For most people, monsters are the furry blue creatures that hide in the closet or under the bed. But for others, they’re smiling professionals with straight teeth, fresh breath, and a tray of shiny dental instruments.
It’s estimated that between 5% and 8% of Americans avoid going to the dentist altogether because of fear. And 20% are so anxious, they only go when absolutely necessary.
How can you help your patients deal with their dental anxiety? Here are some strategies to try:
Usually it’s the fear leading up to the visit that’s worse than the visit itself. Book patients with dental anxiety at a time when you know you’ll be running on schedule, whether it’s the first appointment of the day or the first one after lunch. This will decrease the patient’s hand-wringing anticipation of what’s to come. Bonus: when you’re not running behind, you’ll be more calm and patient, which can in turn help relax the situation.
Set the Mood
Most patients with dental anxiety have had a negative past experience at the dentist. So it’s important to make the atmosphere as welcoming as possible. Instead of posters plastered on the wall about the perils of gum disease, set a relaxing mood with nature photography or a water feature in the waiting room. Choose music that’s peaceful. When an office feels more spa than clinic, it can go a long way in soothing anxious patients.
Understand the Root of Their Anxiety
Whether it’s the sound of the drill or the helpless feeling of being tipped back in the chair, ask your anxious patients specifically what they’re afraid of. This will “humanize” you and help you come up with an appropriate response to their fear.
For patients with a dental phobia, self-isolating with blaring music in their headphones won’t help the situation much. Talk to them throughout and ask ahead of time how much they want to know about what’s going on. Use “friendly” language that won’t intimidate them. E.g. no mention of needles, poking or drilling! Decide on a cue together such as raising a hand if the patient feels like they need to stop. Ask for permission to continue before moving to the next step of the procedure or exam.
Breaks are important to offer to nervous patients. From stopping for a quick rinse, sitting upright, or offering them the chance to stretch their legs, this will show that you take their fears seriously and are here to make them as comfortable as possible. Even if it seems overboard in your own mind, nervous patients will appreciate the extra effort on your part.
What do your anxious patients appreciate most? Share your own tips below and help other dental pros!