Award-winning dental hygienist and therapist Anna Middleton on the alchemy of empowerment, empathy and computer-assisted anaesthesia.
The benefits to the overall health and wellbeing of patients are many. As dental professionals, it is our responsibility to share this knowledge in an empathetic and tailored way.
Face to face or online, healthcare professionals are expected to work together, making every contact count in a bid to effect behaviour change.
But Covid-19 offered up unprecedented challenges to this process for one reason or another. As well as barriers to care that in some cases created cause for concern.
And although legal restrictions may now have ended, coronavirus has not gone away. This is why we must allow for the fact that the dental environment continues to test the confidence and trust of some of those who present in the chair.
Actively listening to patients in order to ascertain their feelings about a hygiene appointment has always been a key essential. But, for some, the pandemic may have either heightened their fear or introduced feelings they did not previously have about attending.
Additionally, the opportunities to assess and/or guide behaviour change for better oral health have been somewhat hampered during the pandemic. Either due to the initial strict lockdown, or patients staying away.
Any hiatus in care inevitably impacts on long-term health. So, where does the current situation leave the role of the dental hygienist and therapist in improving patient oral hygiene once again? Particularly if there has been a change in mindset towards the dental setting.
Changing patients’ mindset
Whilst the vaccination programme will have certainly tempered this anxiety, essentially each patient will require reassessment of their acceptance and tolerance of periodontal interventions.
According to a case report published online in August 2021, Dental anxiety and PTSD during the Covid-19 pandemic: a dentist’s nightmare: ‘Prompt assessment and management of anxiety disorders in patients in the dental clinic can help improve their pre- and post-procedure experiences and recovery and improve their overall quality of life’.
Barriers to dental care
Anna Middleton is an award-winning dental hygienist. She is otherwise known as @londonhygienist on social media platforms.
She recently qualified as a dental therapist and dedicates her online presence to showcasing the role of the dental hygienist and dental therapist.
Anna nurtures trust via her digital communications. But she maintains that, ultimately, active listening during appointments is the prime key to any successful patient interaction.
‘I always say, you have two ears and one mouth, so use them in that order,’ she says.
‘When given the time, patients will disclose to you their previous experiences. After which you can then ensure they have a pleasant appointment.
‘The fear of pain and the lack of control are two big barriers when it comes to seeking out dental care. So, if we can establish these concerns early on, we can reassure our patients.’
Helping nervous patients
Without exception, she books in one-hour appointments for new patients.
‘This allows plenty of time to get to know each other and establish rapport.
‘I avoid using words or terms that can make them nervous, too. For example, I will say: “Anything that is not entirely comfortable for you, just raise a hand”. Rather than: “If it hurts, let me know”.
Anna will also be guided by the patient as to the extent of how long they are in the chair and what it is she will do with regards any intervention or treatment.
‘I tell nervous patients that I will do as much or as little as they feel comfortable with. Especially if it is their first time and they are nervous.
‘Sometimes a shorter visit with partial treatment is beneficial to again help build trust and acclimatise a nervous patient.’
Introducing The Wand
But we do not build professional interactions on relationships alone. Technology can play a part in earning trust. Particularly if it means faster, more effective and pain-free procedures.
Anna dedicates her time to providing the highest quality of dental care to patients. She uses the best equipment and products. And this applies to the choices she makes in clinic to ensure greater patient comfort, too.
She explains: ‘I am very passionate about using various technology to change the way oral health care is delivered to patients.
‘For instance, The Wand is a computer-assisted anaesthesia system. It complements the other systems I use and ensures that patients’ appointments are comfortable – even enjoyable.’
She has been using The Wand for approximately a year now and applied it during periodontal treatment. ‘But since qualifying as a dental therapist, I always use The Wand when carrying out restorative procedures,’ she explains.
She primarily uses it for subgingival PMPR and restorative work. But is happy to use it with all of her patients if it means more comfortable outcomes.
‘I know patients won’t be uncomfortable. And that I will get very good anaesthesia in the treatment areas without the patient being “too numb” in the surrounding areas where I have treated.
‘It is extremely gentle and patients are often surprised when I tell them it’s all done and they can have a rinse.’
Anna posts regularly on Instagram about the importance of self-care. The Wand is partly about investment in her own wellbeing, too.
‘It brings benefits to the clinician because it’s so comfortable. I feel I have better control over delivery. There are definitely no shaky hands.
‘Any new technology should remove the stress from the dental visit for us as well as our patients; I only ever use products that are kind to the tooth, the patient, and the clinician.’
Digital technologies have raised the bar in patient empowerment. When combined with empathetic care and good communication, they place dental professionals in a better position to deliver the kind of experience patients often hope for.
Anna’s approach is evidence perhaps that this is a seemingly magical process. A gamechanger if you will.
It is playing its part in an exciting transformation of dental delivery.
For more information on The Wand, visit www.dentalsky.com/wand-dental.