Smelling the fear

Beginning a new academic year is always daunting and anyone who has through the university experience knows, it leaves you with mixed feelings of anxiety about what the new year holds for you, but excitement about succeeding – and hopefully – getting through to the next step of the degree.

This year has started off very well for me. I am looking forward to the new clinical skills that I will be learning. Having heard through the grapevine about what the year has install for me, I feel slightly apprehensive about some aspects, but very excited about others. Clinic, in particular, is one part I loved last year and am really looking forward to this time. It’s funny because, since I started studying dentistry, I have found myself noticing peoples teeth before anything else now and I always try to make out that I can fix whatever may be the issue with their mouths. In reality, I would have problems trying to implant teeth, when I haven’t even learned the skills of endodontics yet!

The Dental Education Facility (DEF) in Devonport is where I’m based twice a week this year, treating patients to the level that we have been taught so far and sending more complicated patients onto the year group ahead of us. They seem to be returning the favour by booking into my appointment list, all the patients who need six-point pocket charts! It appears that periodontology might just be the path of my future career. However, there are times when I get patients who have complicated medical histories and therefore this dictates the treatment that is carried out.

In my experiences so far, it has become apparent that Devonport has high levels of people who are recovering heroin addicts and the problems that methadone causes to their teeth is readily seen. Some of these problems are due to the methadone, but most problems are due to the lack of importance placed on oral hygiene. This then poses its own problem and I find myself thinking, ‘How do I explain the importance of brushing your teeth to someone who is trying to stay off drugs?’

Unfortunately, oral hygiene seems to come low down on the list of priorities for a lot of people, but trying to motivate them and relaying my knowledge to them in a manner that they will understand is where good communication skills come into play. I have learnt that there is no point explaining things in complicated dental terms, when the patient will switch off and go away having not understood anything. I always put myself in their position and explain the modified bass brushing technique with a set of model teeth. Sometimes words are no good and you physically have to show them.

I would urge any dental students who have problems explaining things to patients to put themselves in their position and stay confident when explaining… it’s funny how patients can sense nervousness just as well as you can!

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