In her introduction, Dr. Sima Yakoby Epstein explains how navigating through patient fears can help them to achieve the best treatment results.
I am honored to write the Cover Story in this issue of Orthodontic Practice US. In that article on page 8, I mention that one of the reasons I chose orthodontics was a terrible accident when I was 13 years old. My orthodontist not only treated my dental injuries but also helped me to navigate through my fears. There are several ways orthodontists can help young patients triumph through treatment after trauma.
Explain upcoming procedures: Children need to feel that you understand their situation. The patient has no idea of the wonderful procedures that are available to orthodontists today. Assure him/her that you know what happened, and you have a plan. When explaining, divide the treatment plan into understandable chunks of information. (For example, “The first month, we will focus on your healing by doing this. The second month, you will get your braces. Third and fourth month, you will start to see a difference in your smile.”) This is called creating “the Hope Chart” — it clarifies and also gives them the energy and the wherewithal to keep moving forward when they feel so helpless.
Relate to the patient: Make sure the patient realizes that you are a part of their team. If the accident was serious, that team may include a medical internist, as well as an oral surgeon or prosthodontist. The orthodontist in some cases becomes the heart of the team — making certain decisions and keeping all collaborators in the loop of the processes and scheduling.
Ask the patient specifically what they need from you — what goals do they want to accomplish? This gives you more opportunity to let them know what they must do to reach those goals, like wearing their elastics. The goals will give them some form of control over the outcome. Control is very important when the patient feels helpless and vulnerable. Taking control over their own outcomes is a life lesson that will serve them well over the years.
Meet with the parents: Parents need to have the same perspective as you about treatment and timing. Involved parents can be supportive and encourage compliance. This also will give the parents the confidence to ask you for help if their child loses enthusiasm and becomes non-compliant. The child’s disciplined routine is key to reaching their goal.
Give them some tools to help them succeed: I founded OrthoNu because I found that orthodontic patients often didn’t have the tools to help them care for their braces or aligners or to handle certain emergencies. Having Tweakz reduces their anxiety over a sharp wire or broken bracket because they have a professional-grade dental pick, applicators and removers for dislodged brackets, rubber bands, and even a diamond dental file so ulcerations don’t develop. They feel enough anxiety about treatment; it’s important to make as much of the orthodontic journey as seamless as possible.
Do your research: With complicated scenarios, be prepared to think outside of the box. CBCT, obviously, is a great diagnostic tool to find out about skeletal trauma and dysfunction. Some types of artificial intelligence (AI) may be enlightening regarding outcomes for patients who have had such trauma previously, and the possible treatment plans or collaborations that would help you reach success.
Sometimes, life comes full circle. I am fortunate to be able to talk in hindsight about my dental trauma. It is so powerful to have experienced what traumatized patients feel and to help them heal from physical and emotional pain. Even if you have not experienced trauma, let compassion be your superpower, like it is for me, and help young patients overcome their most challenging times.
Sima Yakoby Epstein, DMD
Read more about Dr. Yakoby Epstein and her philosophy about navigating through patient fears in her practice profile, “Dr. Sima Yakoby Epstein — driven and grateful,” at https://orthopracticeus.com/practice-profiles/dr-sima-yakoby-epstein-driven-and-grateful/