Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Fear-Proof Kids: How to Have Great Dental Visits

I recently volunteered at an after school youth program for kids. We talked about oral hygiene and going to the dentist regularly. Perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of the kids admitted to not going to the dentist because they are terrified of the dentist. This very relevant (and funny) guest post is written by Sloan Carson, who also wrote this page about kids for these Las Vegas dentists. I think these tips will apply to our more grown-up patients too! 

One bad dentist can ruin it for everybody. 

Kids don’t grow up afraid of the dentist.  They learn it from their first visits, their parents, or their peers.  Grandparents cause trouble, too, by relating the horror stories that they went through in days when pain-killing technology was largely based on grain alcohol.

clip_image001Odontophobia: Fear of dentists (fear of clowns is coulrophobia!).

As a dental student, you don’t need to learn how to relate to scared patients and children.  You can graduate, start your own practice, and make plenty of money tying terrified patients into the chair and forcing their mouths open. You can work in silence, lay out torture tools, and wear a mask constantly.  You can make children into odontophobes for the rest of their lives with just one frightening appointment.  But you shouldn’t.

Here are some of the best ways you can relate to your customers, provide great service, and create friends and people who will spend the rest of their lives visiting the dentist with a smile.

#1: Be a Dentist Who Overcommunicates.

Kids, especially kids on their first dental appointment, have absolutely no frame of reference to understand what you’re doing.  Every weird tool and operatory could be in place only to cause them pain.  Talk to them!  Lay out what you’re going to do before you do it.  Ask if they have questions.  Let them ask their questions.  Find that cartoon that explains what cavities are.  Do whatever it takes to get them to understand your actions and why you’re taking them. 

Talking takes extra time.  It’s a pain… after working a full day of children back to back, you’ll be so sick of explaining what the intraoral camera is you’ll want to quit to become pet psychiatrist.  But:  If you want to avoid creating terrified kids for life, you’ll do it.  Just start talking.  It’s the best thing you can do.

#2: Be Present With That Child.

If you’re in the room, be in the room.  Some parents or dentists will be inclined to distract their child with cartoons or movies.  This is a good idea… later.  Initially, a scared patient is going to be full of questions.  Be there with them.  Tell them what’s happening.  Your nurses need to be fully on board with this idea… it’s not enough for you to be a rock when you’re in the room, only to have your assistant ignore the patient while you’re gone. 

Once a patient has some awareness of what’s going to happen and what kind of person you are, you can let them try to distract themselves if that’s what they want.  That’s the time to turn on the cartoons and let them drift.

#3: Be On Time, In the Dental Offices Waiting Room

Okay, it’s not always possible.  Do your best.  Nothing communicates professionalism and concern like arriving on time to meet a person who has arrived on time.  It’s an act of mutual respect.

Walking into the waiting room to greet your patients also sends a clear message of warmth and concern.  If you never show your face out front, you’ll be an unknown quantity to everyone sitting there in that room full of strangers and the faint smell of burning dentin.  Just go say hi!  Everyone will love you just a little bit more.

#4: The Overall Theme

Everything written here is a variation on one theme: Be a comforting person, and let that shine through.

Put yourself in their shoes, and you’ll know what to do in every situation.  Remember your own childhood, and you’ll have an excellent starting point.  Become the person you wish you’d met then, and let it show.