For many individuals, a trip to the dentist means battling fear. Stepping through the front doors of a dental office requires all the strength and courage they can muster. I have had patients openly weep while in the waiting room. The “white coat syndrome” is a real phenomenon: patients who experience fear and anxiety around care providers. The dental office atmosphere can bring back traumatic memories and the fear associated with them.
It was hard enough presenting a friendly face to put patients at ease before the pandemic, but now it’s even more of challenge. Not only are our faces hidden behind masks and shields, but there’s also the extra discomfort that PPE is creating for providers.
There are ways to alleviate the extra challenges that PPE may be adding to your patient interactions and to reduce patient anxiety. Here are a few thoughts…
Make Space for Face-to-Face
Whether it is an adult or child, having an unfamiliar person in close contact, poking and prodding — especially when in pain — is more than some people can handle.
Utilizing intraoral cameras and teledentistry allows for face-to-face interaction during evaluations and consults, all while the patient is in the comfort of their own home. Removing layers of mask, shield, gown and glasses also removes a layer of fear. You are seen as a person.
Children are less likely to understand the need for the extra PPE and why we’re not able to greet them with a smile. In the chair at the office, using in-office teledentistry workflows can mean fewer masked people to get comfortable with, for the child. They may have gotten comfortable with the hygienist, but once another masked face arrives in the operatory, like when the dentist comes for an evaluation, the fear may resurface. With the use of an intraoral camera at the chair, combined with a teledentistry platform, the doctor doesn’t need to don additional PPE to step into the room. Further, a conversation with the parent or caregiver can be had over a secure patient portal as available in TeleDent.
Avoiding Dental Amnesia
Fear of the dentist often impacts the patient’s ability to remember key parts of a conversation with the provider. Or it means questions they have don’t get asked. I’ve witnessed a patient many times leave the office only to call back with a multitude of questions. Via the TeleDent Patient Portal, the office can send the evaluation results to a patient , along with a visual treatment plan with images. The treatment plan and finding can be discussed with a patient and/or decision maker, face to face.
Patients and Providers Benefit from Teledentistry
Patients appreciate saving travel time with a telehealth visit, where that is possible. A virtual consult can also mean less emotional toll than a dental office visit. It’s worth starting to ask yourself how many of your appointments could be replaced with a virtual consult or with messaging. Evaluate how a video consult can be helpful as a new part of your pre-appointment workflow to give patients (and yourself!) that face-to-face interaction that’s so important. Providers further benefit by conserving PPE, keeping chair time for production, making better use of team time and the ability to conduct convenient asynchronous teledentistry services.
Creating Trust with a Smile
Dental professionals are struggling with additional PPE requirements. It is difficult to greet patients when it feels so impersonal. Maybe it is a new patient or maybe a returning patient who you only see in times of emergencies. One of the many benefits of teledentistry is the ability to maintain that personal patient connection face-to-face. A smile brightens every day and anxiety-free and personal interaction can create lifetime patients.
Jamie Collins, RDH-EA is a hygienist in Idaho and Washington states. She has been in the dental field for over twenty years, both as an assistant and hygienist. With a passion for patient care, especially those with higher risk factors, Jamie enjoys sharing the tips and tricks of dental profession through speaking and writing for various publications. In addition to clinical practice Jamie is also a speaker, educator, has contributed to multiple textbooks, curriculum development, and contributes as a key opinion leader for various companies. Jamie can be contacted at [email protected] or visit mydentaleducator.com