Nervous patients versus a COVID pandemic

treating nervous dental patientWith the COVID-19 pandemic creating barriers to dentistry, Rohini Bansal explores how to encourage nervous patients back to the practice.

As the current COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold we must remain vigilant, more than ever, in striving to provide the highest quality of dental care and treatment for our patients.

In particular, I want to focus on those patients who have a genuine anxiety about visiting a dental surgery.

Have patients become more reluctant to visit during the ongoing pandemic?

We need to consider where their anxiety levels stem from. It might relate to a bad experience, memorable childhood fear or even just the passing smell of clove oil in the waiting room.

Research suggests around 36% of patients around the world have moderate dental anxiety. Approximately 12% of patients have cancelled their dental appointment due to the feeling of nervousness.

I have recently brought this subject up with my patients to informally discuss and understand what eases them prior and during their dental treatment.

Methods proving effective pre COVID, such as bringing a relative/friend for moral support or reading in the waiting room, are difficult to implement presently and for the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, meditation and the practise of breathing techniques prior dental appointments do help some patients. Others find serenity in playing music and occupying themselves with ceiling game designs.

Irrespective of the reasons to feel anxiety, we play a significant role in helping to create a relaxed dental setting.

With the ambiguity surrounding the possibility in whether COVID can transmit easily in the surgery, it is obvious to comprehend why some patients anxiety can rapidly increase.

Legally and ethically we have now started to conduct dental treatments again, following revised guidelines. It is crucial we communicate this message across to our patients. So that they can manage their dental experience well.

We must reinforce to our patients that all the necessary protocols are taking place to ensure safety for us both.

Proven clinical techniques

I have found adopting a new way of conversing, such as simplifying into Lehman’s terms and using various imagery, has a calming effect on some patients. Showing them visual aids or short videos on the treatment is useful.

Allowing time to discuss this with your patients also helps.

Set aside some time to build a rapport with them and for patients to demonstrate a better understanding.

Certain colours in the surgery room have proved warmer and comfortable for the patient ie using pastel hues.

Having bold decoration, loud background noises and the dysfunctional setting of dental equipment is alarming for a patient. Give them your full attention and be aware of your body language.

Active listening, a calming bedside manner and good eye contact are positive clinical skills to practise and employ with nervous patients.

I would also recommend advising your patients to consider mindfulness meditation, yoga or taking up an active hobby.

Going forward

Always keep your patient updated. Engage with them practically by continually sharing dental news, modifications in the workplace and show compassionate care.

Offering an empathetic approach gains the patients trust. Whatever their fear/phobia (big or small) we can manage it with professional support to uplift their dental experience.

Despite barriers coming our way and sporadic changes in the way we should work, we should support anxious patients at every opportunity possible.

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