Trauma-informed care: Stop shaming your dental patients!
Updated: Oct 11, 2022
One way or another, we’re all dealing with our own form of trauma. In fact, about 70% of adults in the US have experienced some kind of traumatic event at least once in their lives. That’s a lot of damage! No matter the severity of the trauma, experiencing overwhelming fear and helplessness in extremely stressful circumstances can have permanent effects, going so far as to affect one’s mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.
What is trauma-informed care?
Because of this, trauma-informed care (TIC) is becoming increasingly important. It’s wrong to assume that everyone who walks into your dental office will have the same level of comfort. On the other hand, treating each patient with a dose of understanding and sensitivity can positively impact the person and their treatment outcomes.
Trauma-informed care recognizes that everyone has experienced trauma in their lives. Whether from adverse childhood experiences, domestic violence, combat history, other traumatic experiences, or even secondary traumatic stress, it acknowledges the symptoms of trauma and the many ways it can impact one’s existence. Using trauma theory concepts helps promote a safe environment of healing and recovery, preventing or reducing the risk of re-traumatizing the patient.
Impact of trauma on health
Many studies point towards trauma having a direct impact on physical health. It is known to lead to chronic health conditions such as depression, cancer, diabetes, or even early death. There is also evidence linking childhood trauma to poor oral health, leading to higher chances of tooth decay and gum disease. This could be because those dealing with trauma are often more likely to engage in risky behaviors that can jeopardize their health, such as neglecting their diet, smoking, or substance abuse, putting even more strain on their overall wellbeing.
When we go through a traumatic experience, our bodies trigger physiological responses to adapt to these events. Unfortunately, we aren’t in control of these responses. Although they are vital to our survival and keeping us safe, sometimes, they can go into overdrive, which becomes more harmful than helpful as time progresses.
Re-traumatization refers to any situation that can trigger an individual’s trauma, conjuring up painful and distressing feelings from the past. It can occur anywhere and is of significant concern since those who are traumatized multiple times frequently experience worse symptoms. Therefore, one of the main reasons for adopting trauma-informed principles is to prevent re-traumatization allowing the healing process to begin.