The Tooth Trip

The Tooth Trip

I was surprised to see the advice we give our patients has not changed much in over 40 years! I am reading a book called “The Tooth Trip” that was written by dentist Thomas McGuire in 1972; he describes the same prevention based dentistry we practice today. This book was written for the public to understand oral diseases and their role in preventing it.

Some of the book is way off the mark with recipes for making homemade toothpaste with Sage, Myrrh and powdered roots. Making toothbrushes from twigs and sticks does not sound like the best use of an hour of your time. What resonated so strongly with me was the descriptions of self-examination of your mouth and emphasis on prevention and working together with your dentist. A whole chapter was on dental emergencies and what constitutes a real emergency- severe or recurrent bleeding or severe pain not relived by painkillers. Just getting your patients to read this chapter alone would save thousands of wasted dental appointments. There was sensible honest advice on how and why teeth can hurt and how you can prevent it and work together with your dental team to stop it recurring.

In our modern age, if we educate our patients in the causes of dental disease and how it is entirely preventable, they too could have healthy mouths and lower dental bills. Despite the fact that most of this information is freely available on the internet or in the leaflets that some dental practices give out, not much has changed. Why is that?

I feel that until the information is specifically tailored to our patents and they can see the benefit from following that specific advice, they will switch off. If you promote the fact that you fix teeth, they will just come and expect you to fix them. This is where modern dental teams come in. We need to genuinely listen to our patients, do not interrupt them, let them get their whole story out. Examine their mouth, show them the evidence of disease in a clear and non-judgemental way. Explain their options and how as a team, you can return their mouth to health. Make them understand that without them, all your treatment will fail. Spending extra time now will save hours of treatment in the future and help educate a generation that loves going to the dentist. All good dentists want their work to be appreciated and to last a life-time.

Four Dental sins from the 1970’s that Dentists still do to this day:

1. Leaflet avoidance. Handing your patients reading matter to explain your treatment and asking them to go home to go through it. Nothing beats a face to face discussion where you allow them time to discuss their personal fears and questions. Leaflets should be only a back-up once the conversation has taken place.

2. Technical jargon. Using dental terminology or complex words to explain your diagnosis and treatment. All professions have jargon. The skilled dentists explain it in a language that that specific patient will understand.

3. Carrying out treatment whilst discussing the patient’s options. No-one can fully concentrate when lying on their back with theirs mouth open or having treatment carried out. Stop, sit the patient up and have a face to face conversation.

4. Bulldozing. Talking it through you your patient until they are worn down and just say yes. Nothing is life or death that you need to decide there and then. Place a temporary filling and then explain the options; pros, cons and cost. Then let them go away and think about it.


How are you going to make the most of your patients next tooth trip?


Photo by Jenn Durfey, licence info



James Goolnik is a practising Dentist and his book “Brush” donates 100% of the profits to Dentaid. He recently led a team of 8 dental professionals to Malawi to install two dental chairs, equipment and deliver skills transfer workshops from these proceeds. He is a trustee of the charity “Heart your Smile”.


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Marketing on a shoestring

Nearly every day I get an email - Get to page ONE of Google. It goes into the same folder as collecting my inheritance from my lost relative in Nigeria. It is rubbish and should be treated like spam.

First of all no one can guarantee to be on the first page of Google unless you have a paid campaign and these days in dentistry you are looking at over £1000 per month to have any chance of getting to page one on sponsored advertisements. Secondly people seem to have gone crazy and want a quick win - they forget Dentistry is a relationship business and relationships take time.

You want more patients? It is simple, just ask your existing ones. I know you have heard this before but do you actually do it with EVERY patient? Tell them how much you like seeing and treating them. Tell them you have vacancies for patients like them and give them a few business cards. Do not leave it there, follow it up with an email reminding them. Most of them never think of telling their friends and family about you unless they get asked. We also send follow-up letters asking them if the treatment was comfortable, explaining the maintenance and guarantees on their work and again asking for referrals.

We look at our day list at our morning meeting - we all instantly see the names of the people we like to treat. Make it a point for the whole team to do this every day.

Now with more and more compliance there are companies out there who can automate this process for you. After every dental appointment they can email your patients and ask them to rate the service they achieved and even ask if they are happy to write a testimonial that can be placed on your website or Google reviews

You do not need a huge marketing budget. It just needs time to make sure your message is clear and you invest in different ways in reaching your target audience. A good campaign also gets them emotionally stimulated to buy or at least investigate your practice. Convert your raving fans into your marketing force.

James Goolnik is a practising Dentist and his book “Brush” donates 100% of the profits to Dentaid. He recently led a team of 8 dental professionals to Malawi to install two dental chairs, equipment and deliver skills transfer workshops from these proceed. He is a trustee of the charity “Heart your Smile”.

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Take a second look at Heart Your Smile

There have been many questions about the dental charity Heart Your Smile (HYS). I have been asked why is an organisation needed to get more people to visit the dentist?

The vision from the outset at HYS was that improving engagement between the profession and the public would lead to increased trust and improvement of uptake of oral health messages and care at local level.  Many organisations in this space concentrate on the messages themselves, but we felt the messages were well established, so to elicit behaviour change we decided to concentrate on breaking down barriers to the uptake of oral health messages.

Heart Your Smile (HYS) has 4 key goals.

These are to:

1.            Change the public's perception of Dentistry

2.            Increase attendance and uptake of care

3.            Emphasise the dental team's position as trusted members of the local community

4.            Restore positive morale in the profession

We went through a rigorous process with the charity commission.  Our charitable objects are:
1.    to promote and protect the physical and mental health of sufferers of [oral diseases] in [the UK] through the provision of financial assistance, support, education and practical advice.
2.    to advance the education of the general public in all areas relating to oral health

All funds we raise go towards promoting our charitable objects.  To advance the education of the general public in all areas relating to oral health is a very costly undertaking.

Our initial campaign was to seek out the professionals who already had the energy and interest to support their local communities through:
*            oral health promotion
*            general health and healthy living support and advice
*            support in the community in schools, homes, local organisations etc, by giving their time and gaining their trust

We decided these behaviours could be packaged as the “9 habits” and are a positive way of raising the public's confidence in seeking timely dental care, by reducing anxiety, one of the biggest barriers.

Meanwhile, as these professionals were getting in touch, we needed time, funds and supporters to develop an online presence through which any team member in the profession could make a positive contribution in their community and share their work to create a ripple effect. We established a flat organisation and anyone was and still is welcome to join in and take on a workstream.

We also used this time to create mentoring resources and oral health promotion resources and the trustees wanted to get robust support from public health advisors for the resources we were producing before we announced them, so the whole process of getting to where we are now took 12 months.

The mentoring platform has been developed in conjunction with Fiona Ellwood, who has the level 7 postgraduate certificate in Mentoring from FGDP (UK). Our first group of 24 Mentors and Mentees start working together on 18th September.

Heart your Smile is committed to promote civic responsibility and good citizenship amongst members of the dental profession in a sustained campaign to achieve our objectives. We started off with trade stands and engagement online, we have launched innovation 360 to crowd source innovation and spread the message through local action, as well as pilot new methods of engagement and to roll out the best ideas. The first round of applications has closed and we are working with 14 teams to roll out their ideas.

We would love all dental teams as well as members from GDPUK to get involved and perhaps lead a workstream of their choice or apply to be mentors or mentees. The future of the dental profession is in our hands.


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