Tips for Helping Patients Who Are Afraid of the Dentist
Your patients may not like you—but don’t take it personally.
According to information from Carrington College dentaphobia—the fear of going to the dentist—affects 9 to 15 percent of the U.S. population to the extent that they avoid dental appointments altogether. This places them at greater risk for more extensive problems like gum disease and deep cavities.
It creates a vicious cycle: Your patient knows that he or she will need more dental work because they’ve failed to keep regular appointments, which makes them even more afraid of seeing the dentist. These apprehensions are reinforced by any negative past experiences, pain or embarrassment they have felt during previous dental visits.
How to help patients who are afraid of the dentist
There are several things you can do to help alleviate your patients’ apprehension:
Get to know your patients
By taking time to speak with them, answer questions and learn more about them, you’re demonstrating that you are someone who will listen, and this will help them feel at ease. You may consider having your patients come into the office for a short meet and greet before their actual procedure—especially if they are new to your practice.
Establish a system of communication
It’s difficult to talk with dental instruments in and around the mouth, and many patients are afraid they’ll be unable to let you know if they’re in pain or uncomfortable. Before a cleaning or dental procedure, it’s a good idea to establish a system of hand signals to help the patient communicate with you. Assure him or her that you will take their concerns seriously.
Provide methods of distraction and relaxation
The sound of a dental drill can be intimidating. Noise-reducing headphones may help alleviate some of this stress. Even something simple like music can help (you may want to suggest that your patients bring their own playlist.)
Consider prescription sedatives
If your patient has extensive anxiety, a sedative or nitrous oxide may be an appropriate measure. However, this will need to be carefully evaluated on a case-to-case basis.
You can help prevent dentaphobia before it begins
As a dental professional, you have a wonderful opportunity to shape the experience of future patients. When you see children, go the extra mile to ensure they have a positive visit. This interaction will have a great impact on how they view dental appointments in adulthood. Remind parents not to project any of their own dental fears onto their children.
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