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5 Ways To Prepare For Difficult Patients

Jul 25, 2016

Author: Amber Metro-Sanchez

Difficult patients can wreak havoc on what would be an otherwise happy and productive workday. Everyone has a certain name that he or she dreads seeing on the day's schedule. But as a dental hygienist, your job is to provide quality care to everyone, so here are five ways to make your most troublesome patients a little less challenging.

1. Call Patients Ahead of Time

There are patients who you can count on to show up on time for every appointment, but there are others who are not as reliable. When a patient shows up late, it can put you behind for the remainder of the day, adding undue stress. Sometimes patients require several calls to help them remember their appointment time. Look for a reminder service that is programmed to send texts and email alerts automatically to make your life a little easier. And for those patients who tend to run late habitually, it also may be helpful to ask them to arrive 15 minutes before their appointment time.

2. Make Notes in the Patient Chart and Dental Software

When it comes to challenging patients, it is best not to rely solely on your memory. Documenting any areas of difficulty makes it easier to be prepared for future visits. If a patient has heavy staining, for example, and extra time is needed for his or her appointment, notate this where all staff can see it so that the patient is scheduled appropriately next time.

3. Check the Schedule for Problem Patients

When it comes to your schedule, it's best to be on the lookout for tough patients so that you can plan accordingly. RDH Magazine says that consistently reviewing your schedule ahead of time will help you to stay organized and be prepared for any known difficult patients. It's best to look at your schedule a couple of days ahead or the day before. Watch for any times when you have troublesome patients back to back, and consider shuffling the schedule a bit so that you can take a breather between them.

4. Lay out Any Special Equipment Ahead of Time

As with any other patient, it is best to be as prepared as possible before the appointment begins, but with challenging patients, preparedness is vital. This means setting up your room ahead of time with everything you will need. If the patient typically has heavy calculus buildup, make sure that you have your ultrasonic scaler set up before your patient arrives. If you need any specialized instruments, such as an implant scaler, have them on your tray and ready to use.

Some patients need extra attention to make them feel comfortable in the dental office. If your patient needs a mouth prop, a special pillow or a blanket, get these items out ahead of time. When you have all of your bases covered, you eliminate running back and forth during your valuable appointment time.

5. Be Positive When Dealing with Negative Attitudes

Some people really dislike going to the dentist, and they are going to let you know it. They may also ignore or disagree with your home care recommendations. At times, this type of mindset can be disconcerting because you feel as if your effort is wasted. Try not to take these comments personally and realize that some people are not going to be happy, no matter what. According to the December 2012 issue of RDH Magazine, it is best not to get defensive when hearing these harsh comments. Many times you are better off saying nothing. Just listen to what the patient has to say, keep all responses positive and move on with your day.

Having to deal with difficult patients is unavoidable in dental hygiene. The key is to take action and not let a difficult patient ruin your day. Be as prepared as possible for whatever situation comes your way and try to make the best of it.


  • Schedule your day in such a way that difficult patients don't side-track you.
  • Be prepared for challenging patients by gathering your special equipment ahead of time.
  • Don't let a patient's negative attitudes affect you. Don't take it personally!

Why It's Important

In dentistry, challenging patients are always going to come your way. By using the above steps, you will be able to make the best of a difficult situation and keep unnecessary stress at bay.

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