With so many factors that go into treatment planning (cost, insurance coverage, time requirements, length of procedures, knowledge of the treatment, fear), sometimes we may lose sight of what is best for the patient. Never make assumptions. Get to know your patients. Make sure that he or she understands what the procedure entails and is clear on the pros and cons of every treatment option. Taking the time to listen to the patient and explain all possible treatment options and ways for future prevention is paramount to treating each person in the best way possible.
We regularly rotate through an emergency clinic set up for patients in pain. These are not patients of record at the dental school and they are usually seeking a place for emergency dental treatment only. In this clinic, we triage the patient and help him or her decide the best course of action to treat an ailing tooth. Most often, the choice comes down to a root canal and ideally a subsequent final restoration or an extraction. Unfortunately for most, the cost difference between these options is pretty drastic. Especially if the patient is in pain, their judgment may not be as clear when choosing their treatment. It is sad to see, and it happens every day, when a young patient chooses to have a restorable tooth extracted, as it is the cheapest way to alleviate their pain. This scenario occurs more often than we would like.
Cost should not be the driving force in how we explain treatment options. It’s our job to help patients understand what each treatment really means and that, if irreversible, how this will affect them down the road. Consider more than just short-term solutions, especially in situations where the patient is in pain. Remember to properly obtain informed consent and to take into account the patient’s preferences and background, which may be difficult to do when triaging a patient who is not one of record.
I would like to encourage my fellow dental students to take the extra few minutes to treat each patient as if they were a member of your own family. It’s worth our time to help the patient decide what is truly best for them. We will of course encounter the young patient who chooses to have their tooth extracted, who doesn’t want to listen to other options, but we must do our duty to educate our patients and treat each one as an individual.
~Tony Besse, Ohio State ’16