The power of prevention

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Tabitha Acret
Photography: imagesbyarunas.com

Tabitha Acret travels Australia—and the world—helping educate dental professionals about the power of preventative care, and how to motivate patients to embrace it. By Shane Conroy

Tabitha Acret has been fascinated by dentistry for as long as she can remember. Her grandfather was a lab technician, and she has fond childhood memories of playing in his dental lab. Her grandfather even made her a pair of dentures to satisfy her curiosity. 

“I was a super weird kid, and to my parents’ disgust, I carried that set of dentures with me everywhere I went for about two years,” she laughs. “I would ask people if they would like to see my smile and then pull the dentures out of my little handbag.”

When her grandfather retired, the young Acret’s passion for dentistry faded into the background. After graduating high school, she started a law degree. She also got a job as a dental assistant to pay her way through university. 

“I found out very quickly that studying law is not like Law & Order. I really didn’t like it all,” she says. “I was telling the dentist I was assisting that I’m really going to miss dentistry when I figure out what I want to do with my life. He asked me what was stopping me going into dental, and I said that I thought the science was going to be too hard. He told me that was the dumbest thing I’d ever said, and to go and apply now.”

So she did. Acret enrolled in a Bachelor of Oral Health at Newcastle University that afternoon. She graduated in 2008, then, after working as a hygienist for the dentist who had inspired her, she moved to Sydney.

“I worked at the same Macquarie Street practice in Sydney for seven years, but I was feeling restless and wanted to expand my knowledge. So I moved to Darwin for a couple of years and worked in a practice doing all-on-four and really complex orthodontic rehabilitation.”

Building a knowledge base

That was really only the beginning of Acret’s advanced dental education. She headed overseas searching for the latest periodontal knowledge, and studied in Portugal, Switzerland, Las Vegas, New York and Washington.

“That was a journey of learning over a couple of years,” she explains. “I hadn’t learnt a lot about implants and preventative care at university. When I was at the Macquarie Street practice in Sydney, there were lots of implants coming into my room and I felt overwhelmed. I wanted to build my knowledge so I could give the best preventative care possible.”

I didn’t learn anything about implants or preventative care at university, and I think there still is a knowledge gap. Through my role at EMS, I get invited to a lot of universities. They are definitely realising that implant and preventative care education needs to be implemented, but changing anything at a university is a slow process.

Tabitha Acret, owner, Level UP Preventative Care

When Acret returned to Australia, she found herself in high demand. She started working at practices that specialise in dental implants, and accepted speaking engagements at conferences across Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the US.

This brought Acret to the attention of EMS Dental—a leading manufacturer of precision medical devices for dental prophylaxis. She started off running training sessions for the company, and is now Oceanic education manager for EMS. But that role is only part of her busy working week. 

“I coordinate all the education for EMS, and I still work in a specialist practice two days per week. I also teach one day per week. I’m one of those people who isn’t happy if I’m not doing something.” 

Starting a business

When COVID-19 hit, Acret decided to add ‘business owner’ to her resume. She started Level UP Preventative Care as another way to share her considerable knowledge with dental practices around Australia. She says the business evolved naturally from the demand she was seeing in the market. 

“Whenever I’d speak at a conference, people would ask me if I ran a full-time course on the topic. I was constantly saying, ‘No, but I probably should’,” she says. “During COVID, I was no longer travelling as much, and had all this spare time. I sat down and built a website myself, and launched my first course.”

That first course sold out in one day, and every course Acret has run since has also sold out. She puts the success of her business down to a gap in the market around preventative education.

“I went from thinking I’d hold a couple of workshops to holding an event every month for the last 12 months,” she explains. “A combination of dentists, OHTs and dental hygienists attend, and they are all small group workshops with lots of one-on-one time. 

“I didn’t learn anything about implants or preventative care at university, and I think there still is a knowledge gap. Through my role at EMS, I get invited to a lot of universities. They are definitely realising that implant and preventative care education needs to be implemented, but changing anything at a university is a slow process.”

Filling the knowledge gap 

Acret adds that it’s natural as implant care research and technology advances, so too will industry knowledge and expertise around the topic. She says that also means dental professionals should stay flexible to new and changing information, and be prepared to regularly update their knowledge. 

Preventative care really is the core of our profession. It gets lost sometimes, and we need to come back to it, and get excited about it. If we don’t make it a priority, how can we expect our patients to?

Tabitha Acret, owner, Level UP Preventative Care

“One of the things I say when I’m teaching is, ‘I feel really comfortable with the information I’m giving you right now, but don’t quote me in five years because science changes’,” she says. “You don’t want to get stuck in one opinion for the rest of your career. As dental professionals, it’s so important to be adaptive and pivot when we need to. I think that’s really exciting.”

Acret believes preventative care should be a leading priority for all dental professionals. She says shifting to a prevention-focused approach will help to reduce the burden of oral disease on the population. 

“If a patient comes in for a filling, we should be asking why are they getting it? How can we avoid it? Is it because they aren’t brushing? Is it because of diet?” she says. “As dental professionals, it’s really easy for us to assume people know to brush their teeth twice a day. But it’s so important we don’t make assumptions when we’re treating our patients. We might be the first person to tell them this information.”

Power to the patient

However, Acret says it’s important for dentists not to simply information-dump preventative care advice on their patients. Rather, dental professionals should focus on building patient relationships and understanding what is important to each patient. 

“As dental professionals, we underestimate how important it is to build good communication skills, and how important our delivery is,” she says. “Are you giving the patient the power to feel in control of the appointment? When someone has power and control, they are often more open to hearing different things.”

Acret explains that means taking the time to understand what’s important to the patient, then linking preventative advice to achieving their goal.

“For example, just because I think oral health is important for systemic health doesn’t mean the patient cares or wants that,” she says. “The patient might be more concerned about taking time off work. So you can deliver the information as, ‘This is what you need to do so you don’t have to keep coming back here and missing work’.”  

Get that right, and Acret says your patients will be far more receptive to preventative care advice. 

“Preventative care really is the core of our profession,” she says. “It gets lost sometimes, and we need to come back to it, and get excited about it. If we don’t make it a priority, how can we expect our patients to?” 

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