If you suffer from dental phobia, you’ve probably seen the phrase ‘gentle dentistry’ before. It is a concept that is appearing more and more regularly, as increasing numbers of dental practitioners recognise that how they treat their patients is just as important as their level of technical ability.
As the dental industry becomes increasingly competitive, more and more dentists are investing in their practices and exploring different ways to improve the overall customer experience.
Understanding ‘gentle dentistry’
The phrase ‘gentle dentistry’ is one that has been adopted by a number of practitioners to describe their approach. So it is important to remember that ‘gentle dentistry’ is a catch-all descriptor: each dentists approach may be slightly different as they have adapted it to suit their own practice and patients. And don’t forget, what is gentle for one person could also be painful for the next.
Having said that, most dentists who claim to practice gentle dentistry will probably have built their approach around four key areas: their dental skill; their investment in new technologies; the techniques they use; and the overall customer experience.
If you suffer from a dental phobia, it can sometimes be helpful to consider your dentist in terms of these four areas. You can therefore understand more clearly where your patient-practice relationship is breaking down.
So let’s look more closely at each of these four areas:
Does your dentist have specific training?
Most dentists will probably tell you that their treatment is gentle – after all, you would like to think that every dentist tries their best to be as gentle with their patients as possible. However, ‘gentle dentistry’ as a phrase now means something more.
Now, dentists have access to far more training and knowledge about how to treat patients who are anxious about pain or phobic about dentistry. Many dentists are now able to employ sophisticated behavioural management techniques, which help patients to relax.
It’s also the case that some dentists are simply more sensitive to how their patients are feeling. They are able to adjust their own behaviour and approach to suit different patients and put them at their ease. If for example, you need injections, the less tension in your body then the easier and less painful those injections will be.
Does your dentist invest in new technology?
Dentistry has progressed considerably in recent years and much of the new technology developed in the US is now being adopted by UK practices. Much of this technology is specifically designed to make dentistry easier and more comfortable for patients. There are other articles on this site which talk in more detail about some of these new products, such as The Wand, numbing gel and air abrasion techniques, all of which are designed to help dental phobic patients enjoy a less intimidating dental experience.
For many dentists, the phrase ‘gentle dentistry’ involves building their practice around technology which enables them to give their patients choice over their treatment. A lot of dental phobic patient’s feel anxious because they do not feel in control of the situation. By incorporating new technology into their practice, dentists create talking points, give patients opportunities to discuss their treatment (and their fears) and start to build a stronger patient-practice relationship.
Does your dentist recommend new treatments?
The ability to build a rapport with patients is critical to the gentle dentistry concept. Dentists who practice gentle dentistry will always place great emphasis on spending more time with their patients, discovering more about how they want to be treated and ensuring that they feel comfortable before the treatment progresses. For some dental phobic patients, small steps matter a great deal and they may need to schedule their treatment over a number of visits. For others, their phobia means that they just want their treatment over and done with as soon as possible – so they need their treatment compressed into just one visit.
One of the ways that a dentist will build a rapport with patients is by discussing new products with them. So if your dentist is recommending different sorts of products to you, don’t assume it is simply a sales pitch. It could be that your dentist can adapt their approach and help you to manage your phobia. Many phobic patients prefer to be sedated – either fully sedated or simply partially to control their anxiety – though not every dentist will offer to do this.
Does your dentist have a welcoming practice?
The over-riding theme that brings practices under the common banner of ‘gentle dentistry’ is that, as practices, they are concerned with how their patients feel. In the past, dentists were solely focused on quality of treatment. Now, the quality of the overall patient experience is much more important.
How do gentle dentists create a more welcoming practice? It varies from practice to practice, but they can do it in a number of ways. As the patient, it is up to you to decide what works for you. Some phobic patients find their anxiety levels increase considerably in the waiting room. Therefore, some dentists will bring patients straight through to the treatment room, rather than a waiting room. Other phobia sufferers find it hard to relax in the chair. So some practices have plasma screen televisions and music.
As with most things, you can find more extreme examples in the US. Some dental surgeries incorporate masseurs, therapists and beauty treatments to relax patients. By giving the patient more flexibility to tailor their treatment to meet their individual needs, gentle dentists help to create a better patient experience that many phobia sufferers find more reassuring and more relaxing.