Painful Needle

What all dental personnel should know, part II

July 10, 2013

By Lisa Newburger, LISW-S
July 10, 2013

This is a two-part series. See part I here.

This guy just needs you to empathize

Fear. Yes, it is a four-letter word most of us don’t want to think about. What happens when you get scared? You sweat, don’t think straight, and sometimes panic. Think about your line of work. You have patients who dread coming to your dental office. It might be fear of pain, of being told that they aren’t doing good enough with their hygiene, or (face it) – fear of the bill. (How true is that?)

In February, I wrote about my odyssey with needing an implant.How I was given epinephrine and had a reaction to it being bounced back and forth to the surgeon and periodontist’s offices. Let me take a risk here and share the other part of this story. Why would I want to be this open and honest in a professional journal? Perhaps it will throw all my credibility as a professional out the window. But, then again, it is real and telling the truth is a way to help you help your patients. After all, you can’t read my mind. (Trust me: you wouldn’t want to do that.)

I came back for the implant in June. (It is called surgery, right? I prefer calling it a “procedure.”) I told someone I was having “surgery” for implants. He looked me up and down and had a perplexed look on his face. (Can’t imagine why!) Once we cleared that up, we had a good laugh. As we talked about it, I started to get scared. Would I need to be “knocked out” for this next step? After all, the first round was a bit traumatic. “Lisa, it will cost $400 if you want to be in twilight sleep.” Wow! Four hundred dollars to know I wouldn’t feel any pain. That is a lot of money. Was it worth it? Such a hard thing to decide. I gave myself a couple weeks to get over the first trauma before deciding I would not get the twilight sleep. Instead, I would have valium to relax me. I know, that would do nothing if they got in trouble and couldn’t can’t numb me up, but it is $400. (I would rather shop for purses with that money. Wouldn’t you?)

15 tips on how to maintain successful relationships with your dental patients

What happened next? I got scared. Fear is a powerful emotion. It can take over your thinking and give you a little OCD as you ruminate about it. I started to wonder if I was getting post traumatic stress disorder with my mouth. Have any of you seen that in your patients? They have a bad experience with a dentist and dread coming to see you. Then, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because they are all tensed up so they have more pain and discomfort because of it. It does happen.

Your patients are vulnerable. They may be coming in pain with hope the pain will be alleviated. It is hard to put yourself in that chair and then trust professionals to do their jobs. What I find as a chronic patient is that customer service is everything. Now remember, I am a clinical social worker and have learned a thing or two about customer service in the health-care world. Patients want to be listened to and not rushed. They want you to be compassionate and apologize if you make a mistake or inadvertently cause them some distress. It goes a very long way in calming people down and making a stressful situation less stressful.

How you handle someone is more important than the care you are providing. (I realize my editor might edit that out, but it is what I believe. And with this $31,000 mouth, I am a veteran dental patient and know a few things.) What is the take-away with this article? Listen to your patients. Don’t rush them. Put yourself in their position if they are getting bad or costly news. Acknowledge their fears as appropriate. Ask if they are nervous and what you can do to make them more comfortable. And remember, the one thing that really matters is that you care.

Lisa Newburger, L.I.S.W.-S./a.k.a. Diana Directive provides humorous ways to deal with difficult topics. Check out Diana’s webpage at