Friday 19 April 2019

Smiles better

Dr Helen Walsh tells Conor De Lion why she loves dentistry in spite of the stress

I start most days by logging on to the Irish Dental Association's website and on to dentaltown.com.

It's important to keep up to date with new materials and techniques. Monday morning is generally emergency time at the clinic. All the broken fillings or other mishaps from the weekend pile up ready for when the doors open. It can be quite hectic. Pain takes priority if we're trying to fit everyone in.

In the summer I see more sports trauma injuries, mainly in young men who weren't wearing gumshields. Last week I had a patient who had fractured his tooth playing hurling.

You have to be able to handle the stress that many dental patients feel -- it's vital for their comfort and for your own health. We can sense the stress from patients so a big part of our job is to channel this properly so you remain calm and pass that back to the patient.

We do intravenous sedation here so we get some of the very nervous patients. It's extremely rewarding when you're able to calm them down just by explaining what's going to happen. Often that's all that's needed.

Last week, a 15-year-old girl came in for two orthodontic extractions. She was very upset, in floods of tears and too young for an intravenous. In situations like this I just want to be able to reassure. I took her hand and talked her through it all.

Explaining something as simple as the difference between pressure and pain, just by squeezing the patient's hand, can often be enough. It's the fear of pain that causes most upset rather than actual pain itself.

Friday is a funny day. A lot can depend on the weather. It can be so quiet and then at other times it's chaotic up to 6pm as people try to get things done before the weekend.

I still get a kick out of the technical challenges of dentistry; dealing with a tricky curved root or techniques of molar endodontics, when the pulp of the tooth is diseased.

Once a month, I meet up with a group of dental practitioners after work for a peer-review session. Over a cup of tea or coffee we discuss interesting cases in an informal and supportive environment. We're usually led by a specialist in a particular area who brings study models to help our discussions. These days, most practices are computerised, so it's easy to bring data files to illustrate case discussions.

I try to do yoga some evenings to relax mentally and physically. Breathing exercises also help to move away from the confinement of the job. If the weather allows it, there's nothing better than a walk home from work to wind down. It's generally a stressful week at work, but I wouldn't change it for the world.


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