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Combating Patient Anxiety in the Dentist’s Chair


Few people like going to the dentist and many fear the semi-annual visit. As a dentist, you even begin to expect it from patients. It’s practically part of our culture and the butt of jokes in movies or on television. But does it have to be this way?

Why Do You Need to Overcome Patient Anxiety?

Most people visit their dentist for a few hours every six months or so unless they have serious problems or pain issues. While they are in the dentist chair, you have to motivate them to maintain oral health throughout the year. You cannot do that when they are anxious and fearful. Your patients are less likely to hear what you say about oral hygiene practices and may not even remember them by the end of their visit.

Part of the reason for patient anxiety is, undoubtedly, guilt. Young or old, most people view the dentist’s chair with trepidation because they haven’t been following the best dental hygiene habits. If you can get them interested in their own oral care and motivate them to maintain good habits, that’s half the battle for better health right there.

What Can You Do to Combat Patient Fears?

Technology is a great place to start. In general, people are more receptive towards pictures and videos than words. Instead of showing them pamphlets or written materials, try using short video clips or photos. You can even display a live feed of what’s going on inside their mouth as you work on a procedure. It allows them to see potential problems and motivate them to be proactive about preventing issues in the future.

Suppose you want to highlight specific problem areas to a patient. Instead of just describing the necessary techniques, point them out on their x-ray or dental chart. You can give them illustrated pictures showing where to focus brushing or flossing techniques, so they don’t forget.

The current generation – including young children – is very comfortable with technology. You can use this familiarity to your advantage. There are many health apps dedicated to dental health – highlighting good oral care techniques, showing common problems and reminding patients to take their medication on time. If some of your patients have trouble with similar issues, using an app may help them keep up.

Some products like electric toothbrushes even come with their own app that connects to sensors on the brush head. You can point out problem areas through the app, which in turn reminds them to pay extra attention to those exact spots while brushing. These apps can also help patients set daily/weekly oral care goals and coach them on how to brush or floss better on a regular basis.

Build Their Confidence

As patients learn more about their problems and ways to overcome them, they become more confident. They’re more likely to develop good habits and maintain them over the long-term. Education and awareness go a long way in dispelling fear and anxiety.

Some people dread going to the dentist in much the same manner as a child may fear being sent to the principal’s office. Turn that perception around through encouragement, kindness, and positive reinforcement. Don’t just admonish them on bad brushing habits, motivate them to do better next time. Help them set goals for themselves and offer small rewards when they make progress.

Even if your patients don’t exactly look forward to an appointment, eliminating the fear factor will surely help. Can you imagine a world where people are not afraid of the dentist’s chair? Armed with technology and empathy, it might be possible. And much sooner than you think!