Reducing Patient Anxiety: Simple techniques for keeping patients calm

Many patients go to the dentist only when their dental problem causes pain so severe that they can’t stand it anymore. Why?

Anxiety.

In a recent survey by the American Dental Association, 41 percent of respondents said they were not planning to visit a dentist because they experience anxiety over dental visits.

Many anxious patients request IV sedation or general anesthesia when undergoing dental procedures. While they alleviate anxiety during dental procedures, sedation and general anesthesia do little to calm anxious feelings associated with dentistry in general.

Patients are anxious about a variety of things, especially injections, pain during treatment, and post-operative discomfort, so take time to identify which of your patients are at risk.  

  • Survey your patients to explore their feelings about the dental visit, asking questions like those found in Corah Anxiety Scale. Tailor the questionnaire to your dental practice and attach the form to your patient medical history form.
  • Look for verbal, behavioral, and somatic signs of anxiety. Verbal signs include statements like, “I usually need extra novocaine” and “I don’t like dentistry.” Behavioral signs can include jumping in the chair as the back is lowered, gripping armrests, and sitting with legs and arms crossed. Watch for somatic signs of anxiety, such as increased heart rate, sweating, irregular breathing, and dilated pupils.

Simple Techniques for Keeping Dental Patients Calm

It is important to keep nervous patients calm at every step along the way, from the initial phone call to the follow-up appointment. A welcoming staff, clean and comfortable office, a calm demeanor by caregivers, and exceptional customer service go a long way in keeping all your patients calm and worry-free.


Create a relaxing office environment

  1. Install a fish tank. A July 2015 research report shows that viewing an aquarium reduces heart rate and improves mood.
  2. Consider installing a small waterfall. One study from China’s Peking University shows that “pink noise,” like that from waterfalls, can decrease the complexity of EEG signals in the brain. This means that the soothing sound of waterfalls can calm the anxious mind.
  3. Paint and appoint your office in soothing colors, such as muted blue or green. A quiet color palette helps patients relax better than vibrant reds and yellows. If uniforms are in use at the practice, choose calming colors that match the office.
  4. Place comfortable chairs in the waiting room. Choose germ-free, stain-resistant fabrics to keep your office furniture looking clean and welcoming.
  5. Reduce wait times. According to study published in the March 2015 issue of Vitals, patients waited an average of 13 minutes and 30 seconds for dental care. While it may seem like a fast pace for office workers, 13.5 minutes can seem like an eternity for the anxious patient.
  6. Offer headsets that play relaxing music. One study referenced by BrainFacts.org suggests that music can prevent pain signals from moving from the spinal cord to the brain, thereby reducing the perception of pain. The most pleasing the study participants found the music, the less pain they felt.  
  7. Set up video so that your patients can watch relaxing scenes while receiving care.


Improve Your Chairside Manner

Dental professionals can modify their behavior to help alleviate anxiety in patients. Start by asking open-ended questions, like “Are you having any difficulties?” to help your patient establish his priorities and concerns about the visit. Ask progressively specific questions to learn about the source of his anxieties and about any solutions that has worked in the past. The dentist or other healthcare professional shifts from gathering information to giving information, bolstering the patient’s trust that the caregiver can provide dental care without triggering anxiety.

Communicate with the patient and let her know what to expect at each step along the way. Use verbal and non-verbal communication to convey a sense of concern about the patient’s fears.

Build strong, trusting relationships with patients that continue even after they walk out of your office. Use software systems that integrate your existing telephone systems with powerful databases that help keep track of information and let you communicate with patients through text messages and other features. This free flow of information and communication between you and your patients will instill confidence and trust in even the most anxious patients.

 

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