some important questions to make patients feel comfortable proceeding:
- What treatment is recommended?
- Who will be performing the treatment?
- How much will it cost (including any insurance coverage)?
- How long will it take to complete?
Think of dental treatment plans as recipes. Just as you can't frost a cake before you put it in the oven, dentistry must be completed in a certain sequence to guarantee a successful outcome. For lengthy treatment plans, patients should be reminded that their dental problems often didn't just pop up overnight, and it may take time to correct any issues and achieve the results they expect and deserve.
The Diagnostic Consultation
Comprehensive treatment plans are always presented at a separate visit called a diagnostic consultation. Dental professionals should always be available to answer questions, but the treatment plan may be presented by a designated and dentally knowledgeable "treatment coordinator." The patient receives a report outlining all findings and recommendations, including any options, a copy of their diagnostic photos and a written copy of the financial details of the proposed treatment.
If a dentist has done their work properly, most questions center around how long treatment will take, and of course the cost. Your dentist, not the internet, is the best resource for finding out the fee for a procedure. If you are concerned about the cost, many resources like the American Dental Association can help you budget for and afford treatment. Many dental offices also offer payment plans or financing to coordinate with any dental insurance to make care more affordable.
It's important for a dentist to be clear and thorough at a consultation, so patients don't leave feeling confused. Confused people tend not to make decisions, and after all, a dental professional's goal is to help their patients take control of their oral health.
Dentistry has seen incredible changes over the years, but the need for trust and support never changes. An acceptable treatment plan must take into account all of an individual's needs and desires. A good dental treatment plan will do that and leave patients confident with the dentist they have selected for dental treatment and put a smile on their face!