Helping your Patients Overcome their Dental Phobia

Dentist and hygienist performing dental procedure on smiling patient. MEDIjobs

Dental phobia also known as dentophobia is a real and serious issue for patients and dental professionals. For patients, it can mean avoiding a visit to the dentist for necessary dental treatment, which can negatively impact their oral and overall health.

For dentists, it can be challenging to treat patients with dental phobias due to reluctance to follow treatment protocols. However, there are many ways you can help your patients overcome their fear of the dentist for a better dental experience and improved oral health. 

Causes of Dental Phobia

It is essential to understand where a dental phobia stems from to address the issue correctly and compassionately. Some causes of dental phobias include:

  • Previous negative experience with a dentist
  • Past painful dental treatment
  • Fear of the unknown, vulnerability or lack of control
  • Severe gagging or choking reflex
  • Embarrassment due to poor oral health 
  • Negative portrayals of dentists on screen
  • Fear of needles
  • Dislike of dental surgery smells and equipment

When you know why your patients experience dental anxiety, you can help them take steps to overcome the phobia.

How to Help Your Patients with Dental Phobia
Find a Simple Way to Assess Anxiety Levels

A pre-treatment questionnaire administered by a patient-care coordinator can be useful for making an initial assessment. But you can make more subtle assessments during an initial consultation by observing patient behavior. 

Offer Consultations Before Treatment

Developing a rapport with patients before a dental procedure can help them to feel more at ease. Offering an initial consultation before the patient undergoes any treatment enables you to address their anxiety in a neutral setting.

Develop a Trusting Relationship

Trust is the key to any strong dentist-patient relationship and can alleviate a lot of anxiety around visiting the dental office. To build a trusting relationship with your patient, communicate effectively.

Speak calmly with your patients, and do not be dismissive of their feelings. The anxiety is very real and invalidating their feelings can damage the trust you are trying to build. 

Verbalize the steps of the dental procedure clearly. This can give them a sense of control over the situation. Ensure they have a non-verbal way to let you know how they are feeling or the level of intensity of their pain or anxiety. By communicating in a non-verbal way, you empower your patients.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Praising the patient throughout the appointment or following a positive appointment can help to diminish their anxiety and boost their confidence.   

Provide Distractions

Many patients feel the most anxious before treatment while in the waiting room. The sound of a dental drill or the smell of disinfectant can trigger an intense emotional response that continues when they are being treated. Offering distractions can minimize sensory overload and reduce their anxiety levels.

Try using essential oil diffusers or continuous air fresheners to mask the smell of the dental surgery. A soothing soundtrack played in the waiting room can disguise the sound of the dental drill. You could also allow patients to listen to music through headphones during treatment to drown out the drill noise.

Newer models of dental handpieces and air compressors come with sound dampeners and vibration reduction to reduce irritation and anxiety in patients.

Consider Your Uniforms

Some studies suggest that children and adolescents with dental fears respond more positively to dentists and hygienists who wear casual clothing rather than dental scrubs. The clothing may act as a visual cue for the patient that helps them to trust the dentist by allowing the children to view the dentist as non-threatening and friendly. 

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should forego barrier clothing and disposables altogether. Try wearing your lab coat or scrub top over your casual clothing only when treatment commences and not during consultations or follow-ups.

Encourage Relaxation Techniques

Meditation, positive thinking exercises, deep breathing exercises, guided imagery and muscle relaxation can help them overcome their phobia. Also, bringing a comfort object or a stress ball can alleviate heighted stress or fear.   

Ask Them to Bring a Chaperone

Bringing a family member or friend to the appointment with them can help to lessen their fear and reduce their anxiety.   

The Wrap Up

In some cases, the best course of action is to offer your patients mild sedation or sleep dentistry. This enables them to undergo treatment in a sleep-like state and avoid further perpetuating negative dental experiences. Depending on the medication used the patient can remain alert and responsive. The patient can also receive dental care efficiently resulting in less time in the dental chair.  

Help your patients overcome their dental phobias by making a few small changes to how you communicate with your patients. Asking for patient feedback is an excellent way to improve your patient care and help you develop new strategies for dealing with patient anxiety. 

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