Providing top-shelf, high-quality dental care to your patients can be immensely rewarding. That said, you won’t be able to entirely avoid challenging patients throughout the course of your career.
Pain, fear, uncertainty, sleeplessness, impatience, concerns over aesthetics, and the cost of dental procedures—all of these factors can impact a patient’s mood and alter the immaculate, smooth-sailing experience you were after. And while you cannot control your patients’ temper or disposition, you can control the way you respond and the tools you utilize to improve your patients’ overall comfort and sense of safety.
Let’s have a look at how to handle difficult patients.
Types of difficult patients you may encounter
You may have a run of positive-minded patients only to have a single negative experience that can test your mettle. While “difficult” may be a vague and somewhat subjective term to describe patients, dentists and other healthcare providers typically face the following “types” of patients (or moods, rather—keeping in mind the circumstances):
No matter where your patient is on this spectrum, it’s imperative to call upon your inner strength, healthcare professional training, and wells of empathy and patience to deal with difficult patient encounters—and iron out any misunderstandings as quickly, efficiently, and compassionately as possible.
6 tips on how to handle difficult patients
Bedside manner is as vital in dental practice management as it is in any other form of medical care. Dental anxiety is genuine, and it can spur heightened emotions in a patient. Without proper dental anxiety management strategies in place to ensure their comfort, you may have to deal with:
- Negative consumer reviews
- A hit to your reputation
- A loss in compensation
Here’s how to deal with difficult patients.
#1 Breathe deeply
It may seem trite, but pausing to take a few deep breaths widens the space between the trigger—a difficult patient—and your reaction.
It doesn’t just give you a moment to collect your thoughts and strategize your response to the patient’s concern, either: deep breathing also stimulates the vagus nerve and generates neurotransmitters that can calm your mind, ensuring you reply in a mindful manner.
This is particularly important to practice when you encounter an angry, rude, or hostile patient.
#2 Educate your patient
Nervousness can all too easily manifest as anger and aggression in individuals—and having your teeth poked and prodded is a clear ticket to anxiety for many people.
Whether your patient is upset, resistant, or both, providing a detailed explanation of exactly what you will be doing at the start of their procedure may help them feel better prepared and more empowered. Leave open space to answer any and all questions they might have.
#3 Try the “Reverse Lens” approach
When a patient is insolent or complaining incessantly, you may feel justified in becoming defensive. Certain circumstances call for this—specific boundaries need to be respected, such as a patient using loud, foul language that could unnerve other patients or staff.
That said, you may want to pause first and attempt to observe the challenging situation from your patient’s perspective. Ask yourself:
- Why are they feeling this way?
- What is my role in this?
- How can I make them more comfortable?
Broadening your view to understand where they’re coming from—which could be anything from pain to a mishap with billing—and respond with empathy. Pose questions, listen carefully, and ask how to improve the patient experience for them.
#4 Adopt time-saving technology
You know first-hand that people often delay seeing a dentist for a handful of reasons—including dental anxiety, costs, and scheduling issues. The one you may have the most control over is the amount of time your patient’s care requires. Traditional, analog methods of dentistry can take up a good chunk of a patient’s time and may exacerbate their unhappiness and anxiety.
Reduce the amount of time your patients must spend in your chair—and increase their comfort levels—with savvy technology, such as:
- Intraoral scanners – Need to take scans of your patient’s teeth? Accelerate the process with an intraoral scanner—a handheld device that takes digital dental scans. With Dandy’s dental lab, you can instantly submit your scans to create the products you and your patient need. This no-gag alternative to dental impressions can be especially helpful for fearful patients who have a low threshold for pain.
- Digital record keeping – Digital record keeping streamlines your entire practice, enabling you to focus on what’s most important: superior care. A difficult patient may feel reassured if you’ve kept records on their preferences for shadings, sizings, and more.
#5 Turn It Into a Team Effort
According to findings from the British Dental Journal, dental staff members who work together as a team can increase patients’ trust, confidence, and sense of safety.
Your dental assistant may have the nurturing approach your exceptionally-anxious patient might need, while your front desk receptionist can kick off a low-stress experience with a kind, welcoming smile. Call upon different competencies to help manage a challenging patient, and make sure your reception area and exam rooms are pristine and welcoming.
#6 Become a pillar of strength
A situation can go from mildly disruptive and concerning to catastrophic without proper emotional regulation. Poor sleep, professional burnout, and even diet can affect your behavior and ability to respond wisely.
With this in mind, make sure you consistently take care of yourself, namely through:
- Adequate downtime away from your dental practice
- Sufficient (and enjoyable) exercise
- Consistent, deep restorative sleep—ideally, 7 to 9 hours per night
- A nutritious diet
- Breaks between patients, even if it’s just thirty seconds to a minute to gather yourself
Provide a five-star patient experience with Dandy
Managing difficult patients may be par for the course for a dentist. Responding with patience and empathy can help temper uncomfortable situations and help your patients reach a more peaceful and relaxed frame of mind.
Take this a step further with Dandy by your side. Our first-of-its-kind digital dental lab utilizes new dental technology that enables you to perform crucial tasks at a fraction of the time traditional methods require. Your patients will find confidence and comfort in the fact that you’re using advanced, cost-effective technology for their treatment. And with less time in the chair, their dental fears may be assuaged and the patient’s behavior much more amenable to a successful appointment or procedure.
Turn a sour situation around with Dandy and help your patients leave your office satisfied—and smiling.
British Dental Journal Open. “Difficult” dental patients: a grounded theory of study of dental staff’s experiences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9359978/
Forbes. A guide to dealing with difficult people. https://www.forbes.com/sites/chriscancialosi/2018/03/05/a-guide-to-dealing-with-difficult-people/?sh=376951b72293
Healthline. Anxiety and anger: exploring the connection. https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/anxiety-and-anger
Byte.com. Top reasons people skip the dentist. https://www.byte.com/community/resources/article/reasons-people-skip-the-dentist/
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. How sleep affects your health. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-deprivation/health-effects