Some studies suspect that Dental anxiety is much more common than you may initially. There have been studies that have shown that it is as common as 36% of the population, with some studies showing even higher.
Of course, there are more extreme cases of actual fear regarding the dental office, however, we are focusing more on the more common aspects of dental anxiety.
What is the best way to treat a patient with dental anxiety as a dental assistant, dental hygienist, or dentist?
Here are some ways to make it a little bit easier.
What Causes Dental Anxiety?
The reason that someone has dental anxiety will be individual to themselves, but there are a couple of common reasons why it may be happening.
One of the most common reasons is that they experience pain during a standard dental cleaning. It's understandable to be a little hesitant going into something you know there's going to be physical pain attached to. Now we as dental professionals know that this pain is due to improper oral hygiene that is causing a more in-depth cleaning to be needed. As harsh as this is to say, most patients do not really care that that is the case, and they just understand that there is significant pain coming from this cleaning. They then believe that it is the hygienist’s or dentist’s fault for causing this pain.
With the patient experiencing too much pain this dental anxiety may turn into a general fear of the dentist and then they may just avoid going to the dentist overall. Then as we know, this will be detrimental to their overall health.
One of the next common reasons is the fear of the unknown and not understanding what is being done that is creating this pain or uncomfortableness. Patients may be very hesitant to go into any form of a dental procedure because they don't understand what is happening. This can be brought down to even the simplest of cleanings. All they feel is the pain of the procedure or the uncomfortableness of the cleaning, but they don't understand why it is happening.
Some patients will tell you that they don't want to know. They just want to come in, get their teeth cleaned, and leave. For other patients, giving them some additional information may put their minds at ease in understanding what is happening. For these patients consider giving them a heads up before you move on to the next part of their dental appointment, and let them know what they might be feeling.
They may have anxiety that their teeth may not be in good shape. While some patients may take this as a reason to go to the dentist to make sure they are or so that they can be fixed accordingly. There are other patients that are relatively confrontation averse and do not want to know that there is a problem with it.
It's more than likely that the dental hygienist at their last appointment told them the best ways to improve their oral health. Unfortunately, it is pretty common that the patient listens and then doesn't implement any changes. They may have possible anxiety about a confrontation from a hygienist about why they have not made these changes, even if this confrontation may never occur.
Of course, there may be many other reasons why some patients may be having dental anxiety, but these are some of the most common reasons.
If a patient truly trusts the health professional then they will have significantly less anxiety going into every single appointment. How do we gain the trust of a patient?
One of the best ways to gain the trust of a patient is through your professionalism balanced with your friendliness.
This is where it is important to remember that you are a trained dental professional. Just like we wanted to tackle the dental anxiety in our previous section, it may be a good idea to explain to them some of these procedures and what is happening if they seem interested in it, or the least you can do is offer the explanation if they would like to hear it. People typically feel more comfortable if they understand what is happening to them.
If a patient views you as knowledgeable through your training and expertise, and through explaining these procedures to them they'll be more likely to trust you moving forward and your clinical opinion as well as your ability.
The next step in professionalism is making sure that you are dressing professionally and you have your operatory and a professional state. If a patient walks into your operatory and it visibly looks like a mess, then they will be a little more hesitant to trust you initially and feel comfortable with your treatment.
As far as your professional apparel, this is why most dental offices require some basic form of uniform. Even if this is their own version of scrubs that they can have covered in patterns and colored however you would like.
Be Sure To Include Positives
This is something you are initially told when learning your chair-side manner because let's face it, nobody likes to feel like they're being scolded.
If you're reviewing their previous charts and you see that their oral hygiene is looking significantly better during this visit, make sure you let them know about this Improvement. even if this is a simple as letting them know that they are healing well after oral surgery, or that they have been brushing better.
Overall, this will help to build the confidence of patients and have them feel more comfortable coming into the dental office.
Knowing that they are seeing some improvements and understanding things they need to fix are important in order to keep up their motivation towards positive oral hygiene