Dentist cleanings are extremely important to a person’s health. However, due to various factors, it can also lead to traumatic instances that negatively affect a person’s view on dental health for years. Recognizing this barrier, Dr. Hinna Chaudhry has strived to make her practice one that can help to comfort and show patients cleanings are safe and necessary.
When you think back to your childhood, what were some of your least favorite memories? Perhaps it was not wanting to eat those “nasty” green veggies on your plate. Or perhaps it was the seemingly endless mountains of homework you were assigned. Of course, one of the more universal memories might be going to the dentist. Indeed, it can certainly seem scary to a child.
While we assume time and maturing eventually helps us to look back and see that what we thought was intimidating or annoying actually wasn’t, that isn’t always the case in the event of a traumatic incident that can understandably and effectively change how someone views a person or procedure for years — or even a lifetime.
Due to its nature, dentistry is an area that often sees emotional scarring. Researchers have found that around 50% to 80% of adults in the U.S. have a varying degree of dental fear, also referred to as “dentophobia” or “odontophobia,” while more than 20% do not see a dentist regularly due to that fear.
According to Hinna Chaudhry DMD, many patients can display intense fears and anxiety of dentists and procedures for a number of reasons. One of the primary fears is possible pain endured during treatment, with others being anxiety of medications or injections, needles, blood, gagging, bright lights and noise from instruments, the dentist’s attitude, or the financial burdens that may come with care. In many cases, those reasons have happened to the patient at one point or another, all but cementing dental health as a fear that should be avoided at all costs.
While the task of breaking down these barriers for Dr. Chaudhry — the owner of Ardsley, New York-based Ardsley Dental Spa — may seem initially difficult, she’s found that patients are more than willing to tell her their past in order to alleviate concerns. “Most patients that have a fear or anxiety are very upfront about it because they want to make sure that fear is managed. If I have a new patient and I see in their history that it’s been over 10 years since they’ve had a cleaning, the first thing I ask them is, ‘Why?'”
“A lot of patients, if they’re not maintaining their home care, they’re going to get more gum disease, more infections, and more root canals. Just a lot more problems because they’re not upkeeping.”
While these phobias can cause emotional damage from a mental standpoint, they can also result in even greater detrimental dental health due to the patients neglecting proper and constant care for years. That amounts to the substantial amount of time missed between checkups Dr. Chaudhry witnesses.
While some people may have a fear of extensive problems, going regularly to the dentist is key in helping to prevent those larger issues down the road. “Routine care is often preventive because we want to avoid problems.”
When working with patients who have underlying hesitations, Dr. Chaudhry will often let them express themselves and hear out their thoughts, feelings, and the incidents that started their trauma. By doing this, she’s not only able to understand why the anxiety is present, but can help to walk the patient through how they can overcome these anxieties in order to get them the dental care they’ve been missing out on.
“I had one patient who followed me from a couple practices because she just had such anxiety, and for her it’s the noise. It’s not the pain of the drill, it’s just the noise. I make sure when she comes in that I have headphones for her, I have earplugs for her, so I’m able to manage that because I have a better idea [of her fear].”
Dr. Chaudhry gave another example of patient anxieties, recalling a father came in with their 19-year-old daughter. After explaining some procedures to the daughter, Dr. Chaudhry was stopped by the father in the hallway, who admitted to not having had a cleaning in eight years due to an excessive amount of water gagging him, causing him to have a panic attack.
“I went over and explained what we do differently, how we can manage that, and I had him watch his daughter get a cleaning so he was able to see the hygienist managing the water, and he scheduled the appointment. So it’s more of this open communication and letting the patient talk to themselves, and let them tell you why the anxieties and the nerves come up.”
“I have patients that once they leave, they say, ‘Thank you for telling me every step of the way,’ because it makes them comfortable. They can accept what’s happening.”
There are a number of key steps beyond just letting the patient state their concerns that help them to find their true comfort zone while reducing or eliminating phobias altogether. While Dr. Chaudhry may throw every tiny piece of information she has at a patient, it’s helpful for them to fully understand the situation. “I feel like a lot of the fears come from the unknown. That’s why I over-explain.”
Medications are also utilized in order to help smooth the patient’s constant anxiety from the moment they walk through Ardsley Dental Spa’s door. “We do some medication, [which includes] Valium and Xanax before the appointment. We have nitrous oxide in the office that calms you down. Then of course, there’s bedside manners. Just checking on the patient, making sure they’re okay, going slow, not attacking things too hard. I like the slow and steady approach and building up the trust, because once the trust is there, the anxiety goes away.”
That consistent care of patients, her helpful attitude, and passion for work has become Dr. Chaudhry’s MO, and clearly benefits those that attend her practice. She explained it comes from experiences she had with her own dentist, which ended up inspiring her to go into dental care. “I had wonderful experiences with my dentist when I was younger. The dentist that my parents went to was in a house, so it only had two [office rooms].” Attending one day with her father and two older brothers, Dr. Chaudhry found herself in the waiting room with her middle brother while the oldest was getting his checkup done. Having gone first, both children were given trinkets, with Dr. Chaudhry getting a paddleball.
Dr. Chaudhry joked that while she doesn’t remember for sure what she was doing in the room, she was probably hitting her brother with the paddle ball, who ended up throwing the ball and breaking it. In the typical “little sister” act, she started screaming and crying. “My dad comes out and he’s screaming at us. Then the doctor comes out and [asks what’s going on].”
After hearing about Dr. Chaudhry’s broken toy, the doctor told her to go get another toy, which she happily obliged. Though the act of kindness may seem small, it has shown Dr. Chaudhry why being so personable and caring can make such an impact in the lives of all involved. “I’m able to show compassion because I understand the benefits of dentistry.”
“That’s giving me the compassion where if someone comes in or they have a complaint, anxiety, or fear, I’m going to sit there and listen to them. Because there’s something there. You know your body, you know what’s going on.”
Dr. Chaudhry has also been in the shoes of her patients who feel confused or want to speak out but have no one to listen. Back when she was a sophomore in dental school, Dr. Chaudhry was eventually diagnosed with a pituitary tumor. Only, it seemed that no one would believe her when she emphasized she felt something was off. “I remember going to five different doctors because I knew something was wrong with my body, I felt off.” Thankfully, she was able to receive proper treatment, and gained the intent to let every patient speak their mind and to not make them feel insane for doing so.
That connection with the patient played a part in why Dr. Chaudhry founded her own practice, which she felt she lost at one point when working elsewhere throughout her now 12-year career. Of course, it wouldn’t be until 2020 where, after sadly losing her father, she decided to make the jump and carve her own path.
“It was something I never really thought about until that time, and I was going back and forth with the idea of, ‘Should I just stay where I am, or should I open my own practice.’ I actually had a dream in September 2020, a month after my day passed away, and it was my father and my dog, who passed away a month before my father did.” After telling her dad that, while realizing she had to take care of her family but also acknowledging she wasn’t happy and didn’t know what to do, he “just put his hand on my head as a blessing, gave me a hug, and disappeared.”
Dr. Chaudhry didn’t think twice about what this dream might mean. “I woke up the next morning with all of my anxieties gone, I had called the broker that I found this office from, and I put an offer down right away. It was like a meant to be situation, where it just fell right into place.”
“I like to keep my services spread out, but I like to focus on certain things because they’re more passionate to me, they mean a little bit more.”
Since then, Ardsley Dental Spa has transformed into a top-of-the-line service that should put any fears or anxieties to rest thanks to their love of dentistry and technology. “We have the VELscope that does oral cancer screening, we have two iTero scanners which is what we use for digital impressions education, [and] we have a Biolase that we use for root canal cleaning, gum surgery, [and] biopsies.”
Dr. Chaudhry’s team also performs procedures of all kinds, with a specific focus on Invisalign and migraines — the latter of which she heavily struggled with throughout school — along with Periodontal disease and implants. Sleep apnea and cosmetics are also points of expertise, helping patients experiencing headaches, gummy smiles, and jaw pain.
Like knowing what patients go through emotionally, Dr. Chaudhry relates to the pain and effects of certain conditions from personal experiences, which inspires her to do more when working on them.
Dr. Chaudhry is also set to become an employee of Invisalign, which will help her to not only educate other practitioners about their tools, but to help continue to strengthen the doctor-patient relationships that are so valuable towards destroying any fear or anxieties. “I am helping other doctors learn to utilize the iTero scanner in their practice, and ensure the growth of patient education, benefit, and trust.”
Dr. Chaudhry’s work isn’t just limited to the office, as she’s contributed to several philanthropic organizations like Global Dental Relief and Healing the Children Northeast, enabling children and adults around the world to receive crucial care. “Nonprofit and charity work is very important to me,” she explained, noting she’s continued to be inspired by her father to this day. “I love teeth, I love taking care of patients, I love forming those connections.”
If you’re reluctant to go back to the dentist after a frightening experience, Dr. Chaudhry stresses that communication should be a priority, as continuing to ignore health care can prove very costly to many different parts of your body. “My advice would be to find someone that you can trust and have an open conversation, because your oral health is [so] important. Neglecting your oral health can lead to stomach issues, because your mouth is a pathway to your body. If you have bacteria in your mouth, you’re swallowing it and it’s going into your system.”
To learn more about Ardsley Dental Spa’s personalized and attentive services that will leave you smiling for days, or to schedule an appointment, you can visit their website by clicking here.
Andrew Rhoades is a Contributing Reporter at The National Digest based in New York. A Saint Joseph’s University graduate, Rhoades’ reporting includes sports, U.S., and entertainment. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.