The end of the calendar year marks a busy time for most people, and the dental office is no exception.
There are many reasons for this rush, including: Dental staff time off over the holidays, insurance companies' year end, young people in town for the holidays, days off for school children and teachers, and time off in seasonal industries. Over the holidays, most dental offices take at least several days off. Often the entire dental office is closed or only a skeleton staff is present at the office. This amounts to a decreased ability of the dental office to meet the needs of patients. The insurance year comes to an end on December 31 for most insurance plans. This means people who have a yearly maximum for covered expenditures will have the clock reset on January 1st. Many people like to leave their long term needs like crowns over large fillings, bridges, or partial dentures for the end of a year when their maximum has not been used up by other unexpected expenses over the previous months of the year. This amounts to an increased need for dental services at the end of the year. Usually these procedures require the support of a dental laboratory. Lab technicians who actually make the crowns, bridges, or partial dentures take time off over the holidays too. This amounts to a decreased capacity to meet the needs of the patient during the end of the year. Many young people return home for the holidays. They are usually only home for a couple of weeks. Typically they do not know any dentists where they are doing their university or college training, so they are relying on their home dentist and dental staff to take care of cleanings and any cavities that need to be filled or other needs over the short amount of time they are home over the holidays. This factor amounts to an increased need for dental services over the end of the year. Many parents would like to have their children see the dentist or hygienist over the holidays because, mom or dad or both are off work, and can take them to the dentist without losing time at work. Similarly, teachers have the holidays off and many would like to have routine needs taken care of when they will not miss work as well. Both of these factors constitute an increased need for dental services at the end of the year. We in this area have many members of our community who are employed in seasonal industries. These people include tourist camp operators or workers, some people in the logging industry, and some people in construction. Many of these people have dental problems that have come up in the summer or early fall but they were still working. Often seasonal workers put off dental work until the season of work is over. They have already put off the needed dental treatment for several months so when work stops, they are ready to get their teeth fixed right away. This amounts to an increased demand for dental services at the end of the year.
As you can see, the end of the year is a time when demand for dental services increases quite a bit. Additionally, the end of the year is a time when dental office staff and lab technicians are enjoying time off like the rest of society. These two forces combine to make a backup at the end of the year. Because of this, it is wise to make sure to call ahead--a couple of months ahead--for a dental appointment in the last six weeks or so of the year. This is especially true if you know you might need a specialist like if you are planning on having your wisdom teeth out over the holidays. Office time slots are limited and most offices appoint the time on a first come first serve basis. Often specialists are connected to the dental school which of course is not in session over the holiday period.
Many offices set aside additional time for emergencies during this period. Injuries are common when people are having a good time together and blowing off a little steam. Some towns have an emergency system where one dentist is on call covering other dentists who are out of town. Other towns do not have such a system and the patient has to expend much more effort to find someone to take care of emergencies. We are fortunate to have a cooperative emergency system for after hours problems. Patients are to call their regular dentist first, then if that dentist is not able to be located, they are to call the hospital for the number of the dentist on call. Of course, an after hours fee will apply, but emergency treatment is available for those wishing to access it.
The end of the year backlog will right itself in the first few weeks of the new year. The time after New Year's is typically the slowest time of the year at dental offices. You will find many of the large dental conventions in the first part of the year because there is often a slow down in the schedule at the office during that time. If you would like to visit the dental office when things are not so hectic there, you might consider January or February as a time to get treatment completed.
The end of the year is a time for finishing up many things. Dentistry is often one of those things in the lives of many people. In order to avoid being disappointed, most people will have to plan ahead if they are going to fit into the busy schedule of the dental office in the last six weeks or so of the year. Make sure if you are planning on getting any kind of work done at the dental office before the year ends, you get an appointment early. It is best to call the office to arrange a time near the end of the year no later than the end of October or the beginning of November. Some offices will need longer than this especially of the work you are hoping to get done uses more than one appointment like a crown or a partial denture. This year, call your dentist early to make things go more smoothly for your treatment at the end of the year.
- This article was written by Dr. Mike Christensen and published in the Daily Miner and News, and Enterprise. Local Kenora News Publicatons (1998-2006)