We all understand the importance of PPE, but sometimes it feels like the extra protection harms dental practices more than it helps them. Studies show that around 36% of people in the US suffer from dental anxiety or fear which can cause them to postpone the essential treatment they need to maintain a healthy mouth and avoid preventable diseases.
To encourage more people to visit the dentist, dental professionals need to be able to truly connect with their patients and help them understand there’s nothing to be scared of. PPE can act as a barrier between patients and dental professionals, making it difficult to establish the trust that’s necessary to break down the walls causing negative feelings.
Why PPE hurts patient-professional relationships
Human beings rely a lot on body language to understand how others feel, what they’re thinking, and the meaning behind their words. Facial expressions play a huge role in this.
A kind smile can instantly make a patient feel welcome and lower their anxiety levels, while a concerned look tells a patient their worries are being taken seriously. Multiple masks and face guards make it difficult to convey these basic emotions.
PPE also makes it a challenge to be heard. Informed consent is a major part of dental treatment. While patients are provided with documents which explain the details of their procedure, it’s also important that a dental professional discusses the treatment with the patient and answers any questions they have.
Face masks and guards make it difficult to be heard, no matter how properly you enunciate. When problems in communication arise, it’s possible for a patient to agree to something they don’t fully understand or give up and refuse their treatment out of frustration.
Having trouble communicating affects everyone, but some more than others. The barriers created by excess PPE particularly impact patients with hearing loss, those with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD), and children. Because of this, it’s crucial to take a proactive approach and connect with your patients through other means.
Other ways to connect with patients
Make a memorable introduction
Before the pandemic, you could greet your patient face-to-face, introduce yourself and shake hands. Today, any introductions are done behind a mask and shaking hands is out of the question. To help your patients feel more at ease, consider making an introduction before they come into your practice so they already feel like they know you when you arrive.
Your first chat could be something as complex as a five-minute video call so your patient can see your face, or something as simple as a two-minute phone call so your patient can at least hear your voice properly. Talking to your patients in advance will allow you to answer any questions they’ve got that could be making them unnecessarily anxious.
This type of short but helpful greeting isn’t just a good idea for new patients — it can be helpful for regular patients, too. 2021 is full of so much uncertainty that people find comfort in the smallest of things, like their dentist or dental hygienist asking how they are.
Use clear face masks
Because properly communicating while using face masks is such a global issue, companies are now manufacturing specialist face masks designed to make communication easier.
The Clear Mask is the first fully transparent class II surgical mask to be approved by the FDA. It has full-face visibility, making it as close as you can get to speaking to your patients face-to-face in the current circumstances.
Not only are these modern masks better for patient-professional relationships, but they’re also a much more enjoyable alternative to regular masks. The Clear Mask has traditional tie-on straps which can easily be adjusted and soft cushions around the chin and nose, creating a perfect fit without sacrificing comfort.
Clear face masks make communication significantly more human, natural, and accessible for everyone, helping patients feel more comfortable in the dental practice while ensuring a better understanding of their treatment.
Have photo name tags
Someone covering up their face has a negative connotation for many. Even when we understand the need for face coverings in today’s world, it’s still difficult to retrain your brain to think in a new way after it’s held a belief for so many years.
One way of developing a connection with your patients while still covering your face is to have a name tag with your unmasked photo attached to your scrubs. This way the patient can see what you look like without putting anyone in danger.
Instead of a serious and professional headshot, take a photo with a big smile on your face. Dental practices can be scary places for patients, especially in the current climate, and seeing a friendly face can really put people at ease.
Being able to see the face behind the mask will help patients see you as a regular person with thoughts and feelings just like they do, rather than a scary dental professional who they don’t want to see.
PPE is here to stay
PPE is an essential piece of equipment needed to keep dental staff and patients safe. But at the same time, it can also raise anxiety levels and hurt the patient-professional relationships needed for patients to receive the best treatment for their condition. As these barriers are unavoidable, it’s important you make the extra effort to connect with your patients and build genuine relationships with them.
Establishing a sense of trust between you and your patients is beneficial for everyone. Your patients get the treatment they need to maintain their overall health, while you get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve helped a member of your community and truly made a difference to their life.