Dealing with patients with dental anxiety and trauma

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Supporting dental professionals in offering trauma-informed services

New resources are now available to help dental professionals reduce anxiety in patients and create a positive dental experience. (Image: Harbucks/Shutterstock)

VICTORIA, British Columbia, Canada: Trauma is an emotional response caused by certain past events that have caused great distress in individuals. Since dental professionals may encounter patients who struggle with dental anxiety and trauma, the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors (BCACC) and the BC Dental Hygienists Association (BCDHA) have recently introduced a comprehensive set of resources, including a novel toolkit and a website, designed to support dental professionals in offering trauma-informed services to patients who experience anxiety and mental discomfort during their dental visits.

Natural disasters, acts of violence and various types of accidents are traumatic events that may leave a lasting mark on a person, but traumatic events might be far less obvious, since the perception of the event as life-threatening and overwhelming is subjective. As a consequence of a trauma, some people may feel that they are in a vulnerable position and defenceless when lying flat during a dental visit and having things placed in their mouth. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how trauma can affect a person’s health and to promote self-awareness among dental professionals to foster a supportive patient environment.

“These new resources were developed collaboratively by the BCACC and the BCDHA to enhance the trauma-informed practices of dental hygienists,” stated Michael Radano, chief executive officer at BCACC. He explained that BCACC aims to collaborate with various health professionals and organisations in order to improve the public’s experience when receiving health services.

BCDHA toolkit

According to the authors of the new toolkit, it is important to recognise that trauma is a universal, cumulative experience that resides in the nervous system. “Implementing trauma-informed practices in dental care not only enhances the patient experience but also contributes to a more compassionate and patient-centred approach. Recognising that everyone has encountered some form of trauma in their life underscores the importance of providing care that is informed by trauma awareness,” they wrote.

The toolkit emphasises the importance of a positive initial experience for dental patients, highlighting the vital role of reception teams in setting a welcoming tone. The document also examines the nature of trauma, recognising its ubiquity and manifoldness. Both of these characteristics may influence the patient experience in a dental setting.

Additionally, the toolkit offers practical strategies for developing a trauma-informed dental practice. These include creating a calm and soothing environment, engaging in patient-centred conversations and implementing non-verbal clues and comfort measures. Additionally, it recommends using certain techniques, such as conscious breathing, guided imagery and aromatherapy, to create a more relaxed experience for patients. It also provides specific tools and approaches for working with children and their parents in order to ensure a positive dental experience and advocates for patience, understanding and adaptability in addressing the unique needs and anxieties of each patient.

Editorial note:

More information about the new resources can be found here.

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