As a dentist, you’re focused on exceptional dental care: the promotion of good oral health, and the mitigation or correction of disease or decay. So, why are we sharing an article on patient comfort?
One of the primary considerations that will keep a patient coming back for dental treatment is their absence or decreased level of anxiety associated with the dental visit (1). Patients who feel calm and comfortable during a visit are likely to be more positive about their experience and more loyal to the practice (1). You could say that the successful care of your patients is heavily dependent on the comfort they feel during their appointment!
So, what IS comfort?
Comfort is an evolving concept that is difficult to quantify easily. And any two people can experience comfort very differently. There are two primary ways to think about comfort. First, it’s a physical manifestation: “a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint.” Second, it’s a more intangible perception: “the easing or alleviation of a person's feelings of grief or distress.”
Both have direct application to a patient’s experience at the dental office. Clearly, the physical attributes of the chair, for example ― the softness of the seat cushion, or the angle at which the hips, back, or knees are supported ― will directly affect a patient’s comfort over the course of their appointment. But on top of that, it’s important to also consider what makes a dental patient emotionally comfortable; the things that add to a positive experience, or reduce or avoid spikes in anxiety or distress, that a certain percentage of dental patients feel when they anticipate a dental appointment (2). And of course, the unique considerations of each of your patients will play a role in determining what “comfort” means, specifically to them.
In this article we’ll detail many of the tangible and intangible ways you can improve patient comfort, and ultimately help facilitate patient success.
Setting the Stage for Patient Comfort in the Dental Office
As we touched on above, it’s not just physical elements that add up to a comfortable, relaxed patient. When you think about comfort as the absence of stress, there are things that can be done from the first call or walk through the practice door. And every member of your staff can play an important role in setting the stage for a comfortable and pleasant dental visit.
Feeling familiar and expected starts the visit on a calm and smooth note, so whenever possible, each patient should be greeted by name by the front desk staff. Ideally the patient waiting area should be uncrowded, and attractively designed with warm colors, comfortable seating, and up-to-date reading materials. Other ambient touches include relaxing background music, and warm lighting (vs. the inherently cooler, more sterile light needed in the operatory). Consider staging the waiting room with “good distractions” like interesting art on the walls or features of interest like a small water fountain that provides background noise, to help keep patients’ minds off any fears they might have and keep them feeling at ease (2).
Details like appointments that start on time will help avoid aggravation and reminding patients to pre-medicate where appropriate can also help promote a stress-free start to an appointment.
Individual Practice Considerations
Sitting through a dental procedure, even a short one, can prove difficult and stressful if a patient isn’t comfortable. When trying to plan for patient comfort, it’s important to consider what special considerations your patient(s) may need. If your practice serves an older community or a population with a high prevalence of obesity, you may want to plan for extra amenities to help improve the experience for people who suffer from associated conditions like arthritis, or chronic back and neck pain. If your procedures are on the longer side, those thoughtful details can really add up for the patients who must remain sitting in your chair.
Getting Comfortable in the Dental Chair
A well-designed dental chair will alleviate pressure points and give the user a sensation akin to zero gravity. However, no two chairs are equal, and comfort can vary greatly.
Our clinical experts advise us that patients provide feedback on discomfort related to the dental chair in this order: first, the neck, then, the back (lumbar) and last but not least, at the knees. So, let’s travel down the body in this order, and review what can be done to make patients more comfortable, and as we do, consider your patient base and their unique and most pressing needs.
Neck Comfort in the Dental Chair
Most chairs today are designed with a double-articulating headrest, which allows the dentist to simultaneously customize the comfort of the patient while maximizing their own approach, visibility, and access to the oral cavity. But for patients with chronic neck pain or patients sitting for a long procedure that just may not be enough. One of the unique options we’ve added to our Forest lineup is a custom neck pillow that can work with any chair, specifically built to further support the neck, alleviate pressure points, and promote comfort throughout the procedure.
Back Comfort in the Dental Chair
Dental chair design has come a long way over the years. Dental chairs used to leave a gap behind a patient's lower back, creating an unnatural curve of the spine that created stress, especially for the elderly or anyone who already suffered from lower back pain. Today, most chairs are designed with lumbar support as a standard feature.
Chair cushioning also has a profound effect on comfort. Many dental chair cushions are constructed using a molded foam cushion, which, by nature, is a compromise between softness and cost-effectiveness. At Forest, we have always prioritized making premium details standard on our chairs. We fabricate our 3900 chair with a combination of several kinds of foam designed specifically to be soft where it needs to be soft and firm where it’s meant to be rigid. The result is a plushness that is noticeably different from our competitors. In fact, anecdotally, we have a hard time at trade shows getting dentists out of our chairs once they sit down!
Other Forest design enhancements include a chair that’s narrower at the shoulders (so the doctor can get up close without the back stopping them), but wide at the waist, so the patient’s elbows typically rest comfortably as their hands fold over their chest or stomach. We even contour the middle of the backrest, so the patient’s back is deeper than their elbows to support that natural position, and then of course lumbar support is standard across our line. As chairs continue to be refined, with respect to patient comfort, there are always new features being considered, including massage, which we currently include in our Forest 3900 chair.
Patient Comfort Below the Knees
The final place patients experience discomfort is the lowest “angle” in the chair, the bend at the knees. In response to this need, our Forest line now includes a specifically engineered pillow to tuck under the patient’s knees, similar to tucking a towel under the knees during a massage. The knee pillow elevates the knees, creating a cradle-like position that promotes both comfort and circulation.
Any part of the body ― hips, knees, neck, or back ― can get irritated from being in one position or at certain angles for a while. Especially over longer procedures or for elderly patients, improvements like the Forest neck and knee pillow can delay the onset of that discomfort, making the patient experience much more relaxed and manageable. To improve blood flow and create that zero-gravity, zero pressure-point sensation, the head-to-toe combination of the neck pillow, lumbar support, plush cushioning, and knee pillow is a unique offering of DENTALEZ’s Forest line.
The Room Where it Happens
Once patients settle into the dental chair, they’re likely to glance around at the rest of their surroundings. There’s a reasonable amount of stress that might be triggered by seeing a surface set up with multiple shiny, sharp, and unfamiliar instruments. One thing to consider is the option of a delivery system that mounts behind the chair where a patient wouldn’t see it while they’re seated. That’s a simple way to orchestrate that absence or prevention of any stress that might be associated with seeing suction tools or drill bits (2).
These delivery systems are now very well-designed to ergonomically consider the movement of the doctor and reduce the amount of twisting they must do. And if the procedure requires the help of an assistant ― a root canal for example ― rear-mounts come with a countertop surface to centralize and support the various materials and instrumentation being prepped and connected.
Communication is Always Key
This is perhaps the single most important parameter in building patient trust, and thus comfort. Even simple gestures like offering a bottle of water or providing a tour of your practice upon their first visit can go a long way in building trust and familiarity with your patients. By providing clear information with full transparency and giving patients the opportunity to ask questions, you will be able to alleviate their concerns and help them feel in control of the decisions they’re making about their health. Talking a patient through a procedure that involves something unknown to them ― the unusual noise of a drill, the pressure they will feel from the instruments being used on their teeth, the slight pinch they might experience from a numbing injection ― can alleviate a tremendous amount of stress.
The Future of Patient Comfort
There is more to come in patient comfort. Our team at DENTALEZ is working with experts and educators in the dental industry to constantly understand the changing needs of both dentist and patient, including patient comfort and its impact on patient and dentist success.
In the meantime, to view the products described in this article, including our line of Forest dental chairs, neck, and knee pillows, visit www.dentalez.com/product-category/dental-equipment/.
1 Pohjola V, Lahti S, Vehkalahti M, Tolvanen M, Hausen H. Association between dental fear and dental attendance among adults in Finland Acta Odontol Scand. 2007 Aug;65(4):224-30. doi: 10.1080/00016350701373558.
2 Appukuttan DP. Strategies to manage patients with dental anxiety and dental phobia: literature review Clin Cosmet Investig Dent. 2016; Mar;8: 35–50. doi: 10.2147/CCIDE.S63626