Dental anxiety can be any form of mild nervousness to severe fear of the dental practice. It’s estimated that somewhere around 1 in 3 patients have some form of dental anxiety.
Depending on the level of nervousness or phobia, some patients may delay dental care, fail to accept treatment plans, or stop going to the dentist altogether. Others continue to see their dentist but battle anxiety with or without their dental provider realizing there’s even an issue.
Prevalence of Dental Anxiety
In one study,approximately 8% of dental patients admitted to missing a dental appointment because their anxiety was so concerning. Their most common concerns were related to “fear” of the dentist, previous experiences they’ve encountered, the cost of their care, or simply having a sensitive gag reflex.
When dental professionals are able to assist their patients who experience anxiety, they can better their oral health and reduce future care-related costs.
6 Tips to Ease Patient Anxiety
1. Evaluate each patient individually. During your patient’s check-in, have them answer a paper or verbal questionnaire. Then have them rank their level of nervousness or anxiety from 1 to 10.
2. Talk through the appointment. Before beginning any procedure, let your patient know what will be happening, what they can expect, and that they can take breaks at any time by raising their left hand (or right, if the practitioner is left-handed.)
3. Encourage the use of music. Provide noise-canceling headphones and relaxing music, or have your patient plan their own playlist.Studies show that when a patient listens to their own preferred music, it reduces anxiety in the medical setting.
4. Create a relaxing environment. Diffusing lavender essential oil is proven toreduce dental anxiety. Some patients may even prefer a weighted blanket or an eye mask to block out any uncomfortable light.
5. Incorporate analgesic or sedation resources. From topical anesthetic products to nitrous oxide, or a deeper form of sedation, patients need to be reassured that their complete comfort is a top priority.
6. Provide payment options upfront. When patients have reservations about the cost of their care, they may be too embarrassed to mention their financial concerns. Make sure to incorporate various payment options as part of every care plan presentation.
How Dental Practitioners Can Help Their Patients
Establishing a personal rapport with patients is crucial when it comes to creating a comfortable care environment. From the moment office staff greet the patient to other team members introducing themselves, steps to help the patient feel “seen” are integral in reducing dental phobia.
When speaking to patients seated in the operatory, make a point to establish eye-level contact before laying them back for treatment. Additionally, calmly talking through the procedure and ensuring ample time (so that the patient doesn’t feel rushed) are all important. Utilizing additional resources like digital imaging, appropriate lighting, or loupes can help the dentist or hygienist work more efficiently and lessen the amount of time the patient is required in the chair.
When speaking to patients seated in the operatory, make a point to establish eye-level contact before laying them back for treatment. Additionally, calmly talking through the procedure and ensuring ample time (so that the patient doesn’t feel rushed) are all important.
Utilizing additional resources like digital imaging, appropriate lighting, or loupes can help the dentist or hygienist work more efficiently and lessen the amount of time the patient is required in the chair.
The Difference That It Makes
Patients who receive attentive care that’s tailored to people with anxiety gradually build more trust in their dental practitioners over time. As their familiarity and comfort level improve, they tend to establish appropriate care routines and experience fewer progressive types of oral infections in the future.
When patients delay care, it’s best to present all appropriate comfort and financial options available. They may be too embarrassed or uncomfortable to discuss the real cause behind their situation.