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    The best ways to help dental-phobic patients

    Many patients are afraid of the dentist, but a good experience can go a long way to mitigating their phobias.

    Have you ever wondered where the fear of dentists comes from? Your patients are kind, sweet, crabby, obnoxious or perhaps arrogant. But, some of them have the same fear of going to the dentist. For some, it stems from a fear of what it is going to cost them financially. I think that the real issue is what it will cost them emotionally, or what happened before they got to you.

    It is hard to be a dental professional and know your patient is afraid you are going to hurt them. It is a lousy feeling, right? It goes against the very reason why you went into this profession. You went into dentistry to help people have a healthy life with good strong dental care. But, for some of your patients, it isn’t that easy. They may have been traumatized by previous experiences with dentists or even medical doctors. It happens.

    Years ago, my daughter was traumatized by her pediatrician. As she was bouncing off the walls terrified, the pediatrician reprimanded me for not having control over her. I was fuming, but my kid was the priority. I explained that my child was scared she was going to hurt her. The pediatrician told my daughter to come give her a hug, which she did. While hugging my child, this pediatrician gave her a shot.

    Trending article: 4 steps for treating nervous dental patients

    Scared girlHow a pediatrician can betray a child like this is beyond me. The child was already stressing out beforehand and yet it was easier to trick her instead of taking the time to deal with the situation. What effect did this have on my child? It made her terrified doctors.

    So, what happened when I took this child traumatized by a pediatrician to the dentist? The dentist got the brunt of the terror. A patient can be anxious beyond belief and there might be nothing you can do to calm them down. That makes you feel helpless at times. You do everything you can think of, but nothing works. That isn’t a good feeling for the dental professional. You went into this profession to make lives better. You didn’t expect that just your mere presence in a white/pastel coat could trigger such anxiety and panic.

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

    What can you do?

    • Consult with your peers for best practices.

    • Read up on how to address anxiety in your patients.

    • Explain to your patient ahead of time what to expect.

    • Go slowly with the treatment so that your patient feels they have some control over the situation.

    • Medicate the patient if no other option can help address the issue.

    • Process what you are feeling as a dental professional.

    • And remember that this is NOT personal. Issues that a patient has may have nothing whatsoever to do with you.

    My daughter grew up and can now go to the dentist and doctor appointments like everyone else, but childhood and teenage visits were rough. Not everyone comes out of these kinds of experiences unscathed. So, you need to address it. Be aware of nonverbal behavior and ask your patient how they are feeling. Don’t rush from one question to the next. Stop, listen and slow down if the patient is anxious. Don’t forget that how your patient copes with their own anxiety does impact you one way or another.

    If you have any experiences with anxious patients and can share with us best practices of what can be done, please email at [email protected] .

    Lisa Newburger, LISW-S
    Lisa Newburger, a master's level social worker supervisor, helps audiences find humor in talking about tough topics. Her "in-your-face" ...

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