The Dental Patient Guide

The goal of most dental school clinics is to provide dental patients quality treatment at reduced rates. Care is provided by students under the close supervision of expert teaching staff. Patients in this setting should be familiar with the goals of the school and how affordable dental care is provided to patients.

Basically, dental school clinics will only accept patients whose dental needs can be resolved by a student and the patient's schedule allows for flexibility. Priority may be given to people with problems that fit the teaching programs of the school.

Becoming A Dental Patient

In order to determine if you will benefit from student services as a dental patient, an evaluation of your dental needs must be done. Some schools require that you complete an application, used as a "screening" exam, prior to selecting patients for evaluation. Completion of the application does not guarantee acceptance. Many schools require about a two hour assessment period for the evaluation. During this period, dental x-rays and a comprehensive examination is given, for which charges may apply.

If the evaluation determines you to be a good candidate for dental care, you will be assigned to a dental student, who will schedule your appointments. At some schools, dental patient appointments are made through the clinic receptionist.

Dental School Clinic

In a dental school setting, time requirements are extensive; dental patients may need to be available morning, afternoon or evenings each week for treatment that can last as long as six months. All patients are expected to be seen at least once a month. If you cannot devote the time required, it may be suggested that you seek private care.

Many clinics also require advanced notice for missed appointments. Some schools require at least two school days notification. In almost all cases, if you are constantly late or break appointments, your treatment at the facility can be terminated.

Your Rights as a Dental Patient

Dental Clinic Staff

If you are accepted as a dental patient in a dental school facility, you have the right to:

  • Privacy & confidentiality about your health conditions and treatment.
  • Respect & courtesy in a safe environment.
  • Care that is continuous, complete, and high quality.
  • Participate in decision-making about treatment benefits, risks, and alternatives.
  • Prompt responses to your needs, questions, and concerns.

Dental Treatment Planning

Dental Treatment Plan

When you agree to dental treatment, you should have a contract with your dental provider. This contract should outline the dental problem, the goals of the treatment, and include the costs. A dental treatment plan is considered this type of contract.

Before a dentist begins to work on a patient, he/she creates the treatment plan. Treatment planning is essential to the successful outcome of any type of dental care. Based on oral examinations, referrals and the patient's expectations, it requires open communication between both patient and provider.

A Basic Oral Examination

Expediting Dental Treatment

When deciding to become a dental patient of a dental school, it is important to remember that the environment is student supervised and that many procedures are not designed to be completed in a similar timeframe as that of a private dental provider. Some patients often complain that the work seems to take forever. In many cases, there are some things that are not within the students' control.

Dental School Clinic

According to most dental students, while there are many factors which may contribute to a longer treatment period, the faculty to student ratio is seen as the main cause for treatment delay. Almost every step of a procedure that a student completes must be reviewed and evaluated by a supervising faculty member. Depending upon the faculty to student ratio, this will greatly affect how much work is accomplished during a typical two hour dental visit. I have had students indicate that they have waited at times, for as long as 20 minutes, for a faculty member to review his/her case. Of course, this may have been isolated incidences based upon high rate of faculty absences for that particular day.

Dental Patient

The faculty/student ratio is something you should know when deciding to be treated at a dental school. It will be the main determinant of how long the treatment will last. Also, the number of clinic visits for a procedure will also be a factor in the number and visits, (and should be indicated on the treatment plan) as well.

Another factor that can affect the treatment period is the student's roster of dental patients. Most students' have on average, between 30-40 dental patients. If a student is assigned to a clinic for twenty (20) hours each week, with each patient scheduled for two (2) hours, the most they can treat in a week would be ten (10) patients. Getting a weekly appointment may seem difficult, but fortunately, there are ways around this:

  • Some students often work during their off-scheduled times. This means that they may be able to work in a clinic, even if they are not assigned to be there at that given time. Speak to your dental student about working during an off session, on a day that is convenient for you. Remember, if you commit to a particular day and time, show up for the appointment. It is easy to lose favor with students who have arranged to provide care for you outside of their assigned time and you do not show up.
  • If you live close by and have an open availability, arrange to have the student call you in the event that one of his other patients does not show up for an assigned appointment. Not only will you be getting closer to completing your treatment, but your student dentist will get a patient experience. Many students appreciate this effort.

dental student and faculty

If you find it really difficult to get appointments in a timely fashion, speak with the Clinic Manager or Clinic Facilitator. They will work with the student to insure that you are being seen regularly, even if it means transferring your case to another dental student.

In dental schools, patients transfers are rare and are largely dependent upon the stage of a patient's treatment. If a dental patient is in the middle of dental reconstruction involving a dental crown or bridge work, the case would not be transferred. But, if you need some fillings (which should have been taken care of prior to beginning the other work), in addition to the dental reconstruction, you can ask to have that work completed by a different dental student. In this way, you are getting the work you need, and the student is not feeling pressured. Be certain to discuss the matter with your assigned student first. Some dental students may take it personally, but realizing that you also have a life and want your work to be done as quickly as possible, is not an unreasonable request.

Dental School Clinic

Don't feel obligated to stay with a dental student if you feel uncomfortable or your needs are not being met. You are there to receive care that is comprehensive and in a timely manner. Some dental students, not all, have a tendency to call patients and cancel appointments. This behavior often coincides with midterm and final examinations that the student must take.

In my opinion, student cancellations are a somewhat sensitive issue. While the position of the school is that the curriculum is design to provide students with ample time for studying and other extra clinic time, some students may find test taking to be a bit more difficult, and need the additional time. The last thing I want is a student administering care to me, while worrying about an upcoming examination. Be aware of these types of student pressures and discuss them with your student dentist. You want to ensure that these things will not interfere with your care.

If your assigned student ever calls to cancel, give them the benefit of the doubt that one time. It may be a valid emergency that is keeping them away from the clinic. If there is ever a repeat cancellation, consider speaking with the Clinic Manager or Facilitator. You can have the discussion in confidence, asking for them to confirm the validity of the cancellation.

dental patient

Depending upon the response, be open to discussing the option of being transferred to another student, especially if the treatment plan has not progressed to the major work stage. It is best to cut your losses early in the game, rather than get stuck with a student who either does not seem serious about learning dentistry, or is feeling overwhelmed at the moment. This sends an important message to both the student and the school that your dental care is important and you expect those who are providing the care to be professional providers, regardless of the low fees. If your request is denied, speak with a patient advocate about transferring to another clinic within the school. The patient advocate works on behalf of the school to help resolve patient issues as it relates to the school providing affordable family dental care.

In addition to appointment cancellations, a dental patient may have concerns about other forms of inappropriate behavior by students, staff or other dental school personnel. As a dental patient, it is important that you be aware of how to handle such dental complaints.

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