Emergencies in the dental office: Are you ready?

Nov. 16, 2012
Medical emergencies don’t happen often in the dental office but when they do, they’re frightening. You only have a few seconds to respond in an emergency, so how you respond is vital. Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, gives your team a solid plan to implement so you will be ready in the event of an emergency.

Medical emergencies don’t happen often in the dental office but when they do, they’re frightening. Having a plan and being able to execute it properly can save lives.


10 tips to help you prepare for a medical emergency in the dental office

Obtaining an updated health history at each patient’s dental appointment is essential. Going over the health history with the patient and asking open-ended questions will get you the answers you need to properly assess a patient’s health. For whatever reason, patients don’t link their oral health to their overall health, so they don’t always report new medications they’re taking or surgeries they may have had. Try asking, What medications have you started taking since your last visit? or What medical changes have occurred since we saw you last? This gets people thinking so that hopefully they’ll give you much-needed information.

Atmosphere and a positive attitude can go a long way in reducing stress in patients before they get in the dental chair. I always greet my patients with a smile. If I’ve not met a person before, I’ll introduce myself and shake their hand. (I thought this was kind of corny when I was younger, but it works!) Patients need to know that the people they’re trusting to perform their dental treatment are confident. So show your confidence!

When you seat your patients, engage them in conversation. People love to talk about what they know best — themselves. Talking about their latest vacation or their new puppy puts them in their comfort zone. Get in a patient’s comfort zone and you’ll help the person relax. If they have fears or concerns, really listen to them and repeat what they say. You’re confirming that you heard them and that you’ll do everything you can to help them through their appointment. I tell patients everything we’re doing and that if they have any questions, they should feel free to ask. By spending time educating your patients, you are calming their fears and helping them understand why the treatment is necessary. Dental assistants are usually with patients more than any other member of the team, so use that time to gain their confidence.

The key to any successful emergency action plan is prevention. Be prepared by holding regular training sessions. My suggestion is to appoint one person as the “lead.” This person will be responsible for scheduling training, making sure all team members are current in CPR, and refilling the emergency kit with supplies. Each team member should know the contents of the emergency kit, and where the kit and defibrillator are located. Every person on your team should be assigned a role in the event of an emergency. By knowing their role and the roles of others, an actual emergency will run smoother.

Appoint one person (usually at the front desk) to call 911. Another person needs to wait at the door for responders to arrive (this is a huge help to EMS). Another team member should be assigned to stay with the patient.

When an emergency occurs, it’s stressful for the entire team because a life is at stake. It’s important to stay calm and give orders clearly and directly, and make eye contact. Don’t just shout out, Call 911! Someone needs to acknowledge the command. Try saying, Kelly, call 911, and then make sure Kelly acknowledges and repeats the command by saying, I’m calling 911. This ensures that no one is assuming that somebody else is making the call. This goes for any command given. The person receiving the command needs to repeat it so the lead person and the entire team will know the task has been heard and is being carried out.

Finally, proper recordkeeping will help EMS know what was done before they arrived, and accurate recordkeeping is necessary for the patient’s legal record. Make sure everything is documented, from times, to medications used, to vital signs recorded, to treatment given.

You only have a few seconds to respond in an emergency. How you respond is vital. Get educated. Be prepared. Save lives.

Author bio
Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, is a 1981 graduate of the Missouri College, and has more than 30 years of chairside experience. She is currently the office manager/chairside assistant to Dr. Eric Hurtte of O’Fallon Mo. She is a member of the ADAA, founder of the Dental Assistants Study Club of St. Louis, director of the Dental Careers Institute, and an independent consultant specializing in assistant training, team building, office organization, and CEREC assistant training. She can be reached at [email protected], or find her on Facebook.