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How to Alleviate Your Patient’s Fear

The following is a guest post by Hannah Daniel of Careington/QBI. If you are interested in guest posting for Dental Heroes, please sign up here.

How to Alleviate a Patient’s Fear

While some may find it empowering to strike fear into the hearts of people they have never even met, most dentists wish people would understand that their office is nothing to be afraid of.

New technology, higher standards and greater oral health awareness have put us far ahead of dentistry’s dark past. Even so, an estimated 15 percent of Americans experience some sort of dental fear or phobia, according to the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. This could range from slight anxiety to crippling phobia.

If you take steps to ease this fear, the visit will be much easier on both you and the patient. You’ve probably tried to rationalize with the patient, but dental fear rarely stems from the conclusion of a logical thought-process. Consider these solutions to turn office visits into a pleasant experience.

Actions & Reactions
Moods are contagious. If your receptionists are friendly, your hygienists are gentle and you show that you care, you will go a long way in making the patient feel more at ease. Explain the procedure and show the patient how it will happen, step by step. Work directly with the patient to work out a treatment plan, and don’t disregard or downplay his or her fears about the process. Never act as if the patient’s fears are completely unfounded. They may have received poor dental work in the past, and they have no way of knowing if you will repeat the unpleasant experience until you prove it to them.

Calming Environment
Give your office a homey feel by nixing the fluorescent lights in the waiting room. Use soft chairs and couches, and display familiar magazines. Embellish the bare white walls with framed paintings of peaceful scenery. The smell of all the equipment and materials can frighten a sensitive patient, so you may want to consider using a room deodorizer or fresh spray. Fish tanks might seem cheesy or cliché, but the repetitive movement and sound of running water could distract and calm the patient. A small water fountain can accomplish this same effect.

Another tactic for giving patients something to think about besides impending treatment is to give your office a unique theme. Try turning your office into a jungle or a train station. This is especially effective with children, but subtler approaches work just as well with adults. This could mean decorating like a movie theater, a beach or a posh lounge.

Sedation Dentistry
Sedation dentistry has received a lot of attention lately as a way to ward off anxiety. With this method, your patients may prefer to simply go under anesthesia for the entirety of the visit, even for simple procedures like cleanings or X-rays. However, you may not feel that this is a safe option for your office or that it doesn’t help the patient actually address the problem. It’s up to the discretion of you, your office and, ultimately, your patient. If you do provide sedation, make sure you thoroughly explain the options to the patient so he or she can make an informed decision.

Tools of the Trade
Staying up to date on all your equipment can make a considerable difference in your patients’ well-being. Your drill may perform perfectly up to standards and operates just the way it needs to, but if it is a large, archaic model or has started making louder noises, it may be worth your patients’ comfort to replace a few items. Consider adding some laser technology to your office to help reduce patient discomfort and treatment time. Laser tools are typically less intimidating than some traditional equipment as well.

You probably entered dentistry because you want to help people and make a difference. Patients with dental fears might think you simply enjoy inflicting pain. Clearly this is not the case, but fears are often irrational. Prove it to them, and go from being your patient’s worst enemy to becoming a helpful ally.

Your thoughts

Do you often deal with extremely frightened patients? What techniques have you implemented to overcome these obstacles?

Reader Comments

  1. Toronto Dentist September 15th

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    Great article Cory, a lot of patients are scared for sure!!


  2. Rockon September 17th

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    Every tooth in a man’s haed is more valuable than a diamond.

    Thanks for Greatest Iformation


  3. Brazilian Dentist September 26th

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    Very good text. Dentists should tell everything to the patients to avoid their fear.


  4. Betty October 13th

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    solution for this fear is called sedation dentistry which only handful of dentists are certified to perform this sedation dentistry….


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    Accommodating the patients’ needs is important for calming them down. For example, a dental practice should accommodate handicap patients by creating a dental office design that accommodates wheelchairs and has wider hallways. This way the patient will feel more at ease and will not feel out of place. This helps alleviate fears for them as well.


  6. Ruth Njagi December 7th

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    Communication with the patient and helping them to be calm about the situation would really help because not only our children are scared so are we.Thank you for the information and article well written.


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