By Allison J. Filkins
As orthodontic assistants, we’ve all come to know that look of apprehension or even fear on the faces of our young (and some not so young!) new orthodontic patients. You can either allow the feeling of dread to settle over you, not knowing how they’ll react to each procedure, or you can use a happy, upbeat attitude to influence each appointment. This may sound simple, and in a way it is, but it also takes a conscientious decision to act happy and say things that put a positive spin on what you’re doing.
A positive attitude conveys to patients that you’re confident and knowledgeable in what you’re doing, and that they will enjoy it too. Many dental professionals fail to realize that their attitude and body language can affect the way their patients feel toward them, the office, and the procedure performed on them. If you are uptight or too monotone, many patients will assume you’re not happy they’re in your chair. That’s usually far from the truth! Even if you’re having a bad day, you must make your best effort to display a happy, positive attitude that reflects professional and friendly body language. Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned to use:
“X-rays of doom”
This is something I joke about with my tween patients when I put the lead apron on them and prepare to take a panoramic and cephalometric X-ray. I joke about the apron that makes them about 10 pounds heavier, and call it something funny like “the X-ray coat of doom,” which usually gets a laugh. When I let the temple rests on the pano machine come to their head, I laugh and tell them they’re like little robotic arms. I’ve found that if I can make X-rays fun, things go much faster and easier. Most patients won’t mind having a few X-rays taken if you explain what you’re doing, what you need them to do, and how fast they’ll get through it.
Impressions: no gagging matter!
I’ll let you in on a valuable secret: If your office doesn’t have flavors to add to your alginate, buy some! Flavors make the ordeal of getting impressions done much more enjoyable and fun — for both of you! I always start out by telling patients that we get to make some cool copies of their teeth, just like if they stepped into snow or mud with their boots on. I refer to the materials as “kind of like play dough, only with a really tasty flavor,” and I make a big deal out of letting them know they are the ones who get to pick the different ones they want, allowing them to mix the flavors together. If you personalize the experience, patients know that you’re not just saying this, but you’ve actually done it. I always explain to them how it will feel, where it will squish around (I say teeth and gums), and I try not to mention the word throat, unless parents are in the room and they inform me of the child’s gag reflex. Then I offer numbing spray to make the roof of their mouth go to sleep for a few minutes. When I tell them it has a tropical banana flavor, this seals the deal! If nothing is mentioned about their apprehension or gag reflex, I tell them how cool it will feel in their mouth, and really hype up enthusiasm for it. I believe this is a great tool we have at our disposal to help impressions go smoothly. Talk to your patients while you’re doing things, not only to distract them, but also to show an interest in what you’re doing and to let them know you care for them. It’s important to laugh, smile, encourage them, praise them, and use words like awesome, cool, and fun. Tell them you think they’ll like it, not that some patients have trouble with impressions. If good is expected of them, usually patients will rise to the challenge and be great impression-takers!
Always remember that information can be your biggest asset! Try to keep a fresh perspective on everything, no matter how many times you’ve done it. Even though we as professionals could do something blindfolded, we have to remember that most patients have never had orthodontic work done on them, and they won’t have the slightest idea what you’re doing or why. Everything is new and possibly scary to them, so information is key. There is a difference between just talking to fill space, and talking about something you are passionate about, and most patients can tell the difference. Sharing stories about a particular procedure helps patients realize they’re not alone and that you’re not just doing this to “torture” them. Telling them how spacers will make their teeth sore and what to expect at their next appointment is a great way to inform and empathize all at the same time. You want to make your patients feel comfortable in your office, and anticipating their questions or giving them something to take home that explains the next step can help immensely. In this case, information is power!
As orthodontic assistants, we have a great responsibility and honor placed on us — we get to represent the doctor and practice we work for with our smiles, attitudes, and the way we present information to patients. Your enthusiasm for your job can make the difference between a stressful or successful records appointment. Let’s aim for success!
Allison J. Filkins has worked as an orthodontic assistant for the past three years for Dr. Stephen Andrews in Colorado Springs. She is the author of “The Amazings,” a young adult novel, and has been sharing her enthusiasm with patients in the dental field for nearly a decade.
By Allison J. Filkins