Did you know that an estimated 30 to 40 million Americans live with the fear of going to the dentist? This condition, called dental anxiety, has been putting a lot of Americans’ oral health at risk.
What exactly is dental anxiety?
Dental anxiety, also called ‘dental fear’, is a condition that manifests in many ways and is experienced to different degrees. Dental fear causes people to lose sleep before their scheduled dental appointment, feel uneasy while waiting for their turn, or completely avoid going to the dentist altogether.
While we have yet to find categorically factual and proven causes for dental fear, available literature states that most people who admit to having it usually attribute the fear to negative past experiences. Others attribute their anxiety to embarrassment of showing their mouths, fear of feeling helpless, or just having a negative general perception of dentists and dental procedures.
People with dental anxiety (or worse, dental phobia) place their oral health and overall wellbeing at risk by delaying and foregoing a visit to the dentist. While there are many things that a person can do to cope with the fear, there is just as much that a dentist can do to help ease the patients’ anxiety.
7 Ways You Can Help Your Patients Deal with Dental Anxiety
From mastering small talk to creating distractions that will keep anxious patients’ minds off their fear, here are some ways you can help your patients ease up before their appointment:
1. Provide ways to assess dental fear.
The best way to help combat anxiety is to know when the patient has it and to what degree this anxiety exists. There are many resources available on how to assess patient anxiety, like this multi-point questionnaire.
2. Offer pre-treatment sessions whenever possible.
Unless the patient’s case is particularly urgent, it may do him/her a lot of good to get a consultation before the actual treatment. This way the patient can get acquainted and comfortable with the dental chair. This would also be a good time for the dentist to explain the procedure in a careful and understandable way.
3. Create good distractions.
Many people who admit to having dental anxiety, especially those who have had negative experiences with a dentist, say that some of their most common triggers include the sound of the drill or the smell of the dental facility. Drown out the noise of the drill by playing some calming music or mask the smell with some essential oils.
4. Develop trust through good communication.
Proper communication is key to relieving dental anxiety. In one study, researchers found that patients’ memory of the pain they experience during their dental procedure is largely due to how their dentists treat them. It is important to speak calmly, to try to start small talk with patients, and most importantly to show that you empathize with their anxiety instead of being dismissive. Keep in mind that feelings of fear and discomfort are very real for them. Building trust and rapport with patients that suffer from dental anxiety requires them knowing that you understand what they are going through.
5. Assert professionalism.
The most important factor in gaining a patient’s trust is to let them know that you are reliable and that you know exactly what you are doing. This reassures the patient that you will know how to perform the procedure in the quickest and least horrifying manner possible. You can achieve this by thoroughly and confidently explaining their diagnosis and the procedure. The patient may not always completely understand it with medical accuracy but they will gain confidence in you when they see how knowledgeable you are about their case.
6. Create a professional atmosphere.
Trust is gained not only when the patients see how professional you, the dentist, are. Other things factor in such as the neatness of your office, the cleanliness of your linens and overall clinic, the friendliness of your staff, etc. Give them a reason to trust not only you but also your practice!
7. Wear the right uniforms.
Visual cues are essential in creating a professional and reliable atmosphere for your anxious patients. Aside from ensuring your whole space is clean (and that certain sterilizing equipment is clearly visible to them), wearing the right uniforms matters. The sight of old, dirty, or poorly managed dental uniforms are discouraging and contrary to creating a professional and reliable image! Always make sure your lab coats are sparkly clean and, if using scrubs for yourself and your staff, pick calming colors.
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