It’s OK, I’m not Going to Bite… Calming Nervous Patients
A visit to the dentist comes pretty much at the top of the list whenever people are polled on the things that make them nervous or afraid. Memories of childhood visits, or painful treatment bring on the nerves and cause many to either avoid seeing a dentist altogether until an emergency crops up, or to dread the visit so much that they arrive at the surgery in a state of panic.
As healthcare professionals, dentists can do a lot to help put people at ease. Here are some ideas to help dentists achieve a calm atmosphere and better results with their patients’ oral care.
If a patient has had bad experiences at a previous dentist, it’s essential to build their trust back up slowly. Start by booking them in for a simple cleaning appointment before progressing to a checkup. Only once the person feels confident and able to handle those routine tasks should you move on to discussing actual treatment with them. Then, it’s best to talk things through, as factually and unemotionally as possible, giving as much or little detail as the patient prefers. It might help some people to be shown the equipment in advance, while others will opt to remain in ignorant bliss.
It’s easy for dentists to push ahead too quickly with treatment, or to explain things in a complex, technical way, without paying heed to the need for their, usually lay, patient to understand what’s about to happen to them in simpler terms. A major way to help a patient combat nerves is to demystify the whole process for them, and to give them control of decisions regarding how their case is to progress. During treatment, this control must still be maintained – stop frequently to check that they are happy and arrange a hand signal for them to use if they want you to stop what you are doing or need to take a break.
People generally place huge amounts of trust in their medical practitioners, and dentists are no exception. They expect him or her to maintain a professional demeanor and to always place their patients’ interests first. Of course there is room for dentists to crack a few jokes to relax their patients as they arrive, but when it comes to the technical information and explanation, this should be kept at an appropriately professional level. Banter between the dental team, too, should be kept to a minimum during an appointment.
Offering a quiet, relaxing operatory for your patients to visit will help set a calm atmosphere that will get things off on the right setting. Soothing images on the wall and ceiling, plus quiet music will work, as will incorporating pastel colors in the decor. Speaking in soft voices and avoiding loud noises outside as much as possible will help too. Likewise, the reception team should be encouraged to maintain a calm demeanor and to help people feel comfortable as they arrive.
Patients with a more extreme form of nervousness sometimes may not be calmed by regular methods, which is when more specialized techniques may help. There are relaxation exercises that people can learn and practice before coming to their appointment. Chemical intervention, such as nitrous oxide, sedation or anti-anxiety medication can be discussed. However, patients should always consult their doctor before embarking on this kind of treatment with their dentist.