Dental Assisting: Making Your Patients Comfortable

CC Image: Germanna CC (flickr)
CC Image: Germanna CC (flickr)

As you get settled in your dental assisting career, you’ll find that a large segment of the population is nervous at the dentist’s office. While at least 10 percent of the population suffers from an actual dental phobia, many more feel unsettled and jittery, particularly when they’re getting treatment that requires a needle or a dental handpiece! You, as your patient’s dental assistant, will be the person who greets them and helps them to feel less nervous. Here are some tips on making your patients comfortable.

Offer Physical Comfort
Dental chairs are usually fairly comfortable, so with a few adjustments, you can have your patients resting with their heads supported and their feet up. How’s that for comfort? It might not be enough if the dental lamp is shining in their eyes. Be sure to shut it off or direct it away from your patient’s face. Also, some people would prefer to sit upright while waiting for the dentist. Ask each patient what he or she prefers; individualized attention is a big part of successful dental assisting. Offer a drink of water when they sit down; nervousness can cause an uncomfortably dry mouth. Finally, if you know that the dentist will be more than a few minutes and you don’t have time to sit in the room, offer your patient a magazine to read while waiting. Grab a few from the waiting room, being sure to choose from two or three different titles so that your patient is not stuck reading about golf if they don’t like the sport.

Remember Important Details
Glance through your patient’s chart in advance so that you’re sure about what treatment is being done on the day of the visit. Nothing is more disconcerting to a patient than hearing a health care professional say that they’re going to be working on the right side when, in fact, they should be working on the left. Be able to answer general questions if they are asked, but if you are unsure, it’s perfectly acceptable to tell the patient that the dentist is best-equipped to answer that one. Also, if something major is going on in your patient’s life, such as the birth of a new grandchild or a vacation to Tahiti, go ahead and make a few notes on the chart. This way, you can be reminded about what you talked about last time. This shows your patients that you care about them!

Avoid Sensitive Topics
For a very fearful patient, it might be better to avoid bringing up the treatment that will be taking place. Instead, talk about more neutral topics, such as upcoming summer plans, what you are planting in your garden or even positive celebrity gossip (a singer expecting a new baby is positive; an actor having an affair is not). Do not discuss politics or religion. If your patient brings up one of these taboo topics, then try to discreetly steer the conversation in a different direction. Even if you know your patient outside of the office and you know that he or she won’t be offended, you cannot be sure that other patients in the office will not overhear and become offended, so it’s best to keep these conversations out of the exam rooms!

Since a large part of the job of dental assisting is to make his or her patients feel less nervous, brushing up on your comforting and small-talk skills is an essential part of preparing for your new career. Always follow office policies when it comes to communicating with patients, and ask the dentist that you are working with for additional tips on making your patients comfortable.