I graduated in dentistry from Lisbon University in 2004 and, on moving to England, worked as a family dentist for a couple of years before moving into access dentistry in 2007, recognising this would help me develop my dentistry skills, present a varied workload and rewarding career that would enable me to develop and achieve my ambition to work in community dentistry. In access we see patients who may or may not have a dentist and who are in pain, those with a strong phobia of dentists and therefore avoid regular treatment, and those who have experienced dental trauma and need immediate attention. Until 2018 I balanced my time between access and community clinics. Community dentistry is somewhat more complex, treating patients with a range of special conditions – essentially individuals that a general dental practitioner is unable to provide treatment to in a general practice environment.
In both fields, where patients have unique needs and a genuine fear of treatment, it’s important to gain their trust almost immediately. We often find that, once treatment is complete, our patients are so grateful for what we’ve been able to do for them, not just the dentistry but overcoming their fears and changing their perceptions of the dentist completely.
Until 2018 I balanced my time between community and access clinics in Penzance and Camborne, working closely with a Specialist in Special Care Dentistry, achieved a MSc in Postgraduate Studies from Bristol University, published an article in the BDJ regarding my work in sedation for Smile Together and subsequently moved full time into community dentistry. I have worked alongside Sarah since 2014 and not only are we a great team but we’re a very effective double act, creating the environment that our patients most need – we know that once a patient is in our dental chair, we can make a real difference. However, it’s not been unknown to find us in the car park chatting to a patient in their car, reassuring them that we can help and that it’s OK to come inside, or making a cup of tea for a special needs patient who had a crisis in the dental chair, refusing to leave the surgery or communicate with us! The act of trying to find new ways to reach out to patients, respond to their needs and help them through their fear is a challenge that is part of our day-to-day work and is key to managing the patients we see.
Working for Smile Together means we have time and can make time for our patients, which is so important when gaining their trust and confidence.
Dental nursing with Smile Together
In the year 2000 I started working in Penzance as a trainee dental nurse in Cornwall’s Dental Service whilst also studying an NVQ with Sure Start. I have taken every opportunity that has presented itself and my career has literally gone from strength to strength – I have gained experience in orthodontics, treatment involving intravenous sedation and general anaesthetic, and supported children and families including those with special needs and complex health conditions.
I particularly love working in community dentistry alongside Paula. You want to help your patients so badly, but you first have to gain their trust, be attentive and responsive to their needs, and reassure them that you’re genuinely with them. Many of our patients can’t physically tell you how they’re feeling or what they most need, so you have to look for the subtlest signs, read their body language and figure out yourself how to best help your patient be comfortable with the treatment they need.
It can be challenging but once their trust is gained, they willingly return for future treatment and ultimately become dentally fit – something that many patients and their families thought would not be possible.
Paula and Sarah agree that the children and special needs patients we treat in our community clinic are particularly rewarding to work with, especially when you experience a breakthrough with their treatment. It’s not just the patients but their families and carers too – when you see in their faces the joy and recognition that it’s been possible to provide the treatment most needed, you know the positive impact that will have on their all-round quality of life. It’s so gratifying to know that we’ve made it work and we’ve made a difference.
Both Paula and Sarah have served as Shareholder Impact Board representatives for Smile Together, having been elected by their fellow shareholders. Paula continues in this role, while Sarah has now stepped aside to allow others the opportunity to represent their colleagues in our employee-owned social enterprise.
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