Dealing with anxious patients in the dental practice

05. August 2022

Many people are afraid of going to the dentist. Nevertheless, sooner or later everyone has to make an appointment and so anxious patients are regularly confronted with their fear. As a dentist, how do you best manage patients with dental anxiety? What are the reasons for the increasing phenomenon of dental phobia? In this article, we will answer those questions.

What is dental phobia and where does it come from?

The fear of visiting the dentist is also called dental phobia. However, the term does not describe an uneasiness patients experience before seeing the dentist but rather indicates a pathological fear. Phobia patients can hardly bring themselves to make an appointment at the dentist and then actually keep it. They often endure excruciating toothache until they just cannot stand it any longer. This creates a vicious circle because as their dental health deteriorates, necessary treatments will become more and more unpleasant. When the patients finally see the dentist, they experience palpitations, sweating, and trembling.

Dental phobia can be triggered, for example, by traumatic experiences during dental treatment. This does not only refer to physical pain. If dentists do not take patients’ concerns and fears seriously, this can have an equally negative impact on their psychological well-being. In addition, bad experiences by close friends and family can also be a trigger.

How to treat anxiety patients

The first step in adequately treating anxiety patients is probably to develop an understanding of their fear. However, empathy for the patient does not begin in the dental chair but rather with the very first contact between the practice and the patient. This is usually when they schedule an appointment. Things should run as smoothly and simply as possible. We recommend integrating software for online appointment scheduling directly into your website. This is the easiest way for dental anxiety patients to schedule their appointment. Your website should give patients a good feeling through a pleasant start page, authentic images, a modern design, and detailed information.

The same applies to your practice. A sterile interior that reminds patients of a hospital is not the way to go. Rather opt for a friendly design with warm colors. Plants, pictures, and relaxing music in the waiting room also have a positive effect. Apart from the inviting appearance of your dental practice, anxiety patients will value the empathetic attitude of your staff. A warm welcome will wash away any negative feelings. A positive working atmosphere, i.e., a respectful and friendly interaction among colleagues, influences the patient’s emotions. Training your staff on how to deal with anxiety patients may be useful. You can add questions about dental phobia and its severity to your medical history form. This way, you will be optimally prepared for the appointment. Also, keep the waiting time as short as possible, as this leaves the patient less time to worry.

Treating anxiety patients usually takes up more of your time. Remember to plan for longer appointments. The patient should feel in good hands. It helps to listen intently, show understanding, explain the procedure gently, and communicate at eye level. Answer questions patiently and thoroughly. Moreover, anxiety patients should not have to sit in the dental chair for their first appointment. Instead, choose a separate room and try to build trust through verbal and nonverbal communication (such as nodding your head, agreeing, or asking questions). Always act in the patient’s best interest, do not stir up unnecessary fears of possible pain but do not give the wrong impression either. Address the options for low-pain treatment through anesthesia or minimally invasive procedures. Another tried and tested method is sedation with nitrous oxide. It is completely harmless and has an analgesic and relaxing effect on the patient. In short: Be honest, empathetic, and take your time when treating anxiety patients. This will make the treatment more pleasant for everyone involved and may also help the patients to cope with their phobia in the long term.

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