Managing Patient Anxiety: A guide for dental nurses

By Charlotte Foreman, marketing executive, Kent Express Dental Supplies.

1 in 4 patients are anxious about going to the dental practice. In a survey by the British Dental Health Foundation, 36% of those who didn’t see a dentist regularly said that fear was the main reason.

Choosing not to go to the dentist can potentially lead to more issues for the patient in the long term. If tooth decay or toothaches are left this can lead to invasive treatment and further problems or even tooth loss. Many patients wait until they need emergency help.

Karen Coates, a dental adviser at the British Dental Health Foundation said: ‘People who are scared of the dentist often call us for help because they’re at the end of their tether. Their teeth don’t look nice any more or they’re in a lot of pain with toothache, and they want to make the first step to seeing a dentist and getting their teeth sorted out.’

It is important to make them feel less anxious but to make the aware of the potential problems they may face. Patients can feel anxious for many reasons such as a bad experience, a fear of needles or fear of not having control. You need to work with your patients and help them to manage their anxiety.

Talk to your patients

It’s important to talk to your patients and find out if they feel anxious about coming to the dentist. You can use this time to find out what specifically makes them anxious so that you can discuss what you can do to reduce their anxiety. Some dentists offer patients the change to have music playing during their appointment.

Explaining things

When talking about what needs to be done try to keep it simple. Patients only remember between 5% – 20% of what you say so make sure to give them the key information.

Put the patient in control

When it comes to dental procedures ensure you have a plan for the patient. Come up with a simple way they can communicate with you. This helps the patient to feel in control. You could get the patient to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to let you know how they are feeling. You can also get them to raise their hand if they need the dentist to stop at any time.

Answer questions

Make sure you ask the patient if they have any questions. When answering, be clear, keep it simple and easy for the patient to understand.

New technology

Some dentists have adopted a new approach using VR headsets. ‘In the new study, researchers found that most of the 79 people aged 18 and up who participated in a coastal VR walkthrough during extractions and fillings at a dentist’s office in Devon quite enjoyed the distraction.’

Getting your patients to feel calm is all about how you interact with them and how you manage their anxiety. Communication is key, patients want to know what’s going on and that they are in control. For patients that avoid coming to the dentist until there is an issue, make sure to explain that they could reduce the need for work if they attended regular checkups.

It’s all about educating and working with your patients. So, next time you have an anxious patient work with them to make their experience a good one. Remember that you are the dace of the practice and patients will be influenced by how you present yourself and communicate.

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