Keeping Fear Out of the Holiday Cheer
Avoiding End-of-Year Dental Emergencies
Arun K. Garg, DMD

Ask any doctor what’s the deadliest time of year and chances are they’ll have the same answer: Thanksgiving to New Years.

Theories for the seasonal uptick are as varied as the aliments doctors treat. But whether it’s increased stress, shoveling snow, increased fat and salt intake, alcohol overindulgence, ignoring seemingly benign-but-deadly symptoms like chest pain, or reduced (or fewer senior staff) at national hospitals and trauma centers, the fact of the matter remains that despite the holiday cheer, the end of the year has the greatest risk of loss of life. According to one study, December 25, is statistically the deadliest day of the year.

If that doesn’t take the twinkle out of your Christmas star, then I’m not sure what will. Unfortunately, dentists – and their patients – aren’t immune to these effects either. Not surprisingly, with all the delectable desserts served this time of year and unchecked in-school and in-office snacking running rampant, our collective sugar intake goes into hyperdrive. Mind you, this increase is already baked into a decades’ long trend of increasing sugar intake, about 30 percent above US norms in the 1970s.

That means that for many of us, our teeth are under assault. Bacteria in our mouth literally live off the sweet goodness coating our pearly whites. As they consume the sugar they also consume our teeth enamel. Given enough time a nuisance toothache can become a medical emergency, or at least an excruciatingly painful experience.

And time is the real enemy during the holidays. How easy is it for a parent to dismiss their child’s complaints as a trip to the dentist will interfere with travel plans? Or what if a parent heeds those concerns only to find their family dentist is taking a two-week vacation? As a practicing dental surgeon and owner of multiple practices, I can tell you these scenarios happen every year. Adults too experience problems during the holidays as they may be consuming foods like nuts and other crunchy treats (even chewing on ice cubes in those extra drinks) that can chip natural teeth or cause dentures and veneers to fail.

But keeping fear out of the holiday cheer shouldn’t be difficult. Often, this is where your dental practice’s marketing tactics can be put to good use. While the end of year is always a great time to reach out to patients thanking them for their continued business and for your accounting department to set up payment plans and phone call follow-ups, it’s also a great time to remind patients about some of the above health risks. Simply reading a friendly but cautionary email or tweet about sugar’s teeth-damaging effects might prevent a consumption pattern – before it starts.

Likewise, it might be a good idea to remind patients of the reduced holiday staff and to be transparent about who will be in the office, when, and the expected turnaround time for office phone calls. Referring patients to colleagues in an effort to cross cover also reduces their stress levels if in the event an appointment cannot be delayed.

Efforts like this will help your dental practice remain in good standing with your patients and just might lead to an uptick in post-holiday appointments. This year, as we all head off to our holiday parties and enjoy that sweet goodness, lets stay healthy in the process and reverse some of those troubling national trends. The holiday season is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year.” Not the deadliest.