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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.


    3. Get to know your patients

    Establishing a relationship with your patients on a human level, as opposed to a doctor-patient relationship, makes the lines of communication more readily open, explains Vasquez. Patients feel that they’re visiting an office where they’ll find friends and not just a doctor. Open up dialogue with every patient about work, hobbies, travel and family, and be sure to make personal connections that you can easily return to by keeping a mental discourse about what you’ve talked about every time you see them. These connections can make a big difference when it comes to patients’ fears.

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    4. Address the fear or pain or embarrassment

    Since fear of pain isn’t altogether unfounded, dental anxiety and phobias can be wrapped around the perceived pain of dental procedures, especially needles. How can you help patients deal? Address the elephant in the room. Discuss sedation, nitrous oxide and how a topical anesthetic works, along with how a slow injection allows for tissues to numb gradually and can make for a painless injection. The more information patients have about improved techniques and equipment, the better to quell their anxieties. If embarrassment may be responsible for their unease, then offer an empathetic chairside manner. You can also discuss your own personal dental challenges or mention treating other patients successfully for the same issues.

    5. Suggest supportive therapy

    The American Psychological Association reports that psychologists are now working in dentistry to treat some of patients’ worst dental phobias. While not every dental practice can support a resident psychologist, patients can be encouraged to practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy combined with behavior changes that desensitizes patients to the dental drills, needles and equipment responsible for their fears. Through talk therapy, patients can work on effective coping strategies, such as replacing negative self-talk like “This will hurt” or “This procedure will take forever” with positive language such as, “I’ll be thrilled with the result of my dental work.”

    Lisa J. Heaton, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor of oral health sciences who collaborates with dentists at a special clinic at the University of Washington's School of Dentistry, teaches patients progressive muscle relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing as part of the therapy. Some patients will need more than one session to help them successfully undergo dental treatment, but psychological techniques have shown to be effective in reducing dental anxiety and phobia over time.

    More from the author: 5 ways to get your patients to brush their teeth

    6. Put your patient first every time

    “Put yourself in their shoes or rather, in their mouths,” says Jon Marashi, DDS, a Beverley Hills celebrity cosmetic dentist. “The only reason we are here is because of them. Customer service and a gentle touch all go a long way to building patient relationships and loyalty.”

    Once you’re on their side, beating FOTD becomes a team effort in which everyone is onboard working toward one goal: excellent dental care combined with a positive, fear-free experience.


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