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Why you should use a checklist for Dental Examinations

I am a strong proponent of checklists and use many in my practice of Dentistry.  The Checklist for Dental Examination in Adults and Children are two examples of how a checklist allows for more accuracy in a procedure – in this case a routine dental examination.  Whilst all Dentists use a Medical Checklist to screen for medical problems, it is indeed surprising that very few use a Dental Checklist to screen for all things dental.

It is impossible for even experienced general dental practitioners like myself (with 30+ years experience) to remember every single thing that needs to be checked when collecting information from the patient – be it information on oral hygiene, intake of carbonated beverages, use of recreational drugs, sleep history, swallowing problems, taste alterations, or if they have problems on opening their mouth and many other such things that a Dentist needs to be aware of.

Imagine when a new graduate is on board!  How do we ensure that they collect data systematically, provide information and include findings in their treatment plan for best results? There are also many missing links in a new graduate’s knowledge and experience and they often don’t know what they are looking for.  It makes sense that all clinicians have a Dental Checklist just like they have a Medical Checklist.

A Dental Examination checklist provides an in depth guide and a systematic approach to gathering data/information so as to enable us to make the correct dental diagnosis and propose a treatment plan to suit the patient’s needs, habits and wants.  This dental checklist/questionnaire should not be a stand alone piece of paper.  It needs to be uploaded on the Dental Software as a checklist and forms part of the patient’s clinical record which should be reviewed at subsequent examinations.

The checklist I use in my practice of dentistry is very comprehensive indeed and takes about 15-20minutes to administer. If you are just starting out in a new practice and have the time, it is great if you can do it yourself. It is time well spent with your patient and goes a long way in building rapport, trust and confidence.  Without rapport, trust and confidence case acceptance is very low as we all know and for a new graduate it is indeed a handy tool to build on all three of these powerful qualities.

It is not a simple task of just asking one question after the other robotically.  It is important that the person who administers the questionnaire is well trained by an experienced dental clinician/a senior dentist with vast experience.  Good “product knowledge” and strong communication skills go a long way in establishing a strong rapport with the patient when you take the time to assess the patient wholistically.  When a patient is confused about why you have asked a certain question eg. the question … Do you chew Vit C tablets regularly?: it provides an opportunity to educate the patient on the effect of ascorbic acid present in Vit C on erosion of teeth.  A spin off from this checklist is that although the patient personally may not chew Vit C tablets, they may know of someone that does. This in turn often leads to a much desired word-of-mouth referral in many cases.

The time spent educating patients on myriad of topics within the checklist has a strong knock-on effect where the patient is impressed by your knowledge of dentistry and the valuable information imparted to them by either yourself or a well trained team member.

So besides being a good risk management tool to minimise missed diagnosis or “supervised neglect” charges, it is also a great tool in establishing rapport and building trust and confidence.  I also see my Dental Examination Checklist as an Ice Breaker where not only is a lot of information gleaned from the patient in the 20 minutes it takes to administer the checklist, but the patient also gets that opportunity to get to know you better and feel more relaxed.

In my case, the questionnaire was triaged by my dental assistants and the patient arrived 15 min prior to their appointed time to spend time with the DA first before they saw me. This allowed for the best use of my time.  A systematic handover by the DA, allowed me to focus on all the things I needed to and cut to the chase.  Patients are really impressed by your thorough approach and often comment how they have never had this experience anywhere else.  It increases patient satisfaction and builds trust and confidence in them that you have such a systematic approach to problem solving.

If you wish to use my data bank of questions, you are welcome to download it here.  My suggestion for new graduates using this checklist would be to ‘test drive’ it first with 3-4 experienced clinicians to understand the content behind each question.  You may choose to work with a smaller subset of questions initially but note that a comprehensive exam calls for just that – being comprehensive!

Please fill out the form below and I will send you a copy of my Checklist for Dental Examination in Adults.

Nupur Hackwood

Dental Consultant and Trainer Australia

Dentist with 33+years experience providing practical. hands-on, affordable dental training workshops for the entire dental team. Based in the Gold Coast Queensland / Northern Rivers NSW area, I provide off-site and onsite training and consulting to dental practice members across southern Queensland, northern NSW and Australia. I have owned and operated my own very successful 4 chair dental practice, have trained dentists, dental assistants, receptionists and practice managers for 11 years. I was Head of Quality at National Dental Centre in Singapore for 2 years and have also lived and worked in NZ, Japan and the USA. I am a certified trainer with Cert IV TAE and facilitate workshops at TAFE. I am also a clinical tutor at Griffith University and train young dental students. I really understand the gaps in workflow and processes in dental practices and knowledge and skills of dental team members and am here to help you bridge these gaps and excel.