Let us not forget the dental patient

September 3, 2020

Take a look at how you interact with patients who are suffering, and be sure to treat them the way you would like to be treated.

Even though our world has been turned upside down, there is an important issue that we can never forget. That is…that we need to look at what we say to our patients who are dealing with pain. We cannot forget them or lose our compassion as we are going through this pandemic.

This is personal for me. I began writing for the dental world in 2010, because of my own personal experience sitting in the dental chair. There were a lot of things I witnessed that did not just startle me but worried me. I was able to give a voice to those who politically could not speak up for fear of retaliation. As a result, big changes were made in many dental practices. Over the years, many of my articles focused on career development and addressing problems in a practice. Today, I am going back to my origins to talk about the patient and what you can do to make a better experience for your patients.

My mouth is worth $70,000. At least if it were a car or jewelry, I could pass it down to my kids when I die! I have no dental insurance but am fortunate to be able to pay for the dental care that I desperately needed. I am so grateful that I do not have to live a life in pain. Others are not so fortunate. This “TMJ Queen” was diagnosed September 13, 2001. I am not going to bore you with details, so fast forward to today. I am in a crisis again with my TMJ. After being stable for over 10 years, it is flaring up. Keep in mind, I have been sleeping with an appliance for 20 years. I am that good patient who spends forever in the bathroom taking care of her teeth and following the treatment team’s plan. But now, I am powerless in managing the pain.

You are wondering, “Why is she sharing something so personal?” Pain knows no boundaries. It impacts every socioeconomical group, every culture, every race, etc…. Tomorrow, the dentist will order me a new appliance. What goes through my head when I think about that is complicated? First, I know that I will not have any pain relief (today), so the way I feel today will probably be worse as my jaws will be agitated from the work he will do to make a new appliance. Second, a muscle relaxer will be recommended to break the cycle of pain. That will put me out of commission for a couple of days. How can I do my work? Drive a car? Take care of the family? Simple…I have no choice.’

I think about what if I could not pay for this. I cannot even imagine the suffering that they some people are going through. Having dental insurance or being able to private pay to see a dentist is truly a gift. But pain does not discriminate. Pain changes people. Let us be honest, I want to be alone more, am easily irritated, have little patience for nonsense, and cannot concentrate when I’m in pain. Your patients who are in pain are struggling to get through the day. Forget the day…the nights are usually worse. You are talking sleep deprivation. That takes more out of a person than anything else. Just talk to parents with a newborn at home.

When you cannot control pain, you feel completely out of control. Face it, you are more difficult to be around and work with. Those patients may act out when they come to see you. They are just trying to get the help that they need.

What has struck me is how there is something remarkably simple that we can all do to make them feel better. That is to simply say, “I am so sorry that you are in pain. Let us see if we can get this resolved quickly.” Be an advocate. Even when you cannot do anything more, let them know that you hear them. You care. It really is as simple as that. No, it does not solve the pain issue. But it does make a difference for the sufferer that someone heard them. Someone cared. My specialist left his office to go downstairs to a TMJ specialist’s office to see if he could talk with him about me. That means something to this patient. It was more than just trying to help. It was being compassionate and really trying to help someone when they really needed it.

My call to action is this. Look at how you interact with patients who are suffering. Do you ever say that you are sorry that they are going through this? Say that you hope it gets resolved very quickly? Say that you wish that you could do more for them when you are out of answers? These are not just words. Follow the golden rule. Treat those the way you would like to be treated. Hopefully, you will never be in this situation. But, if you are, you will see what I mean.

Please share with me your stories of what you have done to help a patient in pain. Email diana2@discussdirectives.com . Stay safe and stay healthy.