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Coping with challenging patients during the pandemic

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  Posted by: The Probe      21st July 2021

We’ve all had patients who are difficult to manage, but have you noticed a rise in hostility or nervous behaviour among your patients since the start of the pandemic? Looking at the stress that the last year has put us through, it’s little surprise that many people are on-edge. Restrictions have put a halt to normal life, while the worry of contracting a potentially killer virus, job losses and more have been hanging over everyone, taking stress levels to an all-time high.

Add to this the fact that there are still barriers in place that prevent many practices from offering the same volume of appointments, and it’s inevitable that people are going to lash out if they can’t get an appointment or are told they won’t have one for some time. Some reports state that a third of dentists have received verbal or physical abuse from patients or their relatives since the beginning of the pandemic. Worryingly, it also seems to be the case that 5% of dentists have received physical or verbal abuse outside of the practice during this time, showing the depth of the problem.[i]

A link that I think is especially important here is that a number of people already find visiting the dentist an unpleasant experience. Regardless of how welcoming and warm your practice is, there will always be patients who associate dentistry with pain, anxiety and other negative feelings and emotions. When you add further bad feelings on top of these by not being able to provide an appointment or treatment straight away, people could boil over and lash out aggressively, especially if they are in pain and can’t get it sorted.

But what can we do to minimise the frustration patients feel and keep ourselves safe? At the core, I think communication is the best way forward.

It’s impossible to always keep everyone happy, but by listening to people’s grievances and taking an understanding route, it’s likely that most people won’t choose to be aggressive – just very frustrated.

It’s all too easy to hide behind the vague and contradictory advice that has been given by our government but ultimately, we have a duty of care towards both are patients and staff and have to keep all safe. If we explain the restrictions in place and why they have caused potentially limited services it can help people put the shoe on the other foot and see things from a different perspective. This difficult situation will soon come to an end and we are all looking forward to entering the new normal. In the meantime, we do have to prioritise those patients who are in pain and who have infections. Reviews will just have to be put on the backburner – hopefully very temporarily.

Tensions may be high, but that doesn’t mean that patients can get away with insulting or potentially threatening behaviour. By diffusing the situation as much as possible and hopefully broadening their perspectives, we can do our best to avoid this negative behaviour in practice, regardless of how frustrated people become.


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[i] Dentistry. Managing Challenging Patients During The Pandemic. Link: [Last accessed April 21 ].

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