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Deciphering the Meaning of ‘I Chipped a Tooth’

  • by John Gammichia, DMD, FAGD
  • Jun 6, 2017, 09:57 AM
I know this is something you hear all the time: “I chipped a tooth.” This can mean so many things, especially if it is coming from a nondentist. 

“I chipped a tooth” in the posterior can be a chip off the marginal ridge next to a class II restoration that you did five years ago. And if you saw this, you might just say, “It is fine,” or you might just smooth it off. Or a broken tooth in the posterior could mean the ling cusp of tooth No. 12 just broke to the gumline and below. 

The question that usually comes up at our office is: How do we schedule patients who call and say, “I chipped a tooth.” 

I am a doctor who does not like to schedule a “come in and we will see” visit. I know how difficult it can be for people to take time off of work or get a babysitter just so I can tell them, “Yep, you have a chipped tooth, and we can see you in three weeks to take care of this.” 

Sometimes I schedule 50 minutes for a chip on the anterior that you couldn’t see with a microscope, or I might schedule 20 minutes for a “chip” when, actually, a child fell off his bike and “chipped” the heck out of teeth Nos. 8 and 9, to the point where the nerves were hanging out. 

Because I refuse to do a “look-and-see” appointment, about a year ago, we bought a smartphone for the office. First, we bought it to be able to send text messages to people to confirm their appointments. We all know that calling someone at home and leaving a message on their voicemail is about as effective as sending a smoke signal (but we tried for 10 years). And nearly everyone has a smartphone these days, and everyone sends text messages (except for Grandma Nel, who we still just call). Now that we have this designated smartphone, we just ask people to send us a photo of the tooth via text message. 

It can be a little tougher for a posterior tooth, but we have had tremendous success in the anterior. For example, both of these photos were sent to me by a patient who called reporting a chipped tooth.

IMG_0910 20161121_142136

Looking at these photos, it is pretty comical how people perceive their oral health care needs. Now that we have this technology, we can use it to help patients schedule the correct appointment. 

By the way, through my mobile service provider, adding another line to my plan only costs $5 per month. (I think I bought the phone for $99.) So I am not telling you to break the bank here. I thought this was an easy way to make the office run smoother. 

Have you found any ways to make your office run smoother that you want to share? Let me know. 
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