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The most relaxing hour of the day: Re-envisioning the dental hygiene appointment

April 1, 2019
Amber Metro-Sanchez, BA, RDH, offers some suggestions to make dental hygiene appointments more relaxing.

When you think about the most relaxing hour of the day, what comes to mind? For each person, this answer is probably different. For me, it is often when I finally get to lie down at the end of the night and close my eyes. Or perhaps it is one of those rare quiet evenings when I get the chance to sit down with a glass of wine and enjoy a favorite show of mine without interruptions.

Surprisingly enough, I recently had a patient tell me when he came in for his dental appointment that this time was “the most relaxing hour of the day.” At first, I was caught off guard to hear such a strange comment and asked the patient why he thought that. He simply replied that he absolutely loved it when I cleaned his teeth and that he thought that it felt so good. This idea really stuck with me. The more I thought about this interesting concept, the more it started to make sense.

I began to think about all of the people out there who actually like getting their teeth cleaned. I have always been one of them, and I have quite a few patients who tell me that they enjoy it too. Historically dental offices have had the reputation of being places that you don’t want to visit, but I think it is time for the public to have a more updated perception of dental care.

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The more “relaxing” aspects of dental care

If you think about it, dentistry really can be relaxing under the right circumstances. Have you ever had a patient fall asleep in your chair? I think it has probably happened to almost every hygienist at some point in time. These patients are so relaxed while we are cleaning their teeth that they are actually able to fall asleep. It may be a bit of a hindrance to the clinician who is trying to provide patient care, but in a way, this response can be viewed as a clear sign of trust from your patients. You know that they feel completely comfortable and have faith in the quality of treatment that you provide. You can be assured that the dental chair feels like a safe haven to them.

For me personally, any time I get into the dental chair, I don’t want to get out of it. Whether I am getting my teeth cleaned or simply taking a nap over lunch, the dental chair almost feels like a cradle to me. I get to lie back, relax, and let go of life’s concerns for a little bit.

Peculiar as it may be, I enjoy having my teeth scaled. Getting my teeth cleaned reminds me of going to the zoo and seeing the monkeys picking bugs out of one another’s fur. They always seem to enjoy it, and I think it serves as a type of bonding experience on some level. As both a mother and a dental hygienist who is continually taking care of others, it feels good to finally have someone attend to my needs for once. It feels great to know that my dental care is being provided by someone who genuinely cares about my well-being.

A dental hygiene appointment often serves as a break from the whirlwind of life. We all know how chaotic life can be nowadays. There are always so many responsibilities, and we have too much to do in a day. It feels great to slow down time for an hour and put the cell phone away. It feels good to focus on ourselves and make our needs a priority. A hygiene appointment often provides a chance for people to share their life news and concerns with another person who is ready and willing to listen.

For many adults, this appointment represents an hour of welcomed quiet time from the demands of reality. Whether it is a stay-at-home mother who hasn’t had a chance to sit down yet or a businessperson who is feeling frazzled at the end of a workday, everyone needs a time to reset his or her mind. A recare appointment is a perfect excuse to de-stress and refresh our mental well-being.

Showing others what a dental appointment can be

Unfortunately, there are quite a few people out there who do not think of their dental appointments with such enthusiasm. I have met many of them, and I have helped change their thinking. I tell them about how many of my patients look forward to coming to see me and how they jump up and smile when I call their names. I tell these patients that hopefully I can show them that their appointments will go better than they originally thought.

I think that perhaps these individuals had negative experiences with painful cleanings in the past or they felt lectured by a previous hygienist. As a result, these people assumed that more negative experiences would occur and dreaded going to the dental hygienist. In any case, I try to show everyone what a relaxing experience a dental appointment can be. I put my patients’ comfort first and show genuine concern for anything they choose to share with me. I let them know that I truly care about their oral health and show them that together we create pathways to home-care success.

Potential gains from the “relaxing” dental experience

Changing how the average person views dentistry is essential to increasing the demand for dentistry overall. If people view dental care as a positive and welcomed experience instead of as something that is a health-care obligation, they will be more motivated to receive regular preventive care. Clearly, the oral health of many would be improved as a result.

Just imagine if people couldn’t wait to have their turn in your dental chair. You would feel valued and appreciated. I believe that this can be achieved if we believe in it and make it a priority. And even if this philosophy were only to work for some of our patients, we still would succeed in improving the reputation and utilization of dental care.

I have had patients who have stayed away from dental offices for years, but when they finally got into my chair, they couldn’t wait to come back. I recently had a patient who needed root planing and scaling, and he was very disappointed that it was going to take several weeks to get back in for his second appointment. He stressed that he wanted to be seen by me again and that he would take any available cancellations. I was so impressed that someone who was originally so hesitant to visit the dentist could become so motivated to complete periodontal treatment. I could tell that he felt comfortable with my care and that he really trusted me.

One of the most rewarding parts of my job as a dental hygienist is knowing that my patients truly appreciate the effort I put forth and that they are happy for me to be a part of their day. When I see a relaxed look in a patient’s eyes and a smile, I know I have succeeded in making his or her day a little bit better. And when my patient happens to tell me that coming to see me was “the most relaxing hour of the day,” I know that I could not have received a more thoughtful compliment. People like this help me to be the best hygienist I can be each and every day. They make me even more proud to be a part of this profession!

5 ways to create a relaxing dental atmosphere

1. Never make your patient feel rushed. Even if you are running behind schedule, let your patient know that he or she has your full attention and is your top priority.

2. Make your patient feel at home. If the patient looks uncomfortable, ask if he or she needs a blanket, pillow, etc. Let patients take their shoes off if they’d like.

3. Be genuinely interested in your patient and ready to listen. Sometimes patients have concerns, sometimes beyond dental issues, and they need someone to be there for them.

4. Be understanding. This applies to home care, recall frequency, late arrivals, etc. No patient wants to hear a lecture from a dental hygienist. Focus on creating solutions together.

5. Make pain control a priority. No one can enjoy a dental appointment if it is painful. It may take a little extra time, but there are many effective options to remedy the occurrence of pain.

About the Author

Amber Metro-Sanchez, BA, RDH

Amber Metro-Sanchez, BA, RDH, practices dental hygiene with Chris Bible, DDS, at Comfort Dental in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She also works as a professional educator on behalf of Waterpik. Amber was a member of the 2015 Colgate Oral Health Advisory Board. She is also a contributing author for the Colgate Professional and Colgate Oral Care Center webpages. Reach her at [email protected].