News feature: Calming your nervous dental patients
 

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News feature: Calming your nervous dental patients

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News feature: Calming your nervous dental patients

 

News feature: Calming your nervous dental patients

Neuro linguistic programming (NLP) is a collection of communication skills developed by modelling the best communicators and therapists.

I believe that good dentistry starts with good communication between the dentist, the team and the patient. NLP takes the skills of naturally excellent communicators and breaks them down, so that anyone can learn to do the same.

When we first meet with a patient, they are assessing us. They have no idea how clinically skilled we are, they look at the practice, the literature, the greeting at reception and the dentist. We have a precious few seconds to make a good first impression.

You may choose your words carefully but studies have shown that only 7% of the message received is about our words. The rest is given by our tone of voice, and most of all our body language.

In order for our patients to trust us, we need to establish good rapport. Our body language determines the level of rapport we achieve with our patients in those first few seconds. We need to give the message that we are listening and we understand.

People in rapport tend to mirror and match with their bodies. If you greet your patient face to face and subtly match the posture, gestures and speed of speech you will find that it feels good.

Ideally, take a couple of minutes in a seating area away from the surgery where you can sit opposite your patient and say a quick hello and pass the time of day, all the time matching or mirroring the posture. Become observant, notice whether they are sitting back in the chair or forwards, whether their legs are crossed and so on.

Nervous patients
As we have all experienced, sometimes our patients may be in a state of agitation when we meet them. Nervousness about a dental appointment can take many forms.

We often notice patients breathing too fast, speaking quickly, or makingĀ  jokes about the ‘pain' of dental treatment. Occasionally we may even see aggressive behaviour from our more nervous patients. This is when it can be very useful to lead your patient to a calmer state.

Start by using body mirroring, then match voice tone and pace to gain rapport, even if this means adopting a strident tone. Always notch it down a touch – if a patient is shouting, speaking loudly is enough. I once met a patient who swore loudly and aggressively at me. I matched him by saying very loudly and clearly: ‘Please moderate your language', it worked instantly.

Once you have matched and gained rapport, keep it going for the first few minutes, then slowly change to a more comfortable, calm pace and tone of voice and a more relaxed posture. Notice whether your patient follows you. If at first they don't follow your lead, simply pace some more and try again.

If you watch and match the speed and depth of the patient's breathing, you may learn a lot about the way they are feeling. Pace by matching and then slowly change to your normal rate.

Again, notice if the patient follows. If not, just try pacing once more. The patient will notice at a subconscious level and usually allow you to lead them to a calmer state.

Results

After a couple of visits you will usually find that a swift hello and a smile are all it takes to help your nervous patient to relax. They will come to associate your voice and smile with feeling calmer and you will not need to spend any extra time talking.

So, it's always worth spending those extra few minutes on the first few appointments to gain rapport, and to pace and lead your patient into a calmer state.

With all these skills, mastering any one of them will help. The more you add into the mix, the better results you will get. Practice one at a time until it comes naturally before you add in another. It's always better to do one well than to be distracted by thinking what else you could be doing at the same time.


Wendy has a private practice in Hale, Cheshire. She is interested in making the experience of dentistry a happy one for all her patients and has been using NLP within the practice for 15 years to help her more nervous patients to relax. She is also passionate about the treatment of periodontal disease and has found using NLP techniques useful in motivating patients to follow advice. Wendy won the Sensodyne Sensitive Dentist award in 2003.

 Posted on : Fri 14th - May - 2010

 

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