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Dealing With Difficult Patients for Dentists

Updated on August 23, 2011

Difficult Patients in Your Dental Office?

At one point or another, all dentists must face patients that are considered difficult for various reasons from special care requirements to bad behavior. Factors that may cause you to classify a certain patient as difficult include personality disorders, subclinical behavior traits or some other type of psychiatric disorder or physical handicap.

As dentists you have to manage being overworked and contending with employees and associates with poor communication skills, lack experience or just do not fit in at a dental office. The last thing you want to do is deal with problematic patients. Unfortunately, everyone needs dental care, even if they have a bad attitude and refuse to bathe on a regular basis.

Photo: Gary D. Landsman/Corbis
Photo: Gary D. Landsman/Corbis

Patients should be assessed properly once treatment has been initiated to properly address any special needs that the patient might have such as wheelchair access or a need for anesthesia. In a dental practice, your patient is the customer. As with any business, the relationship that you have with your customers can make or break your business. It is important to take the steps necessary to learn how to deal with every single patient you treat no matter what their needs, that is what will keep them coming back to your practice.

One of the best ways to deal with difficult patients is to discuss various techniques and “tricks of the trade” with your peers in the industry, who are facing the same troubles as you. This article covers some of the most difficult patients to walk through an office door and some of the best ways to keep them happy so you can do your job effectively.

Child Patients

When asked who was the hardest to get to sit still in the examination chair, most dentists agree that children are one of it not the most difficult patients to treat. Many children are apprehensive about going to the dentist anyway, so no matter how qualified of a dentist you may find treating children to be quite a challenge.

Pediatric dentistry focuses on the needs of young people. Once you have completed a four-year program at dental school, to become a pediatric dentist, you will need an additional two years of training to be qualified. The extra training is vital to learning how to properly administer dental treatment to infants, children and teenagers as well as any child with special needs.

There is a growing concern with the oral health of children as a part of their total health care. Establishing yourself as a child’s dentist gives you the opportunity to instill the importance of preventative dental care and good habits that will keep their smile bright and disease-free.

A pleasant trip to the dentist office will promote confidence and trust in a child that will last throughout his or her life. Your goal should be to help every child that climbs into your chair to feel good about going to the dentist and teach them the best ways to care for their teeth.

Design the décor in your office so that it is inviting to a younger crowd such as cartoon character wallpaper and kid-friendly reading material or toys to keep them from becoming restless as they wait. Train your staff to communicate with children in a nonthreatening manner that will help children to feel comfortable during the treatment. 

Elderly Patients

You have probably noticed that the population is aging and the average life expectancy is on the rise. As a dentist, you should address the special needs of the elderly population and come up with strategies to make sure that you are equipped to care for the elderly patients that you will encounter.

The industry of geriatric dentistry is changing fast. More and more elderly patients are retaining their original teeth and require an abundance of complex preventative strategies and restorative procedures. Because of this growing trend, the need for continual training to learn how to meet the needs of the elderly with a high level of expertise is becoming more and more necessary.

Providing dental care for elderly patients requires more knowledge and skills that general dentistry. Training should include experience is recognizing and administering oral health medication, the impact of various medications on oral health as well as experience in making clinical decisions for the elderly.

The conditions that can occur with advanced aging will vary from one patient to the next; therefore, the care that you provide will also vary greatly.

Disabled Patients

Some patients have medical conditions or disabilities that may require more time, care or special equipment to administer proper oral health care treatment. As a dentist to special needs patients, you can offer alternative treatment, such as the use of general anesthesia or sedation. This type of dental practice is best for handicapped children, patients with learning disabilities, or other impairments that make it hard to sit still for very long. If your patients are unable to make it all the way to your office for a visit, you may consider including home care as an option for your disabled patients.

It is important to always be aware of all medications that your patients are taking to avoid any dangerous reactions or complications. Be sure to find out the name of your patient’s doctor, so you will be able to contact him or her for a consultation if required.

Additional training may be required for dentists who wish to administer treatment to disabled or special needs patients. Difficult patients will challenge even the mildest mannered dentists. There are several literary publications, educational courses as well as many online resources for learning the best methods and strategies for dealing with difficult patients.

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      Dental Nurse Jobs  8 years ago

      Hi Julie Anne, great article, we are also based in Gloucestershire, Cheltenham in fact. I think great people skills is very important when dealing with worried or stressed clients

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