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Mindreading what your patients are thinking


Be honest with patients, but minimize the stresses that have become all too common during the pandemic.



June 25, 2020 was my first time going to my dentist during this pandemic. I will be honest…I was nervous. My dentist is in a specialty building that several dentists, oral surgeons, and specialists built six years ago. When I arrived in the parking lot, I noticed it was 25% full of patients or family members waiting in their cars. Should I wear my mask in my car with the windows down or not? There were other people in the car right next door to me with their windows down as well. I decided to live life on the “wild” side and did not wear it in the car but put it on before getting out.

The front door was OK. I could use my elbow to press the button to let the handicapped doors open without touching them. Stopping at the bathroom door, I laughed out loud when I saw this sign.

Humorous sign at the office building.

Humorous sign at the office building. Photo: Lisa Newburger.

That was good for a laugh to break the tension. When I finished washing my hands in the bathroom, there was a problem. Whereas there was instruction to get into the bathroom, there were none to get out. Instead, there was this odd medal thing attached to the door that I stepped on, but the door never opened. It had a couple of words instructing me to do something with it…what I could not tell you. I was in heels and thought that this was utterly ridiculous. Can you say liability issue? If my heel catches and I go flying, that could really sprain an ankle or worse…a head injury when I fall on the concrete. I ended up using a paper towel to open the door and then shot it into the garbage can. How could a 6-year-old building not have handicapped bathrooms? Someone fell asleep at the wheel!

Related reading: Mindreading in a dental practice

I headed for the stairwell to avoid the tiny elevator. Even alone, it is just too small a space to go into. Arriving at the office, I noticed a few things. No sign-in sheet. No trashy People magazine to make time pass. No Keurig. (Boy do I live for that Keurig…my reward for getting through the appointment.) And, plexiglass separating me from the staff. OK. It looked clean, just too perfect in my book. But I was OK with this. With nothing else to entertain me, I pulled out my phone.

The hygienist called me. Walking in, I make a joke about the bathroom door. She cracked up with me. (I guess she knows Yiddish!) I am instructed to rinse my mouth with some chemical I would never ever normally put in my mouth. But what am I to do…I am the patient. I think it was hydrogen peroxide or something as vile tasting as that. What struck me was how quiet it was. No noisy suction. No other patients. Just a peacefulness that surprised me.

Why is this worthy of real estate in a dental industry article? Because, even with all the hype about anxieties that patients are feeling returning to the dentist, I did not have that experience. Instead, I noticed the changes. I asked about the changes. And, it did not stress me out. In fact, it was much more relaxing than in pre-COVID days. I think I would just add some music to make it even better.

What does this tell you? Your anxiety as a dental professional may be just that…your anxiety. My hygienist told me about the fears that other hygienists have returning to work. She shared this because she knows that I write for this industry. (I felt like a pregnant woman who gets told a delivery nightmare story.) I really do not want to hear anything unpleasant such as the stresses of employees when I am there as a patient, not a writer.

But this was minor. What I want you to take away from this article is that not everyone is stressed about returning to the dental office. Yes, we need to be educated and stay educated to be safe. But it felt like just another day at the dentist. In fact, it was a better day at the dentist, because it was so relaxing. I swear, this is the truth.

Think about what you share with your patients! Even if we ask specific questions, do not get into stories that will increase their anxiety if they are feeling it. Be honest but minimize the stresses that you are feeling right now. This is the best thing you can offer to a patient, particularly one who is nervous. Do not project or presume how they are feeling. Observe. Ask appropriate questions and be sensitive to this issue.

Let me know what your experiences have been with your patients by emailing me at diana2@discussdirectives.com .

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