Background: What factors influence a general dental practitioner to offer preventive care to patients? A potential answer to this question is presented based on the findings of a qualitative study recently undertaken in general dental practice in Australia.
Method: A model of how practices come to be oriented towards preventive or restorative care is described, condensing all of the findings of the study into a single framework. Eight practices were studied and highlighted the interaction between two factors: leadership in practice and prioritisation of cultural, social and economic resources.
Results: In this model, dentists' leadership to reorient the prioritisation of resources towards preventive care was crucial. Ideally a whole practice changed to preventive philosophy, but change was also possible in a single dentist within a practice. Prioritisation of resources was also key and interacted with dentist leadership. Prioritisation could be seen in the reorganisation of space, routines and fee schedules. During this process, one key support factor for dentists was their external networks of trusted peers and respected practicing dentists. These peers were crucial for transferring preventive knowledge within small networks of dentists who trusted one another; their influence was reportedly more important than centrally produced guidelines or academic advice. In order to help dentists change their practices towards preventive care, the findings from our study suggest that it is important to intervene in these local networks by identifying local dental opinion leaders. During this study, the key conditions needed for practices to reorient to preventive care included the presence of a committed leader with a prevention-supportive peer network, and the reorientation of space, routines and fee schedules to support preventive practice.