There’s no question about majority of people dreading going to the dentist. There are some out there that even hate the thought of a dental appointment. The loud whirr of the drill, the sight of the instruments, and the dreaded dentist chair are enough to give even the most rational individuals some sort of “dental phobia.”
For some patients, a trip to the dentist can trigger a fight or flight response. As dental professionals, it’s our job to provide coping mechanisms that allow our patients to feel safe and comfortable the moment they step foot into our practices. We must alleviate their dental fear to create a space they’ll want to come back to again and again.
So what can we do as dentists to ensure we’re creating a space that soothes away their fears? Here are a few tips you can use next time you come across a fearful patient.
1. Be punctual
Few things amplify a patient’s anxiety and fear of the dentist than having to wait around for the dentist to finish their previous appointment. The longer the wait in the waiting room, the more amplified their fear and stress becomes. This can result in patients experiencing stress, anxiety, and a paralysing fear of dental treatment.
As dential professionals, it’s difficult to always run exactly on time. But if it is a new patient who seems rather fearful of your practice, the best thing to do is to ensure your office offers a time slot that enables a timely response.
This could be the first appointment of the day or the first appointment after lunch. Scheduling their appointment at a time when you know you’ll be on time limits their waiting time in your clinic, reducing their stress and anxiety.
2. Offer active engagement
An important dental patient management tool that can aid in dissuading fear in your patients is to offer a proactive approach that engages and educates your patients. The waiting room can be the breaking point in patient care. The longer they wait, the less satisfied they become and the more stressed they get.
The waiting room may negatively reinforce their fears of the dental office. To improve the “down time” in the waiting room, forget the stacks of old magazines. Actively engage your patients by offering mediums that educate and inform them.
A dedicated TV channel that coaches patients about the importance of oral care and oral health enable patients to recognise the importance of proper preventative care. Not only is this extremely beneficial at keeping patients occupied, but it positively reinforces their visit to the dentist. Such active engagement promotes awareness and creates open dialogue between you and your patients.
3. Ask questions
Dental anxiety often stems from previous negative experiences with a dental practice. And while dentistry and oral health management have come a long way with the assistance of technology, dental anxiety will often create a lifelong fear of dental care, no matter how much improvement the practice has undergone.
Patient care must include the opportunity to listen to a patient’s fear and mistrust of the dentist. Focusing on positive chairside manners creates productive dialogue. Creating a personalised experience in which you discuss their fears or triggers empowers patients to feel more confident about visiting the dental office.
Rapport and open communication create an encouraging environment that will rapidly build trust between patient and dentist.
4. Introduce positive psychological approaches
Managing dental anxiety can also be done without introducing specialised products or services.
When it comes to children, in particular, dentists may find that positive reinforcement becomes a useful incentive to dissuading fear in a patient. This approach works when positive reinforcements are provided through verbal acknowledgment or tangible rewards. Encouragement through positive reinforcement has been shown to obtain the necessary cooperation from patients to create a positive outcome from the experience.
One psychological exercise that translates well in reducing a patient’s fear is relaxation through paced breathing. Relaxation breathing is an effective method to lower anxiety. It also aids in diminishing perceived pain from dental instruments.
5. Implement rest breaks
Initiating the concept of rest breaks introduces a sense of control within your patients’ psyche. Dentists who initiate periodic rest breaks increases the predictability of dental processes, reducing the feeling of anxiousness or fear in a patient. The anticipation of a short break during procedures enables patients to calm themselves, improving quality of care and overall experience.
Dentists must take care to create a space that includes a positive preventative care experience. As we all know, the consequences of dental phobia can result in far greater issues beyond oral pain or the loss of teeth. To ensure proper oral care, patients must feel comfortable enough to keep their dental appointments.
Introducing these practices to your patients’ dental experience creates an assurance that your practice and its procedures are nothing to be afraid of.
Dr. Yvette Porter is the founding dentist at Apple Dental in Newstead, Brisbane, which she started over 11 years ago, and continues to own and practice there today. She works with a team of female dentists who aim to provide gentle, and affordable dental care to patients in Brisbane. Dr. Porter is a member of the Australian Dental Association and is passionate about family, and children’s dentistry, hoping to make their dental experience truly pleasant.
Posted by Gemma