3 tips for getting patients started and compliant

By Lori Sichtermann

This article is sponsored by 3M. Dr. Hime is a consultant and speaker for 3M.

It was 2005 when the team at Austin Orthodontic Arts began offering aligner therapy to patients at the Austin, Texas-based practice. Since then, David Hime, DDS, his co-practitioner, and their dedicated team have learned quite a bit regarding the process of aligner therapy. From selecting a manufacturer, to screening patients, to administrating treatment, the team has seen it all.

According to Hime, 10% of their teenage patients currently undergo aligner therapy, while 70% of adult patients utilize clear aligners. But, as he explains, getting folks on board (and compliant) is often the tallest hurdle.

“Not every person who joins a gym ends up getting in the best shape of their life. It’s a fact. Thus, not every patient comes into our office ready to wear their clear aligners 22 hours a day.” Hime explains. “There is a huge element of patient compliance when clear aligners are involved.”

So how do you ensure you are getting the right patients on board with aligner treatment? Hime and his team have some advice.

1. Establish your role

Potential patients are paying attention to the messaging from direct-to-consumer (DTC) aligner companies: esthetics without the cost and time commitment associated with standard in-office orthodontic treatment. It’s not uncommon to now have patients shop around for orthodontic treatment, weighing in-office care against a DTC option.

To get off on the right foot, ensure you are educating the patient about the role you as the orthodontist play in their treatment. Patients often miss what your practice alone can offer them: Your expertise and continuing and consistent oversight of their case.

As Hime points out, even though most DTC aligner cases are supervised by a certified general dentist, the lack of in-office care has its limitations. “You can offer proper care by looking at a picture on your cellphone,” he points out.

Stress to the patient the importance of the conversation you are having in that moment. The very act, as Hime puts it, of “talking face-to-face with an orthodontist” is key to helping patients understand the intricacies of their treatment plan and making sure they on board with your recommendations for care.

2. Note the red flags

Once you are actively discussing the patient’s treatment plan, it’s time to keep your eyes and ears open to ensure the patient is going to be compliant. Does the patient display an open dislike at the mention of wearing rubber bands or a visible attachment? If yes, then the red flags go up, says Hime.

“With braces, people don’t go out into the garage and get a pair of pliers and take them off their teeth. But, they can very easily stop wearing their clear aligners for the day, 2 days, or a week,” says Hime. “Patients have to opt in every day with clear aligners”—and any treatment add-ons.

3. Set expectations

To remedy this issue, Hime and his team not only screen patients, but also educate them and set expectations. As he explains, there shouldn’t be a “muddy middle” with regard to treatment planning when aligners are used.

“If the treatment is designed to straighten teeth, then that’s all you do. You don’t go into bite correction. You can always change. But in the beginning, you have to clearly define goals, and the policies to support those goals,” says Hime.

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