The fear of dentists is almost as universal as the fear of snakes and spiders. In my career as a dentist, I’ve seen clients – children and adults alike – look at me with such dreadful apprehension sitting in the chair that it left me deeply worried about my role as their doctor.
As doctors, we provide alleviation to countless types of pains, conditions, and ailments afflicting our patients. But is it enough to treat the particular illness of a patient and ignore every other consideration involving the patient-doctor interaction, from diagnosis to treatment? A patient’s satisfaction is more than just an outcome of relief following treatment. It is equally important that measures are taken to maximize patient comfort, physically and mentally, both during and before treatment is administered to the patient.
This, I firmly believe, is an essential step to resolve a phenomenon that dentists call the “vicious cycle of dental fear.” Basically, the cycle materializes when some unpleasant experience or fear of the whole idea of having your mouth examined leads people to avoid having regular dental check-ups, ultimately resulting in the development of problems that have advanced to a stage where interventions become necessary.
The challenge facing dentists when addressing patient fears is that despite advancements in medical science and the application of invaluable discoveries, there is no anesthesia for eliminating fear at the sight of a dentist carrying pointy instruments to be used on the patient.
For a dentist, managing patient anxieties is particularly complicated by the force of several factors operating at once – the visual of a masked dentist who is about to perform a procedure on you, the feeling of being powerless and having to trust an expert you may have no prior interaction with, the general dislike of having your mouth poked and prodded with metallic tools.
Thankfully, while there is no quick drug that can be given to a patient to suppress their fears, there is evidence from research that certain psychological strategies can be effective for managing the fear of a dentist. But the role of doctors in promoting these strategies and guiding patients towards their effective use is crucial to tackling dental anxiety.
I’ll only focus on those research-backed strategies that have helped many of my patients feel more comfortable about the idea of visiting Anderson Lake Dental for frequent check-ups and manage their dental-centric fears
The simplest way of dealing with dental anxiety is to focus on ANYTHING other than the fact that you’re about to be examined or operated on by your dentist. Although this advice is as old as medical science itself, modern civilization affords much more powerful methods of a distraction than those available in pre-industrial times.
From the design and architecture of a dental office to the use of relaxing cues, such as music or videos, a doctor can aid their patients in distraction. No longer is distraction limited only to the imagination of the patient. Using the environment to elicit a soothing and calming response in patients was the core idea behind the newly remodeled Anderson Lake Dental office’s design, layout, and wall paint. I’ve found that children particularly enjoy being in my new office precisely because it looks nothing like the archetypal dental clinic that they’ve grown to fear.
Any situation where an individual lacks control causes fear and anxiety. In a typical dental setting, the patient is powerless while undergoing treatment in the presence of scary figures wearing surgical gowns, carrying strange tools and instruments.
This power dynamic can be tilted a bit in the patient’s favor. There are a few techniques that dentists use to enable patients to feel in control during a procedure. For instance, “stop-signaling” involves a prior understanding between the dental team and the patient that an agreed-on gesture such as raising a hand will serve as a signal that the patient wants to stop the procedure right away.
Another technique is “Tell-show-do,” which involves the doctor explaining with gestures and demonstrations all that a procedure will involve, from tools to actions. The aim is to provide a clear picture of the procedure and, as a result, eliminate the anxiety stemming from the uncertainty and lack of clarity of the procedure.
The above-mentioned strategies are only two of the many techniques that dentists have found useful in their patients. Regardless of the specific details of the technique in question, there is one common theme to all of these strategies: sincere regard, compassion, and understanding of the patient’s fears and anxieties.
Being mindful of the very real phenomenon of dental anxiety is essential for any serious practitioner and is crucial for establishing that relationship of trust that leads to maximum satisfaction and optimum outcomes for dental patients.
Anderson Lake Dental is committed to ensuring the continued adoption of patient-centered principles and practices for better health, higher satisfaction, and decreased fear of dentists. Honestly, we don’t bite!