There are many different causes of anxiety for patients, so how can we make our practices comfortable for patients who are afraid of going to the dentist?
Going to the dentist can cause tremendous angst for some patients. They do not need to have a full-blown anxiety disorder diagnosis to have stress surrounding a dental visit. It might be fear of physical pain or intimidating instruments, fear of being embarrassed and belittled, or the fear of feeling vulnerable and having loss of control that causes this anxiety.
With so many patients dealing with this issue, I was fascinated to learn about a dental practice that specializes in anxiety-free dentistry. My first thought was what are they doing that is different than what other dentists provide? I spoke to Omar Salameh, DDS, at Signature Smiles Dental, and I can honestly say that I understand now. There is real value to what this practice is doing. With 5 dentists and 25 staff members, they are changing lives. Helping patients deal with their anxiety is something every dental practice should learn more about.
Fifteen years ago, Dr Omar Salameh was practicing dentistry and felt it was not challenging for him, and he was bored. He noticed a pattern in himself. What excited him was helping people by really making a difference in their lives. He realized that patients came in with anxiety issues that caused a significant impact on their daily life. He knew that he had to create an experience to build trust and strong relationships to help patients overcome their anxiety.
One example was a patient who had not left the house in 3 years. The patient was thinking of suicide. Her dental issues were complicated. She was embarrassed that she did not have teeth, and she sought out Dr Omar Salameh. He knew that he would have to develop trust and help her regain her self-confidence. He worked with her to address her dental problems and was able to help her return to her life and live it instead of hiding away at home. These kinds of stories are what make his work so rewarding.
How does this work?
1. Patients are screened and evaluated over the phone before they even step foot in the practice. Their anxiety is observed, and the process begins. Fear is a big challenge for anxious patients, and their fear of being judged is significant. They may be afraid of the dental instruments or fearful of pain that may occur from surgeries or treatments. These fears are issues that his staff uncovers in the screening process. The goal is to detect and assess how the problem is impeding the patient’s life.
2. Make time to address anxiety issues in patients. A new patient visit is 90 minutes long. Other practices may schedule 45-60 minutes, but it is not enough to thoroughly understand the needs of the patient. You need to be able to assess and develop a relationship with the anxious patient. That takes time. Even the dental hygienist’s cleaning is 90 minutes in length.
3. Hire the right team. This is critical to the success of the practice. Monthly ongoing training allows the staff to learn ways to decrease anxiety levels and how to communicate with patients.
4. Sedation can be provided for dental visits depending on the needs of the patient. It can be oral sedation or IV sedation. Sedation is a tool that will help patients build trust, but the goal is for the patient to regain confidence and eventually have treatment without sedation. This is a long process that the team and patient work on together.
5. The philosophy is to treat the entire patient. This includes their anxiety level, but many practices are focused on the procedure instead of the entire patient. Many dentists have no idea that their patients have so many fears. That is why this practice is unique. Dr Omar Salameh’s patients are terrified to go to the dentist. If they are not scared of the dentist, they do not need to come to this practice. This practice is focused on the psychology of a patient and they customize treatment plans to provide individualized care with the goal to reduce anxiety in the patient.
6. Environmental tools are utilized to make the patient more comfortable. This includes lighting, music, and aromatherapy so that the office has a unique atmosphere different from other dental offices. They have Netflix for a distraction, but the whole setup of the office is conducive to reducing the stress level of the patient.
7. There is a 100% anxiety-free and judgement free guarantee to the patients. Yes, this practice takes the work that they are doing very seriously. So seriously, that they guarantee it.
So why did this whole idea of anxiety-free dentistry intrigue me so much? Having a practice focused on anxiety reduction is a wonderful service to the patients. I had never heard of anything like this until I spoke with Dr Omar Salameh. He made me stop and think about the patients who are terrified of the dentist yet are in trouble and in need of significant dental care. The key really is how a dental professional develops a relationship of trust so that the anxious patient will come back to get the care that they need. These patients have avoided going to the dentist until things became severe. They need dental professionals who are compassionate and can provide time to reduce their anxiety levels so they can get the care they need. This is what Dr Omar Salameh and his team have perfected.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and share what you are doing to reduce patient anxiety in your practice.
If you would like to learn more about Dr Omar Salameh and his practice, visit https://www.signaturesmilesfamilydentistry.com/