Trojan Today: “Making Anxious Patients Comfortable” – By Laura Hatch

Making Anxious Patients Comfortable

Customer service is important in all industries. In dentistry, there is an added issue with our customers, i.e. the issue of fear.

Because of the added concern or fear that many people have, we must offer an even higher level of customer service.

There are real steps you can take to reduce dental fear. First, recognize it is a true phobia and many patients have it. Many times, you get numb to your surroundings; and your daily patient activities in the office lead to not slowing down and helping your patients work through their reservations.

Recognize fear is real, and identify what patients are afraid of specifically. Not all patients are afraid of the dentist for the same reason. The reasons can vary and may be any one of the following:

• Fear of pain

• Fear of injections

• Feeling of helplessness/loss of control/claustrophobia

• Embarrassment and loss of personal space

• Fear of anesthetic side effects

By speaking directly with the patient and narrowing down the specifics of the fear, you and your team can better address concerns to help a patient deal with the situation. Ask the patient to explain what they don’t like about coming to the dentist, what their past experiences have been, or what triggers their anxiety. Once you determine what they don’t like, you can talk about how your office will help with that issue or how your office might do it differently than they experienced in the past.

Once you know the basis of the patient’s fear, you and your team can step up and act. Show your patient breathing techniques and/or how to count backwards. Many times, other dentists and teams have not shown their patients ways to mitigate the fear. Relaxation techniques will go a long way in helping patients cope, by knowing you are by their side during this nervewracking procedure.

As a team, try to be there for patients in the ways they need. Maybe it’s by exhibiting humor throughout the procedure to keep them in a good mood or holding a hand so they know someone is watching over them. Take the time to get to know your patient’s individual needs to demonstrate a better dental experience.

Always communicate frequently and clearly with the patient. Often, a dental appointment fear stems from fear of the unknown. Keep the patient informed, describe what will happen along the way, and answer any questions, so they will be able to prepare themselves for each step. Tell them what they may feel at a certain point, how long a certain step will take, and how they can let you know if they need a break or feel anything out of the ordinary. Once they get through each step successfully, they will begin to trust that they can get through the entire procedure.

The three things everyone on the team should remember when assisting any patient and especially anxious patients are:

1. Respect the patient

2. Put yourself in the patient’s place

3. Treat the patient like a family member

Anytime you question if something should or could be done for a patient to make the experience better, remind yourself of these three most important aspects of a patient’s visit. Take the time to treat the patient’s fear and anxiety, not just the tooth.

I haven’t always had this reaction to the dentist chair. I used to happily jump in the chair to get my cleaning twice a year. But, after a panic attack during a root canal had me gasping for air, I have dreaded the dental chair with sweaty palms and hot flashes. It has been two decades since that first incident. Adopting a few relaxation techniques has helped me get through most routine cleanings, but the anxiety is still there.

This response has nothing to do with the staff or the doctor at the office. I’ve been to three different dentists since that root canal. No one is mean. No one has ever discounted my discomfort. No big monster has ever sprung out from behind the door to sit heavily on my chest to keep me from breathing. There have been, however, some staff who have helped me feel more comfortable. And from them, and my own experience, I can give you some advice about panicky patients.