Dental Surgery Waiting List Reduced by 75%
A simple strategy has helped patients at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital to get lifesaving treatment sooner. Children who are waiting for dental surgery at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital are usually also on another waiting list for more urgent surgery but the second surgery cannot take place until the first is completed.
With dental infections - such as rotten teeth - children are at a higher risk of post-operative infection because the infection from the tooth may spread. For this reason children who are on two surgery waiting lists: for example dental and cardiac - would need to undergo the dental surgery first before the cardiac surgery can take place. Therefore, a child who has to wait long for dental surgery would also have to wait longer on the secondary, and often more urgent, list.
But thanks to a simple intervention by the dental surgery team their waiting list has been reduced by 75%.
Dental surgeon Naeemah Noordien started working full time at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital in September 2009. At that time the appointments were already fully booked until the end of the year and patients had to wait an average of four months for dental surgery under anaesthesia.
The team noticed that many patients did not arrive for their appointments but did not cancel. In January the dental surgery team decided to tackle this problem head on. They started checking up with parents a few days ahead of the appointment. If the patient could no longer attend, the appointment would be given to the next patient on the list.
It took almost a year but by the beginning of 2011 the backlog was cleared and the new average waiting time was reduced to four weeks. The success of the strategy has also ensured that waiting times have not increased over the last year.
Dr Soraya Harneker, the head of department of the dental clinic at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital is very pleased that it has been possible to shorten the waiting period for patients who need oral health assistance.
"Parents do not understand the relationship between oral hygiene and other conditions," Dr Harneker said. "It is the clinic's duty to inform parents how the child's oral health would link to other conditions they might have and that it is important to fix any dental problems they have to help ensure that cross infections do not occur."
Dr Harneker explained that all appointments to the clinic are referrals from other departments within the hospital and parents are usually more concerned about their child's primary condition.
"There are long waiting lists and parents have to learn to appreciate the appointment they have. The clinic helps provide the parent with information regarding oral health. This helps to ensure that the children do not return with more dental infections."
Dr Harneker said that parents also underestimate the importance of looking after children's milk teeth.
"Parents sometimes think that because the children have milk teeth that they are dispensable but the bad habits children learn affect them later as well and then their permanent teeth have similar problems," she said.
Theuns Botha, Western Cape Minister of Health said, "The initiative fits into our wellness objective, in the sense that we are preventing an infection in another part of the body by treating the dental problem as a priority. I want to congratulate every individual who played a part in making this procedure a reality."