With celebrities regularly instagramming their brace selfies nowadays, orthodontics is starting to become somewhat of a fashion accessory, rather than something which is feared among young adults. Just like al dentists have a dental nurse alongside them, so do orthodontists – but what’s it like being a nurse in the wonderful world of orthodontics? We speak to Ashleigh Richard from our St Ives practice to find out …
“When I was a kid I always wanted to do some kind of medicine or something that was patient-based. Then, when I was in sixth form I was looking for some volunteer work for a summer job and my mother, who was a practice manager, asked me to come and help her on reception and I fell in love with it. Ever since my first day here I’ve just absolutely loved it and I’ve never looked back. I left sixth form and came straight here to start my training.”
On her first day, Ashleigh was working with the orthodontist and instantly fell in love with it: “It was just the mechanics of it all and seeing the journey of kids coming in absolutely petrified, the orthodontist telling them “you can have braces on the NHS, we’ll fix your smile” and seeing them leave absolutely ecstatic.”
“It’s just the difference it made to the patients that got me. And the little we could do that made such a big difference - That was a big thing for me.”
Thinking about some of the biggest misconceptions surrounding orthodontics, Ashleigh sees her biggest challenge as the Chinese whispers vs reality: “So many kids now have braces, most of whom are teenagers, and they tend to embellish on the detail. They will say “oh it really hurt, I was there for four hours and they pulled on my teeth” – I’ve heard all sorts. They tell these stories to their friends so they sound brave. Because, if they say “I was only in there for 20 minutes and they barely touched me and I came out with braces” - it doesn’t sound as ‘cool’, so that’s definitely one of the biggest challenges - friends telling patients that it’s going to be horrendous. They come in and they’re that nervous because they expect it, it takes a lot to calm them down.
Have you ever seen a film or a book where the orthodontist is portrayed as a nice person? Willy Wonka (below) is just one example; the poor kid has wires all over the place. People see films and they think it’s going to be like that. And YouTube is even worse!”
“We have that problem with dentistry in general because everyone’s scared of it; it’s the unknown. What I tend to do is a practice session. So, for instance, with the braces they come in for their assessment and our orthodontist will tell them they’re ready for braces and explain in more detail. That’s when I’ll speak to the parents and ask them to book in an appointment with me where we speak for 20 minutes. I get out my model that has nothing on it and I take them through the whole process; I put the glue on, I take the glue off with the suction and some water, I show them the brackets and show them how the colours go on, so they know exactly what’s going to happen.
Because we’re a private practice, we have a bit more time with patients, and I tend to not have a social life so I to stay and see patients and I think that makes a big difference.
It’s just about having that constant communication. I find that patients are a lot more relaxed with nurses than the dentist, even if the dentist is the most amazing person in the world. It’s always at the forefront of their mind that they’re the dentist; they’re the ones who can hurt me, they’re the ones with the probes.
Us nurses, not so much, we’re there to protect them, and they open up to us. So in that sense, being a nurse is definitely just as rewarding I find. We’re the ones that the patients thank and rely on really! I do love my job, very much.”
Ashleigh recently won Dental Nurse of the Year at the mydentist annual clinical conference for her many achievements and dedication to going above and beyond for patients.
Thinking about her advantages and what helps her to build relationships with her patients, Ashleigh says: “I’ve been through plenty of orthodontic treatments myself, so I know what they’re going through - I can understand it from a patient’s point of view.
Privately, it’s a lot easier for us because we don’t see as many patients a day, so we get to spend a bit more time of patients. And we also see them more regularly. So for instance if they have emergencies we can get them in on the same day. I also do out of hours for the patients, so they have my mobile number so they have a constant option for communication. Some patients take advantage and they just phone me to have a chat, but that’s alright with me.
The nice thing about being private is that I get very close to my patients. I’ve been invited to birthday parties, weddings, graduations; it’s really nice. I see these kids from when they begin treatment, they come in at nine years old and they leave when they’re 14 as completely different humans.”
And, she’s not just an exceptional dental nurse: “I speak five languages. Sign language is one of the biggest ones that I use to communicate with our hearing impaired patients. English is my second language. My first language is Afrikaans, then sign language, Dutch, and Thwane (a variation of Zulu).”
So, what’s next for Ashleigh?
“I’ve done a lot of courses and mydentist has supported me through that a lot. I’m currently on their radiography course and when that finishes in March, I’d like to do dental and orthodontic therapy. I’d like to keep going and going and going. I hate sitting still I’m afraid. It’s been four years and I haven’t stopped studying.”