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    6 ways to help patients overcome fear of the dentist

    Giving your patients a positive, fear-free experience doesn’t have to be a challenge.

    You’ve heard of FOMO (fear of missing out), but what about FOTD (fear of the dentist)? It’s possible that nine to 15 percent of Americans avoid dental treatment because of anxiety or fear, according to the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. In fact, dental fear isn’t affected by age or education, and it’s slightly more prevalent in women than men.

    While some people don’t relish going to the dentist and apprehension is normal, dental anxiety doesn’t usually keep them from the dentist for decades. Dental phobia, on the other hand, is an intense, unreasonable fear that can keep folks from seeing the dentist and getting the treatment they need. People with severe dental phobia may not only put off routine dental exams but ignore pain, gum disease, and even broken or missing teeth because of FOTD.

    Studies show that people are typically afraid of three things at the dentist’s office: loss of control, embarrassment and pain.

    Related reading: Are your patients terrified of visiting your practice?

    So how can you help patients with both dental anxiety and the more serious dental phobia, which can leave patients terrified or panic stricken? Here are six things your practice can do to help:

    1. Ask every patient how he or she is feeling about the dental treatment when he or she in the chair

    Dental fearDental anxiety and the more severe dental phobia were once shoved under the proverbial dental tray and not spoken much about. Patients kept mum and were silently terrified while dental professionals all but ignored the issue. No longer is this acceptable.

    Broach the subject with patients to get a feel for who’s mildly anxious or worse, panicked. Then take appropriate steps to ease their fears. Distractions like headphones for music or television can help. Aromatherapy with lavender scent is being used for anxiety in treatment rooms. Squeezing a stress ball or having a warm weighted blanket over patients can also provide additional relief. For patients who are apprehensive of the procedure, getting them to verbalize what it is about the treatment that’s most upsetting is key.

    More from the author: 12 tips to get patients to keep their appointments

    “Once the dentist knows the specific trigger, he or she can address it by explaining how the procedure will go, what the patient will feel. Essentially walk them through the procedure so they know what to expect,” says Jorge Vasquez, DMD, dental director at Solstice Benefits.

    2. Set up a stop signal

    For patients who are extremely anxious, provide them with an SOS signal, such as raising their hand. That means you’ll stop whatever you’re doing. Loss of control is one of the main causes of dental anxiety and this gives the patient back some control. Patients know that if they have discomfort, fear, a question or they need a rest, then raising their hand will provide it.

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