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In-Office Solutions for Dental Anxiety
Many people may be embarrassed to admit to having dental anxiety, but it is experienced by a significant number of patients. Feelings experienced at the dental office can range from mild discomfort to a sense of dread and may be associated with an appointment in general or a specific dental procedure. Fortunately, patients can overcome their anxiety with the help of thoughtful dentists who employ effective strategies.
Factors that may be related to dental anxiety
Dental anxiety comes in various forms and may be influenced by a variety of factors.
Horror stories about dental procedures
Many patients may have heard stories from friends, family or acquaintances. Some procedures such as root canals also have a reputation for being painful and/or troublesome even though that reputation is often based on false information.
Some patients may not have visited the dentist in a long time and may feel embarrassed about what the dentist may think about the condition of teeth. They may also have bad memories of insensitive remarks made by a hygienist or dentist about their teeth.
Patients who have experienced abuse often have dental anxiety. Being in the chair can invoke feelings of helplessness and being at the mercy of someone in authority. Kids who have been bullied may also have anxiety about going to the dentist, especially those who have experienced pain at a dental appointment with a dentist perceived to be uncaring.
Solutions for dental anxiety
A dentist can do little to ensure that people walking from the outside world into the office have no anxiety. However, there are ways to help patients cope.
Communicate warmly and effectively
The dentist who tries to have a conversation with a patient who cannot respond with more than a gurgle may be a cliche, but communicating with patients before, during and after a procedure is one of the most effective ways a dentist or hygienist can help patients with anxiety. These are examples of effective communication:
- Walking patients through what is being done to the mouth and why (for anyone who wants to know details)
- Building rapport with soothing language
- Reframing potentially nerve-racking procedures such as injections
- Avoiding side conversations with colleagues while working with the patient
Give the patient opportunities for control
It may be as simple as agreeing on a "stop" signal, such as a hand wave or sign to hold up. Allowing the patient to have some control over the process can help relieve the feeling of being powerless.
Listen to the patient's story
Dental anxiety can be caused by myriad factors. Only by listening to the patient can a dentist hope to gain clues as to what causes the anxiety and then come up with effective strategies to help manage the fear.
Dental anxiety is a common struggle for many patients. It can be overcome by thoughtful dentists and hygienists who listen to and communicate effectively with patients and give opportunities for them to feel a sense of control during a visit.
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