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Empathy in Dental Care: Can Patients’ Trauma Affect Dentists?

Empathy is linked with thoughtfulness, caring, compassion, and attentiveness in the healthcare world. While it can be perceived as a desirable, positive value, it could have adverse impacts, such as vicarious trauma (VT) or traumatic stress. VT encompasses the secondary vicarious effects of dental patients’ discomfort and pain on the actual clinicians.

Dentists’ routines expose them to the pain, discomfort and anxiety that their patients are experiencing. It may cause vicarious trauma, which could affect empathy.

The role of empathy

Patients who fear dental interventions are more likely to delay or skip treatments they urgently need. Empathetic communication can increase the rate of compliance from such patients. Emotion abilities, the big five personality traits, and empathy impact the communication between dentists and their patients positively.

Communication in dentistry

Face-to-face interaction is an integral part of the dentist-patient relationship, especially in situations where there is a lot of fear. Empathetic communication has been known to prevent several delayed treatments. Managing emotions doesn’t only involve managing the patients’ emotions but also includes managing one’s emotions.

By improving personal emotional management strategies, dentists can also enhance the quality of emotion in their doctor-patient relationships with an exceptional care factor like this Epping dentist.

Compassion fatigue

Dentists can experience compassion fatigue which results from working with many traumatized patients, and a strong empathetic orientation. It could also arise from their reduced interest and threshold to be compassionate towards a suffering patient. Compassion fatigue is pretty common among most healthcare providers and results from burnout and secondary trauma.

Whenever a dentist repeatedly delivers care to suffering or traumatized patients, they will likely experience secondary traumatic stress. This may spill over to every time they need to administer dental treatments that cause pain. When a patient exhibits dental fear, the dentist may be left feeling exhausted, confused and frustrated.

Dentists should familiarize themselves with potential irrational reactions like screams and shakes when undertaking routine and simple routines. This equips them to acknowledge the patient’s unique experience and also lower their own stress.

Signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue

  • Reduced empathy towards patients
  • Cynicism
  • Lowered job satisfaction
  • Angry outbursts towards coworkers
  • Nervousness
  • Pessimism
  • Dreading work

How to cope with CF

Dentists must find out how they can deal with the daily stressors of patient care because patients have different personalities and demanding stressors without experiencing any burnout. The first step toward balancing daily stress and coping is to ensure that you are aware of your own emotions and thought processes.

This awareness enables you to take a step back and plan your next move. You’ll successfully avoid freeze, fight or flight behaviour by doing this. You will also not get incredibly frustrated, significantly affecting your mood. Continuous self-care in and out of your office is also crucial. Some self-care activities to engage in are:

  • Having adequate time to take your meals
  • Drinking enough water
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Take intentional pauses to get to the root of your stress issues.
  • Adequate sleep
  • Fun activities such as weekend excursions

Any habit or action that reminds you to connect with what is most meaningful can be seen as a self-care practice.

Take away

Empathy is now a key word in dental marketing, and discussions around it are becoming more relevant today. Engaging in contemplation, reframing your thoughts towards empathy and making intentional decisions about self-care effectively reduce compassion fatigue, allowing you to enjoy a happier and longer career.

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