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Setting Up dental triage protocols

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Find out why over 1,500 Canadian dentists trust ClearDent to keep their practices running smoothly.

Find out why over 1,500 Canadian dentists trust ClearDent to keep their practices running smoothly.

No matter how well you plan your dental schedule, dental emergencies are inevitable. At some point or another, every dental clinic has to deal with last-minute requests for emergency appointments. To help keep your dental clinic running smoothly, you need to implement dental triage protocols for emergency situations.

There are two important things to consider when dealing with dental emergency triage: questions and scheduling.

1. Dental Emergency Triage Questions

While you should try your best to accommodate patients, it’s simply not possible to fit in every patient that calls in requesting a last-minute appointment. Gathering information by asking dental emergency triage questions when patients call is an important step when handling these situations.

You have to be able to weed out an urgent dental emergency from those that are not quite as critical by asking some key questions. Focus on gathering as much information as possible to pass along to the dentist.

As part of your dental triage protocols, ask the below questions when a patient calls with a dental emergency to best plan and allocate resources for their appointment.

Dental Triage: Questions To Ask

Ask if they are a new or existing patient. If they are a new patient, you’ll have to create a new file for them so you can record the notes. If they’re an existing patient, ask for their name so you can look up their file.

Ask these questions to get to the root of what the problem is as quickly as possible and to determine the severity of the pain:

  • Where is the issue? Which side? Which tooth?
  • Is the patient currently in pain? If so, how long have they been in pain and what’s the severity of the pain?
  • Is the pain getting better or worse?
  • Is there pain to hot or cold temperatures?
  • Is swelling occurring?
  • Is the patient currently taking any medication for the pain? If so, what type of medication and what dosage?
  • Has there been previous dental treatment in the area?

Additional Questions for Dentures, Fractures, Crowns

It’s often helpful to ask additional questions once you’ve identified the type of dental problem. Some examples of questions to ask depending on the type of problem:

  • Dentures: Find out what type of denture it is, how old the denture is, and whether the patient has a spare denture
  • Fractures: It is on a tooth that has a crown? If it’s a crown, does it feel loose? Find out how much the tooth fractured – is there tooth left? Ask them how the fracture happened
  • Crowns: Ask if it’s a permanent or temporary one as well as how old it is.


Why Are Dental Triage Protocols Important?

Setting up dental triage protocols to gather the necessary information at the onset will help you assess the situation and plan accordingly. For example, asking if the patient is in pain will help you determine whether to try to get the patient in as soon as possible or when there is a better opening in the schedule.

While you’re not diagnosing the patient, these dental emergency triage questions will help give you an indication of how much time you need to allocate for the appointment. A chipped tooth, a new crown, and a tooth extraction all require different appointment lengths and preparation.

Document the information you gather during the phone call in the patient’s file so that your team has complete access to all the information they need when the patient comes in.

2. Scheduling Emergency Appointments

Once you’ve gathered the information, you’ll need to prioritize and find time to schedule an appointment for the patient.

Many clinics allocate time in their dental schedule for high-production appointments, such as root canals. In a similar fashion, consider also allocating time slots in your calendar for patient’s dental emergencies. Understanding the best way to maximize your schedule and react to emergency situations will not only help you give the appropriate care to your patients that need emergency help but also help ensure it’s done at minimal disruption to your regular patients.

After-Hours Support

In addition to responding to dental emergencies during clinic hours, make sure you have dental triage protocols in place to respond after-hours too. Many dentists are a part of a group of dentists that rotate being on-call after hours.

What To Do When Patients Call After Hours

When patients call after hours, you can craft an answering message that gives them options for after-hours care. Some dentists include their personal numbers so patients have a way to contact them or provide a number to a provincial resource such as HealthLink BC which helps both patients and dentists in BC find appropriate healthcare resources near them.

Never turn a patient away

Dentists are legally and professionally obligated to respond in the event of a dental emergency. You should never turn away a patient in pain for any reason.

It results in a bad patient experience and, these days, when patients are unhappy, they have no reservation about sharing their negative experiences on social media, hurting your dental marketing efforts.

When you try your best to treat patients with dental emergencies, it goes a long way in terms of patient retention and loyalty.

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