Handling Challenging Dental Patients

Sept. 1, 2012
Dental hygienists and dental assistants spend the most face-time with the patients.

Provide A Positive Experience For Those Who Need The Extra Attention


Dental hygienists and dental assistants spend the most face-time with the patients. Whether it’s performing a cleaning, prepping for a dental procedure, or performing dental X-rays, hygienists can have the biggest influence on the customer experience. That’s why it’s important to know the tips and tricks for making the experience positive for each patient, encouraging them to come back and to refer others.

Let’s face it, going to the dentist is not on the top 10 list of things people want to do; however, you can make the experience as pleasant as possible. Here are a few suggestions when dealing with all patients:

  • Connect at a personal level. Treat your patients as people.
  • Proactively provide clear communication that reduces confusion and promotes understanding. Resist the temptation to use technical jargon that leaves patients baffled.
  • Reduce/remove any causes of patient anxiety. These can include wait times, discomfort, confusion, frustration, and anticipation.
  • Smile. Neal Donald Walsh said, “As you bring others to a smile, so, too, will you bring yourself.” This method is foolproof. And smiles, after all, are what dentistry is all about.

In addition to these suggestions, certain patients need extra help to keep their dental visits successful without jeopardizing all of the work spent to help others have positive experiences. Some dental offices schedule these appointments at designated hours or on slower days, primarily to minimize exposure of other patients to a crying child or otherwise challenged patient.

♦ Children — Children pose a particular opportunity and challenge, especially if they have not been to the dentist and don’t know what to expect. They might squirm around a bit (especially during the critical X-rays), and syringes and drills appear larger than life to them. Speak to them on their level. Help them understand what’s going on, in a way that they understand.

Another great tactic, especially if they’re younger, is to use a distraction to get their minds off of all those foreign hands and objects in their mouths. Find things to keep them busy, especially during the waiting periods that occur. Cartoons, video games, and story-telling are common in many pediatric dental practices.

♦ Special needs — Special-needs patients include any mental or physical condition that might pose a challenge when providing dental care. Dr. Harvey Levy is a dentist and a trainer for special needs patients. In his article, “http://www.towniecentral.com/Dentaltown/Article.aspx?aid=2842">Debunking the Myths of Special-Needs Patient Care,” he discusses administrative, management, medical, and financial perceived myths, and how to overcome them. In summary, he states that the benefits of taking care of special-needs patients far outweigh the challenges, especially when the opportunity is seen through empathetic eyes.

In general, special-needs patients take no more time or expense than traditional patients. The items that assist in providing care to special-needs patients include Velcro body wraps and disposable mouth props, both of which are inexpensive and available through various dental dealers.

Additionally, the Aribex NOMAD handheld X-ray device is a great addition when treating children or special-needs patients. It empowers you to stay with the patient while taking X-rays. This reduces anxiety and the chance of the patient moving, not to mention fewer retakes, lower radiation doses, time-savings, and a higher quality of care.

Making a trip to the dentist as comfortable and enjoyable as possible can depend heavily on the person spending the most time with them. In most cases, that’s you, the hygienist hero. RDH

KEN KAUFMAN is president and CFO of Aribex, Inc., located in Orem, Utah. For more than a decade Ken has built a reputation as a leader who is respected for his integrity, work ethic, and commitment to lifting people and companies to new levels of achievement. He is the author of Impact Your Business: An Allegory of An Entrepreneur’s Journey To Clarity, Cash, Profit, Family and Success.

Plain Ornery From The Get-Go

Some patients just choose to be difficult. These are the folks that likely complain about anything and everything and have a “go ahead and try to make me smile” expression on their faces. Sadly enough, these folks need dental work as well. Here are a few ideas to make the most out of the encounter.

⇒ Seek to understand. Try to understand the rationale for the irrational behavior or sour mood. This could come from anything, including:

  • Appointment starting late
  • Dental work needed when it’s not expected
  • Just a bad day

⇒ Try the distraction method. Sometimes, simply changing a person’s dominant pattern of thought can dislodge them from their difficult behavior.

⇒ Take it as a personal challenge to transform the patient’s mood so that their next interaction is a more positive one. Think of it as a “pay it forward” situation, so that the next hygienist or assistant gets treated a little better than you did.

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