Research shows that preventive dentistry is a critical component in overall health, but dental phobia is real, and unless patients feel comfortable when they visit their dentist, they are unlikely to return. Dental assistants manage a wide range of clinical and administrative tasks in a dental office, but none is as essential as making patients feel comfortable and relaxed. For patients, it’s the key to a lifetime of good oral care.
Why Dental Patients Need to Feel Comfortable
A large percentage of adults in the U.S. skip dental appointments because of anxiety, rating it as stressful as a divorce or changing jobs. Patients need to have confidence in their dentist to overcome their fear, and that is where dental assistants fit in. As ambassadors for good oral health, a dental assistant’s mission is to make patients feel comfortable before, during and after dental treatments. This makes all the difference in helping patients feel safe and secure.
Before Dental Treatment
Dental assistants set the stage for a positive treatment experience by educating patients, answering questions, and setting expectations.
Most dental treatments require patient cooperation, so it’s critical to explain procedures before they begin. From the type of anesthetic to be used to how long the process will take, an informed patient is more comfortable and cooperative when they know exactly what to expect.
Anxious patients are less apt to communicate with their dental team, they have tunnel vision, but a dental assistant’s warm smile and approachable demeanor open the door for communication.
Asking open-ended questions that encourage patients to explore their feeling about their dental health is useful and makes it more likely they’ll share negative emotions. Dental assistants can then address specific concerns and help patients be better informed about their treatment options. When dentistry is less mysterious, it’s less stressful.
While most patients know what to expect from routine dental cleanings, outcomes for other dental treatments may not be as clear. Tooth whitening, for example, may not give patients the perfect Hollywood smile they expect. Dental assistants should encourage patients to be realistic about results while remembering that it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver than to set unrealistic expectations.
During Dental Treatment
Dental assistants are the calming voice of comfort during dental procedures. They sit chairside, connecting with patients as dental treatments are performed by keeping patients informed, offering feedback, and maintaining physical comfort.
Keeping Patients Informed
Explaining a dental treatment before it begins is essential, but anxious patients may miss details. Dental assistants can avoid uncomfortable surprises by keeping patients informed about the progress of their procedure as it happens. By describing each step before it occurs, a dental assistant reinforces that the treatment process is going as planned.
Since the patient won’t be able to talk once their jaw is open, agreeing on a stop signal before beginning is reassuring. Patients who know they can stop drilling simply by raising their hands feel a much-needed measure of control.
For some patients, demonstrating how equipment is used may help overcome fear. Patients who’ve never seen a dental drill are often surprised to see how much smaller and less intimidating it is than a drill used for wood.
Letting patients know they’re doing a great job by staying still or keeping their mouth open reassures them that they’re being helpful and makes them feel like full partners in their dental care. The more involved patients are, the more emotionally invested they feel in their oral health, and the more likely they’ll view recommendations for future visits positively.
Maintaining Physical Comfort
Pain is among dental patients’ greatest fears. While modern dentistry makes most procedures virtually painless, popular perceptions are tough to overcome.
Dental assistants promote comfort by giving patients choices whenever possible, such as how their chair is positioned or what type of music they listen to. A dental assistant should assure patients that they will remain at chairside to meet their needs until the dental treatment is complete. Knowing the dental assistant will maintain suction and monitor their discomfort is reassuring.
After Dental Treatment
After dental treatments, patients may experience a rush of relief and want to head for the door, but dental assistants can enhance long-term satisfaction by explaining aftercare, reviewing treatment plans, and promoting regular care.
It’s common for patients to see their dentist, only to realize when they get home that they forgot to ask important questions. Dental assistants eliminate that mistake by carefully reviewing what patients need to know after a dental treatment, predicting what questions they may have.
Aftercare instructions should include:
- What to expect physically, such as how much discomfort or bleeding is normal
- How to manage pain and care for treatment sites at home
- How to take prescribed medications
- Symptoms to watch for and report
- Emergency contact information
Asking patients to return-verbalize instructions ensures they understand what they’ve been told and helps them feel more comfortable in their ability to take care of themselves.
Reviewing Treatment Plans
Some dental procedures, such as fillings or extractions, may not require a follow-up appointment, but other treatments, such as braces or implants, may require multiple visits over a long period.
For continuity of care, dental assistants should review the dentist’s treatment plan with patients before they leave the practice, answering any questions they have and scheduling the next appointment.
Promoting Regular Care
Almost all people believe annual physicals help them stay healthy, but fewer than half say the same about regular dental exams. Despite the growing role of oral care in overall health, the public is largely unaware of its importance.
Dental assistants can change that by educating patients about timely topics such as:
- Choosing the right toothbrush
- Brushing and flossing techniques
- Preventing gingivitis
- Eating for dental health
- The importance of regular cleanings
- Taking care of dentures and orthodontic appliances
- Understanding restoration procedures
The more patients know about dentistry in general, the more comfortable they’ll feel with treatments.
Patient satisfaction surveys repeatedly show, patients who are comfortable visiting their dentist are more likely to get regular dental care. Dental assistants, as a representative for the entire professional team, hold the power of comfort in their hands. It’s a responsible but rewarding role.
Did learning about how to help patients feel comfortable before, during and after dental treatment interest you? Still deciding whether you want to become a dental assistant? Ready to learn more about a program that will help you become a dental assistant? The Dental Assistant Program prepares a graduate to work as an entry-level Dental Assistant, Dental Receptionist, Office Manager or Dental Hygienist Assistant in a dental office, specialty practice, or dental clinic. PCI Health Training Center Richardson, TX Campus offers a dental assistant program. Contact PCI Health Training Center for more information on how to become a dental assistant and start a rewarding career today.
**PCI firmly upholds its policy of nondiscrimination. Inquiries regarding policy may be directed to TitleIXCoordinator@pcihealth.com.
For more information about our graduation rates and other important information, please visit our website at www.pcihealth.edu/consumer-information. The Dental Assistant Program is offered at our Richardson Campus.