Tips for how to keep your patients safe, calm, and happy in your dental office.
There is a drawer filled with toys and presents for children at the dentist for a reason.
Not everyone has a 6 month advent calendar counting down until their next dentist appointment.
Whether it’s a child scared of getting in trouble for eating too much candy, a 21 year old embarrassed that they’re still going to the pediatric dentist with a zoo themed waiting room, or an adult who is just a little apprehensive about someone poking at their gums, the dentist is not everyone's favorite semi-annual chore. And for those of you who are Googling how often you’re supposed to see the dentist because you haven’t been in 3 years, carry on.
Perhaps it’s the fear of pain, a large bill, or a lecture that keeps people scared of the dentist. Or maybe it's the media's portrayal of dentists and the habit of telling children not to be scared of the dentist that keeps us frightened of these friendly medical professionals.
Either way, dental professionals are prepared to deal with anxious and scared patients. However, now with COVID-19, and the universal fear of contamination, dentists have a whole new fear to learn how to handle. Making your patient’s safety and comfort a priority is essential during these times and for the foreseeable future.
Making your patients happy should always be one of your main goals as a dentist. Even if you perform the best root canal in the world, but your receptionist fell asleep on the job and your hygienist never said hello, that patient is less likely to recommend you to a friend.
That’s not to say that waving hello is going to earn you a 5 star review. You will most likely need to invest time and effort into creating an environment and culture that will make your patients happy. This requires listening to patients and understanding their priorities. Patients now not only need to feel comfortable at the dentist, but they also need to feel safe from contamination. The prosperity of your dental practices is dependent on how well you adapt to these new patient priorities.
Keeping your office, staff, and patients healthy is a large responsibility. Make sure that you stay updated on CDC and ADA guidelines. A previous blog titled, “When Should I Return to Work as a Dental Hygienist?”, provides links to helpful resources and toolkits to keep your office safe.
You need to do more than follow the required rules and regulations to ensure that your patients feel safe and happy when they enter your office. Yes, your office should be cleaned appropriately, but you also should let your patients know that your office is being cleaned appropriately. Post clear signage in your office to let your patients know all that you’re doing to keep them safe. Keep your patients informed with emails as well so they can be a little more at ease when they enter your office. You can find email templates like this one online. Limit contact with staff and surfaces and make appointments as swift as possible to keep patients calm and safe. If you haven’t already, invest in moving steps such as scheduling and consultations online to keep their time in your office short.
We asked Andrew Danganan, a dental hygienist, what his office has done to help patients feel safe. He told us how his offices email patients beforehand to notify them that they’re reopening and tell them about pre-screening modifications. These include waiting inside their vehicle until it is time for the appointment, temperature checks, completing a questionnaire, entering the building with a mask, and anti-microbial pre-rinses before procedure to ensure no aerosols. They also have spaced out their appointments so they have ample time to clean between each patient. Andrew says that, “all in all, these pre-screening measures make me and the patients feel safe before we start a procedure.”
Your office may already be implementing similar procedures, but here are some tips to help set your practice apart and have the happiest patients in town.
What’s the best way to know how to make your patients more comfortable? Ask them! I’m sure you and your staff already ask your patients how they’re doing, but also asking them if there is anything you can do to make them more comfortable shows them that you care about their experience. Most patients will probably shake their head with a smile, but asking this question with kind eyes can assure them that they’re in good hands. You can also use this time to gauge if your patient would benefit from distracting chatter, or if they would prefer to keep their distance and be left alone.
Another best practice to keep patients calm is to make them feel like they’re in control. Especially if the patient seems nervous about the procedure, clearly explain what you will be doing and what tools you will use. Also make sure to tell them that they can simply lift their hand or give you a signal if they feel discomfort or need you to stop.
Some patients may even be embarrassed that they are nervous at the dentist. In this case, encouraging them to calm their nerves with deep breaths or relaxing certain muscles in their body may help them relax, trust you, and feel more comfortable. If they take the time to relax, your job and their day will go a lot smoother.
Environment is a major factor that affects a patient’s comfort and happiness at the dentist. Draw your inspiration from a spa and make your dental practice a relaxing destination for the senses. This may include peaceful music, pleasant aromas, or even satisfying decorations. Keeping your office at a comfortable temperature is also a good idea. Your 5 pm appointment who’s running in late from work would appreciate some cool air as opposed to another stuffy office. I’m sure your staff in those extra layers of PPE would appreciate it as well.
A relaxing environment is also created with welcoming and kind staff. Telling your hygienist to slap on a smile isn’t going to make your patients happy, though. Invest in creating a positive office culture because creating an efficient and relaxing work environment benefits you, your staff, and your patients.
I know that remembering to call your grandma can be hard enough, but it sure makes her day a whole lot better. A follow up call from your dentist is an act that proves to your patients that you care about their experience and well being. A call from a receptionist is nice, but taking the time to call your patients is a great way to build trust and loyalty. They may not be as happy to hear your voice as your grandma, but they will sure appreciate the call.
Happy patients lead to referrals, positive reviews, and loyalty. Little actions and gestures in addition to required safety protocols and procedures can set your practice apart and make your patients happier. What are you waiting for? Order a candle and turn on the AC, the 21 year old in the zebra chair might just crack a smile.