Dental Patient Anxiety – How To Relieve Patient Anxiety

Dental Patient Anxiety – How To Relieve Patient Anxiety

It is estimated that as many as 75% of US adults experience some degree of dental fear, from mild to severe. Approximately 5 to 10 percent of U.S. adults are considered to experience dental phobia; that is, they are so fearful of receiving dental treatment that they avoid dental care at all costs. Many dentally fearful people will only seek dental care when they have a dental emergency, such as a toothache or dental abscess. People who are very fearful of dental care often experience a “cycle of avoidance,” in which they avoid dental care due to fear until they experience a dental emergency requiring invasive treatment, which can reinforce their fear of dentistry.
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Women tend to report more dental fear than men, and younger people tend to report being more dentally fearful than older individuals. People tend to report being more fearful of more invasive procedures, such as oral surgery, than they are of less invasive treatment, such as professional dental cleanings, or prophylaxis.

It has been found that there are two main causes of dental fear in patients; Direct Experiences and Indirect Experiences.

Direct experience is the most common way people develop dental fears. We’ve found that a majority of people report that their dental fear began after a traumatic, difficult, or painful dental experience. These reasons of course are not the only explanations of dental anxiety. Another contributing factor is simply the perceived manner of the dentists as “impersonal”, “uncaring”, “Uninterested” or “cold” whereas dentists who are perceived as warm and caring actually counterbalance the fear caused by painful procedures.

Indirect experience can include vicarious learning, mass media, stimulus generalization, helplessness and perceived lack of control. Through vicarious learning one may develop an anxiety simply by hearing of other peoples painful and traumatic experiences at their dentist’s office. Mass media has negative portrayal of dentistry in television shows and children’s cartoons.

Stimulus generalization is another indirect experience causing a patient to develop a fear as a result of a previous traumatic experience in a non-dental context. A major contributor of stimulus generalization is a patient’s traumatic experience at hospitals or general practice doctors that wear white coats and have antiseptic smells throughout their practices. A way that a lot of dental practitioners have been combating this perception is by wearing clothing that isn’t so “lab coatish”.

Helplessness and perceived lack of control occurs when a person believes that they have no means of influencing a negative event. Research has shown that a perception of lack of control leads to fear whereas a perception of having control lessens fear greatly. For example, a dentist that tells a patient to raise their hand during a procedure to signal pain so that the dentist or hygienist can stop during the procedure will generate a much less fearful and anxious patient thus creating a more pleasant general experience influencing the patient to continue to come back for additional treatment.

A few great techniques that modern day dentists are implementing to reduce fear and anxiety are comfortable “massage” chairs, utilizing the “tell, show, do” technique, music via headphones, allowing their patients to bring in their own i-pods and even televisions in each operatory allowing the patient to choose what they would like to watch during their procedure. Each one of these techniques offers the patient a perception of welcoming and warmness causing the patient to feel more “at home” and relaxed during a potentially stressful procedure.

One of our most productive clients actually offers an in-house masseuse that will relax the patient by offering a short massage prior to any dental treatment. While this technique hasn’t been adopted by very many dental practices it has proven, for this particular doctor, to be a very effective way of reducing patient stress and anxiety. The offer of an in-house masseuse also gives something for the patient to talk about once they leave the dentist’s office. By having a pleasantly memorable experience with a personal masseuse at their dental practitioners office gives a means for positive referrals to friends and family.

The “tell, show, do” technique is widely adopted by most practitioners where the dentist, hygienist, and/or assistant will first explain the procedure to a patient, show a video or demonstrate with models how the procedure will be performed, and then continue on to actually perform the procedure. The act of informing your patients exactly what is involved with a procedure gives the patient the background knowledge to be able to feel comfortable with what is about to happen during their visit. This technique is especially important in the field of dentistry since all of the procedures are within the mouth and are not easily visible to the patient.

Over the past couple of years we have seen an influx in dental practitioners installing large LCD TV’s in each of their operatories providing the patient with a way to view their favorite television show or movie while enduring a procedure. The use of LCD TV’s within a dental practice extends far beyond simply offering patient entertainment and relaxation. An LCD TV that is linked to the operatory’s computer workstation provides the dentist, hygienist, and/or assistant a large canvas on which to display a patients digital x-rays, intra oral tooth images, and treatment plans.

The ability to clearly display problem areas and treatment plans on a large display allows the dental staff to more easily perform the “tell, show, do” technique by offering patient education videos that explain in detail with images and models how the patients procedure will be performed and how it will benefit them in the future once the procedure is complete. Patient education videos combined with actual images of a patients problem areas via digital x-ray and intra oral images provides the dental staff with a solid foundation to promote patient acceptance thus increasing production within a practice.

Currently one of the leading ways of offering patient entertainment and education is with the use of a simple piece of software called Smile Cinema. Smile Cinema gives the dental staff a quick and easy way to start a patient education video and/or a movie or tv show with a single click of the mouse. Being able to do away with the current use of patient education DVD’s and entertainment DVD’s means less time spent by the dental staff finding DVD’s, loading them in the DVD player or computer and waiting for the movie to load. While these things do not seem to consume very much time per patient when adding the time up over the course of a day it is easy to see that up to an hour per day or more could be saved by utilizing Smile Cinema.

Let’s just say that it takes as little as 3 minutes for a staff member to find the appropriate education or entertainment DVD, place it in the DVD player, and wait for the specific video to load. With an average dental practice performing approximately 12 patient exams and treating approximately 10 patients per day the time spent on DVD media estimates to about just over 1 hour. If a dental practice can save even just a single hour of time per day that equates to nearly 2 additional patients per day being treated within a practice. Now just think about how much money can be produced if you were able to see an additional 2 patients per day (approx. 10 per week and 40 per month) and it’s very easy to see the benefits of having a product like Smile Cinema utilized within your practice.

Source – Jake Scheiterlein