A dental professional’s guide to preventing medical emergencies: To be forewarned is to be forearmed

Do we really know what we are getting into at the beginning of each and every dental day? We typically expect for each day to be like the last: successful and without mishap. I once read that 90% of life-threatening situations can be prevented. But how?

Prior to treatment, the patient will complete a medical history form, which is a moral and legal necessity to all health care professions. As important as the completed written medical history form is for the overall health of the patient, it has its limitations.

As a dental professional, I play an important role in emergency prevention. I often casually converse with the patient upon seating by asking how they feel about the day’s treatment or how they’re feeling in general. Responses from the patient could include having a headache, feeling hunger or feeling stressed. This is all part of physical evaluation. Once I develop a good idea of the patient’s physical circumstances and psychological state of mind, I communicate with the dentist. This is especially important if I hear of a potential emergency trigger.  As patients tend to be nervous, scared or stressed to see the dentist, they may choose to confide in another dental team member instead. The physical evaluation tactic is used to determine how and if the patient should be treated (forewarned). A dental clinic should not feel obligated to treat a patient if they feel the patient is at risk of an emergency. We ask ourselves before the start of treatment: Should we sedate the patient for comfort? Are they able to tolerate the treatment? Do we need to modify treatment in any way? (forearmed).

As dental professionals, we care about the well-being of our patients. That is why understanding and performing a physical evaluation is so important. These physical evaluations aid in the prevention of a medical emergency.