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4 steps for treating nervous dental patients


Many patients are nervous about getting in the dental chair, but there are ways to make the experience less stressful for them.

The fear of dental work is a common one.

While it isn’t the most pleasant experience for patients to have their teeth poked and prodded, you can make a huge impact on anxiety levels if you know how to calm your patients and ensure a quick, virtually painless experience.  

Continue to the next page to see four helpful steps for treating nervous dental patients.


1. Communicate with your patient

Anxiety is a legitimate mental and physiological response to a stimulus that is associated with anything perceived as scary, unfamiliar or negative. When you encounter a patient with dental anxiety, you’ll want to use your best communication skills to figure out the root cause of their fear. Listen to your patients’ concerns, and encourage them to speak up if they become too uncomfortable. 

To get an even better picture, allow your patient the opportunity to rate the quality of your services. You can either use a scale that ranges from one to 10, or provide a questionnaire that allows them to go into greater detail. From there, you can use their answers to help you gauge how to proceed with their future treatments. Finally, let your patient know that they are in control, and that you only wish to help them, not hurt them.


2. Guided relaxation techniques

If a patient appears nervous or expresses concern, you can help calm them down with simple guided relaxation techniques. Breathing exercises are effective in relieving anxiety, so encourage your patient to take a deep breath, hold for a few seconds, and then slowly release that breath. Repeat this exercise until they are relaxed and communicate that they are ready to begin.

However, some patients respond better to visualization, and therefore may require further preparation. Instruct your patient to close their eyes, and describe a peaceful scenario, such as a warm beach during sunset or a shady meadow in their favorite local park. And with both of these exercises, you can supplement the experience with calming music – try a New Age soundtrack, or ask for their favorite music and set it to a playlist of those artists.


3. Keep wait times short

A patient's anxiety can increase dramatically the longer they are stuck in a waiting room. While it is important to keep your waiting room stocked with books, magazines, a fish tank, a drink machine and a television to distract antsy patients, you’ll find it more effective to bring your patients back sooner so they don’t have time to become caught up in their imagination.

The average dental patient waits 13 minutes and 30 seconds to be seen. This might not seem like a long time, but for individuals with dental anxiety, this wait can feel agonizing and might even deter them from returning in the future. Of course, sometimes you have situations where appointments run over or equipment malfunctions. In these cases, apologize for the wait time, and politely suggest that they make appointments first thing in the morning or after break times to ensure they are seen as quickly as possible.


4. Keep patients informed

If your patients are the type who like to be aware of a procedure before it happens, then it is wise to be completely transparent with the details. Review your proposed treatment plan with a patient and allow them to ask as many questions as they want.

Also, give them options so they don’t feel pressured into more work than they’re comfortable with; for example, if your patient’s wisdom teeth have erupted but only one of them will cause serious issues, then let them know that they have the option to only get the one extracted.

After the procedure, thoroughly explain the after-care routine with your patient, making sure to speak in plain terms and avoid complex jargon that will only foster more anxiety.

Remember, if your patient expresses extreme discomfort or anxiety, there’s always the possibility that you will have to pause the procedure in order to allow your patient to collect themselves. Always be sure to offer assistance and reassurance when you can, especially during these circumstances. With this extra effort on your part, your patient might just walk away with a new perspective on dentistry. 

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