No one can argue that a dentist’s best friend is a patient with symptoms. Symptoms represent the highest level of motivation for patients to get treatment. The other day I noticed my lab technician rubbing her jaw. I asked her what the problem was and she explained that her jaw had been killing her lately. I did a quick examination and saw plenty of signs that revealed occlusal disease but the discomfort was taking center stage. So I made her an occlusal splint.
The very next day…after a good night’s sleep with the splint, she came in smiling and thanking me for helping her get out of pain. I was a hero. It felt great to be an overnight sensation.
We all know how easy it is to treat symptoms and help people get out of pain…physical and emotional. There’s nothing like an easy pulpotomy or a Class IV composite on a central incisor to turn that frown upside down.
It’s the signs of disease that I am concerned about, because can we really cure an asymptomatic patient?
When there are no symptoms we must rely on our extraordinary communication skills to build trust and motivate the patient toward proper treatment. This is a great source of frustration for many dentists, because we see signs of disease all the time and have difficulty persuading patients to take action. That’s why we love symptoms.
And that is why splint therapy should be a big part of the dentist’s armamentarium. The splint helps patients to realize that there are subclinical symptoms present. In my lab tech’s case, she realized that the splint uncovered more than just muscle soreness. It exposed the clenching she had been doing (now we could talk about the signs), and the headaches she had been getting which were leading to a few bad moods.
The point is that our examination should go further than finding signs…it should expose symptoms from the overt to the covert. A starting point for that is a full understanding of the role of occlusion and the use of splints.
When I first employed splint therapy into my practice, I never fully understood the behavioral component of the splint. I made many splints for patients who never fully understood “why” I was recommending the splint. Needless to say I had some very unhappy patients. Knowing how to make a splint and why “we” use splints doesn’t help the patient understand its value unless they “feel” the importance.
Including an occlusal examination for every new patient is a great starting point for helping the young dentist explain complete treatment better and building trust.