Dr. Michelle Hucke’s passion for dentistry came from growing up in a dental office founded by her Dad in New York decades ago. After graduating from the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, she returned to her hometown and worked with her Dad for years.
For the last decade, she served patients in St. Augustine through St. Johns Family Dentistry, the practice she owned with her husband, Dr. Ron Hucke. Dr. Hucke maintains her love for and tradition of great dentistry and works constantly to stay trained and experienced with the latest dental techniques.
1. Why do you believe it is important to proactively diagnose periodontal disease?
It’s always easier to treat disease in the earlier stages. If we don’t diagnose periodontal disease, patients can’t make informed treatment decisions about their own health. It’s our job. And it’s especially important that we do our job well if our patients have comorbidities. We know that when patients have diabetes and periodontal disease that treatment for their gums decreases the cost of their diabetic care dramatically. We know there are inflammatory relationships between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease, and that periodontitis may speed up the progression of some types of dementia. We can’t unknow this. We can’t ignore this. Our patients deserve our best care and an honest diagnosis.
Nobody likes to watch health conditions deteriorate over time. Being proactive is key to helping patients get and stay healthy. It’s also in their best financial interest to be proactive, to focus on prevention and to treat at the earliest stages of disease.
2. How do you speak to your patients about periodontal disease?
Most patients have gingivitis or periodontitis, and most don’t know it. Some even think bleeding gums are normal. So, we use a tool from NextLevel Practice called a Healthy Mouth Baseline. This baseline clarifies what is healthy and allows us to explain what their exam tells us about the state of their oral health. It’s a great tool for education. If they are below the baseline, they almost always want to know what they should do.
We added to this a standard of gingival health based on bleeding points. When patients have 10 or more bleeding sites, we start to talk to them about infection and inflammation of their gums, and how the chronic low-grade infection burdens their immune system, may contribute to systemic inflammatory conditions, affects their oral health, and may cause bad breath. Knowing that we have concerns for patients who exhibit 10 or more bleeding points helps the entire team get organized and plan for conversations with patients.
3. What obstacles do you face in getting patients to agree to treatment and how do you overcome them?
Money is always an obstacle. We don’t give our patients a la carte treatment choices. We treatment plan and explain the cost for the entire plan. When needed, we figure out a way to fit the cost into their lifestyle with monthly payments.
We drew a line in the sand with the team several years ago. Bloody prophys are unacceptable in our practice. It’s not OK for long-term maintenance patients to start breaking down. I refuse to do restorative work when the gingival tissues are infected and inflamed. Drawing that line meant that we would not neglect the health needs of our patients.
4. How do you incorporate the Perio Protect Method in your treatment protocols?
In our practice, if you have gingivitis or periodontitis, you get prescription Perio Trays from Perio Protect. We explain that using these special trays should help them get healthier faster and maintain their health long-term so that they may avoid additional scaling or surgery in the future. We prescribe the trays before scaling to address the infections and inflammation so that the scaling procedure will be easier, faster, and introduce less bacteria into the bloodstream.
Perio Protect is such an integral part of our practice that patients have been known to explain the tray therapy in the reception area (pre-Covid, of course), so that when the patients came back into the operatories, they wanted “those trays” that the other patients mentioned. Having happy, healthy patients who understand the tray therapy and their personal role in keeping their gums healthy makes our jobs so rewarding. Perio Protect has fundamentally changed our practice for the healthier.