“I’m afraid of the dentist!” What to do if you get a scared patient, especially in the world of COVID
Pop quiz: How many people are afraid of the dentist?
Answer: A LOT.
That’s a lot of unfilled cavities.
Chances are you’ve had patients in your own chair who weren’t exactly thrilled to be there. But dental care is as important to overall health as medical care, so it’s a great idea to make the dental visit experience as positive as possible for each patient, especially those who are a bit timid.
Here are a few ways to make sure patients feel as comfortable and safe as possible.
Have a candid conversation with your patients, and try to understand why they’re afraid
Are they afraid of pain? Maybe they’ve heard one too many horror stories and immediately imagine the worse as soon as they hear the drilling start. Are they worried the numbing medication won’t work, and that they’ll feel EVERYTHING?
Or maybe they’re afraid of the possible outcomes. “I’m going to have SO MANY cavities,” or “I’m going to have to get a root canal, I just know it!”
Whatever the reason, it’s important to open a dialogue with your patient and ask them directly, “What part of today’s visit are you afraid of?”
It can be helpful for the patient to talk through the fear with you, and will also give you a better understanding of their concerns so you can treat them accordingly.
It also shows your patients that you care about them, which is a win-win-win.
Communicate calmly, clearly, and professionally
The safer a patient feels ‘in your hands,’ the less anxious and fearful they’ll be.
Speak calmly, with clarity, and show that you empathize with their anxiety instead of being dismissive. Keep in mind that feelings of fear and discomfort are very real for them, and it’s important to make it clear that you understand what they’re feeling.
It’s also imperative that your patients know you’re reliable, and you know exactly what you’re doing. This reassures the patient that you’ll know how to perform the procedure in the quickest and most pleasant manner possible. You can achieve this by thoroughly and confidently explaining the diagnosis and procedure. Patients may not always be able to completely understand, but they’ll definitely be more confident when they see how knowledgeable you are.
We’re not saying you have to go out and buy a smart tv to mount to the ceiling, but many folks with dental anxiety say that some of their most common triggers include the sound of the drill, or the distinctive smells of the office.
You can help with the sound of the drill by playing some calming music, and mask the smell with some essential oils. And to take their mind off what’s going on in the moment, ask them about a hobby or recent positive experience, or who their favorite football team is.
You can also encourage them to bring their own distractions in the form of headphones and their favorite podcast, or Taylor Swift album. (1989, obviously.)
Set up a stop signal
For patients who are extremely anxious, provide them with an SOS signal, like raising their hand. That means you’ll stop whatever you’re doing.
Loss of control is one of the main causes of dental anxiety, and this gives the patient back some control. When patients know that they have an “out” or pause button, they’re immediately going to feel a bit more at ease.
Be proactive about agreeing on a signal at the beginning of the appointment, and you’ll both be much smoother sailing.
Ultimately you have a lot of power in making your patients feel welcome, safe, and comfortable. Just remember to be as ‘patient’ (hey-o) as you can, and you might just have a lot more confident dental chair-dwellers on your hands.
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