Pain. That’s usually the first thought that pops into your mind when you think about going to see a Dentist. The second thing you might be thinking about is the shrill noise a drill makes right before it enters your mouth. And of course, the thought of needles comes next!
Dentists get a bad rap based on what typically happens during a normal dental checkup.
Unfortunately, a recent study conducted by New York University discovered that more than half of all the dentists surveyed stated they had experienced physical and or verbal abuse in their careers from patients. The study from the NYU college of Dentistry concluded that 55 percent of dentists were victims of verbal aggression from their patients in the last year. One in four of those dentists surveyed, experienced physical aggression from an irate patient.
“Workplace violence toward healthcare professionals is both widespread and widely overlooked,” said Kimberly Rhoades, a research scientist in the Family Translational Research Group at NYU College of Dentistry and the study’s lead author. “The purpose of this study was to provide an initial estimate of rates of patient aggression in dental practices in the United States.”
Rhoades and her colleagues surveyed 98 dentists practicing in the New York City metropolitan area; the dentists had been working an average of 17 years. Participants completed a confidential online survey assessing whether they had experienced any of 21 specific types of aggressive behaviors from their patients, including types of physical (e.g. being pushed or kicked), verbal (e.g. being insulted or sworn at), and reputational (e.g. threats of lawsuits or posting nasty comments on social media) aggression.
The study further discovered that the increased rates of aggression found in the study results did not differ by sex, race, ethnicity, specialty, age, years in practice or average number of patients seen and treated on a daily basis. Although, researchers did note that there was less aggression towards a trained dentist than towards dental students. Experienced professional received significantly less verbal abuse 55percent compared to 86 percent.
Violence in the healthcare workplace is a serious problem.
As a healthcare provider, you would never think your patient would want to harm you, but it happens. Workplace violence in healthcare is a growing problem. In 2018, workplace violence due to intentional injuries by other persons accounted for 2 percent of the 900,380 total nonfatal occupational injuries or illnesses in which required a leave of absence from their place of employment. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics states that 73 percent of all nonfatal workplace injuries due to violence were experienced by healthcare workers in 2018.
Homicide is the most extreme form of healthcare workplace violence. It’s the third leading cause of an. Occupational injury that is fatal. In 2000, there were 11 percent of the total 5,915 fatal work injuries in the United States. The cause of these homicides is attributed to the environmental conditions experienced in these locations.
The United States Occupational and Safety Administration (OSHA) has identified the following risk factors that increase a healthcare workers risk for assault as identified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) which include:
- Regular contact with the public
- Money exchange
- Delivery of goods and services
- Mobile workplace such as an ambulance
- Working alone or in small numbers
- Working late night
- Working with unstable or volatile patients
- Working in areas with a high crime rate
- Working in a community setting
- Guarding valuable possessions and or property
It’s true, people are afraid to go see a dentist
A recent survey found that 62% of adults stated that they were too scared to even walk into a dentist’s office. The survey also stated that millennials were more likely to come up with excuses to avoid going to see a dentist for a regular checkup than people over the age of 55.
Anxiety experienced by patients
Understanding that aggression can be experienced by dentists on a normal dental visit with a patient is the first step in developing interventions to prevent aggressive behavior in a dental practice.
5 tips to keep Dentists and Healthcare workers safe when dealing with anxious patients
- Identify dental phobic patients: having the patient express to the dentist that they have anxiety is beneficial. The dentist should keep in mind both subjective and objective evaluations in order to work with the patient to establish a more relaxed mood. Having a calm and uninterrupted interview before any dental procedures could prove to be beneficial to both dentists and patient.
- Anxiety questionnaires: Based on these questionnaires, patients can be categorized as mildly anxious, moderately anxious, and extremely anxious or dental-phobic. This can help both the dentists and patient identify how to combat feelings of anxiety in order to have a less stressful experience as well as a positive outcome.
- Dental office environment: A patient can experience anxiety by just walking into a denial office. Receptionists, dental nurses, and dental hygienists are crucial personnel in creating an atmosphere in the dental office. Kind and courteous staff can decrease anxiety and provide a nurturing environment. Introducing pleasant ambient odors in the dental environment can reduce anxiety. Smells trigger emotions and can negatively condition a patient toward going to have a dental procedure done. Inhalation of pleasant scents like essential oils improves mood.
Shapiro et al adapted a “Snoezelen” dental environment for pediatric patients comprised of dimmed lighting, soothing music, and a special Velcro butterfly vest that hugs the child, providing a calming, deep-pressure sensation. Typical children and those with developmental disabilities have been shown to benefit by this SDE, as behavioral and psychophysiological measures of relaxation improved significantly in the SDE compared with a conventional dental environment.
- Behavioral contracts: Contractual agreements signed by the dentists and patient can set specific guidelines regarding how the patient will be treated or continue to receive treatment may help set up standards to protect both patient and dentist. Contracts should be specific in order to allow for action taken by the practice and staff to be sufficiently supported.
- Refusal or discontinuation of treatment: It’s ok to “fire” your patient and refuse to see them due to noncompliant, poor and aggressive behavior. If you have tried all of the above tips in order to ensure a safe environment for you, and your staff, and still your patient decides to behave badly, then it’s time to let them go.