I’ve built my brand on dental humor, but today I’d like to address a topic in all seriousness.
For kids and adults with special needs, a trip to the dentist can be terrifying.
And it can be almost as anxiety-inducing for the patient’s parent or caregiver.
It’s human nature to try and avoid situations that cause us stress or fear, but dental care is just as important for special needs patients as it is for anyone else. As dentists, we have a real responsibility to help make those appointments as stress-free as possible, so that these patients and their caregivers don’t end up procrastinating or even avoiding dental checkups altogether.
In my own practice, I’ve found that taking the following steps can make a real difference, and so I’d like to share them with you.
- Get as much information as possible from the patient’s caregiver before the appointment.
The more you know about a patient’s special needs, dental history, fears, and preferences in advance of the appointment, the better you’ll be able to create a comfortable environment right off the bat for him or her. For example, if music and a waiting room full of other patients make the experience too uncomfortable, you can schedule the visit during a slow time, and turn off the music – or play the patient’s favorite song to create an even more welcoming atmosphere. Taking steps to proactively counter any previous negative experiences will go a long way towards assuaging fears.
- Prepare the patient in advance.
It’s also a great idea to invite the patient in for a friendly tour of your practice a few days before their appointment, if possible. You can introduce staff, show them around the space, and even let them see what different tools do. If you do it just right, you may even end up getting the patient excited about the upcoming exam, instead of frightened!
- Be flexible during the exam.
The key to a comfortable and successful checkup for a special needs patient is flexibility. Take your time while working, and be prepared to take frequent breaks, whenever your patient needs a moment. Though it might seem like a good idea to minimize time spent in the chair, trying to ‘get it over with’ quickly isn’t the best approach to building trust and comfort.
- Make the exam fun.
Of course, one of the best ways to make a dental visit less stressful is to make it fun! From video games in the waiting room to a goodie bag on the way out, we dentists are already pretty good at pulling out all the stops. But it can be hard to find a way to make the actual exam fun – until now, that is. With the Molar Media Mount attached to your dental light, your patients have a tablet in their line of sight no matter what procedure you’re performing - and allowing them to choose a movie or show to watch from an app like Netflix is the perfect way to distract them while you work.
I can tell you from personal experience, in my own practice, having the ability to stream a familiar favorite makes a world of difference in the comfort level of my special needs patients. And every bit of comfort we can provide to make the experience a positive one for them is worth it, in my opinion.