Early in my dental career I had to make several risky choices to further my professional dream - that of providing unparalleled preventive and treatment
services for my patients. All of my colleagues were contracted with dental insurance companies that automatically gave them a marketing advantage
by being on a list from which patient enrollees selected their dentist. This did not set well with me as I wanted to work for my patients, not
the insurance companies with their “Least Expensive Alternate Treatment” (LEAT) philosophy. The insurance companies are still in the Stone Age
when it comes to preventive and quality care with yearly patient benefit allowances that have not changed since they came into being in the 1960’s.
This necessitated my withdrawal from insurance contracts which was quite liberating for me, but also presented substantial challenges as over half
of my patients were enrolled with Delta Dental Insurance, the largest dental insurance carrier in the U.S. Not being trained as an educator,
could I effectively teach my patients the fundamental differences between a traditional type of dental practice and a wellness*-centered practice so
they could comprehend their differences? It began with the process of embracing the true definition of the word “doctor,” which emanates from
several languages to mean “teacher.”
When a dentist uses the “wellness” label, it infers that he has taken a holistic* path, which is a much less traveled road in the dental profession.
He realizes that true oral health cannot be dispensed only through fillings, cleanings, crowns, veneers, implants, etc., even though he may be quite
proficient in each of these technologies. Attaining oral health is equally the result of patient learning (doctor as “teacher”), which requires
healthy interactions between the dentist and patient wherein their mutual roles can be defined and agreed upon. The wellness doctor develops
a solid, mutual trusting relationship with his patients wherein they each commit to their respective roles as teacher/student. This creates a
comfort level that allows for meaningful discussions between the doctor and patient, working together to understand the sources of past problems and
offering solutions to remedy them. It saddens me to see new patients that have been deprived of this process, resulting in a low trust of dentists
which only stands in the way of attaining the true oral and systemic (general) health that they deserve.
Some examples of the differences between traditional and wellness approaches to dentistry:
*Wellness: the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, esp. as the result of deliberate effort; an approach to healthcare that emphasizes preventing illness and prolonging life, as opposed to emphasizing treating diseases.
*Holistic: Emphasizing the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts.
Some specific examples of the differences between traditional and wellness evaluation and treatment services:
A holistic dentist realizes the long-term value of his services and seeks patients who also want to look at the bigger picture for a preferred dental future. This is what distinguishes my wellness-centered practice from the traditional dental practices of today.