Even dentists with consistently stellar records cannot calm patients who dread every visit to the dentist’s chair. Anxiety associated with dental care may have nothing to do with your particular practice. Instead, it may be linked to a childhood experience, the feeling of losing control, or worst-case-scenario thinking. Anxiety is a common response to dental appointments, affecting up to 75% of patients. As many as 24% of patients have a full-blown phobia of the dentists, according to Harvard Health.
Whatever the reason for the anxiety, you have many options at your disposal. Calm spaces work well for other patients, including children and those who are not anxious but are receiving less-than-ideal news about their teeth. Here are a few ways to make the entire space of your practice a calming environment for anxious patients.
1. Make Details, Including Light, Sound, and Smell, Positive for the Anxious Patient
You probably already work to make your dental practice beautiful, functional and welcoming. However, adding calming elements can be a powerful choice. Everything from comfortable furniture to soothing colors in the art and walls can help someone think of their experience at this dental practice as different from past, potentially negative experiences. One way to check this is to ask a friend or family member who hasn’t visited your practice to bring a notebook and walk through the experience of coming in for an appointment. Ask them to write down everything they notice, all the way to the appointment and back out of the office. These details can help you identify a few details to spruce up to their best calming level.
Three details to pay special attention to are light, sound, and smell. Sound is easier these days than ever; try a few different playlists on a music streaming app, especially if you can find one that doesn’t have commercials, and play this music at a comfortable volume. You can’t please everyone with music choices, but “easy listening” tends to be an especially good choice for a calming sensation. Light can influence how people feel as well; opt for softer or yellow/gold lighting colors over the brightest, most fluorescent white lights.
A cooler shade of light changes how the office feels, removing some of the connections that patients may have formed to stereotypical “medical lighting”. Studies have shown that lighting with an excellent ambiance can have an effect of soothing or pleasant calm. In the dental appointment itself, offering sunglasses to protect against the lights you use to shine in the patient’s mouth can also help. Finally, consider the dominant smells in the space; is there a way to use a simple essential oil, like peppermint or lavender, to make the space smell less like the typical dental office? Consider your options, and make sure any smells aren’t too strong since many people have reactions to such intense odors.
2. Develop Gentle, Kind Rapport, From Intake Through the Appointment
Training your staff to assume that anyone who comes in might be showing signs of anxiety can help them to treat everyone with gentle, kind attention. Your staff may feel stressed themselves, and it is easy to accidentally be curt with a patient when in the moment of stress. Find ways to alleviate the stress of your staff so that they can bring their most attentive selves to the patients since a welcoming, kind face can be very helpful in the moment of experiencing anxiety.
3. Give Options and Control to the Patient Whenever Possible
Speaking with patients can be a helpful start to an appointment for a patient experiencing anxiety. Letting them know what will happen, what choices they have, and narrating as you go can really quell some of the fear that something unexpected or negative will happen. If the person makes it clear they don’t want to talk about it, you can certainly curtail this line of discussion, but many patients will be grateful to feel a bit more control than usual and to have ways to communicate with you along the way.
4. Create Pleasant Distractions When Needed
Both dental hygienists and dentists develop strategies for keeping up casual, pleasant chatter while with patients. This is especially true since they have one-sided conversations. Keeping this kind of chatter light and easy can be a helpful way to distract them.
Sometimes, if a patient is having trouble calming down, you can give them a moment with a magazine or photographs. Any distractions can be helpful for anxiety. Thus, while it is important to read the patient, once you know that they are safe, you may be best served by simply initiating a conversation about something new.
For patients with persistent, distraction-resistant anxiety, consider referring them to resources on mindfulness meditation; there are promising studies coming out of psychology research that show meditation-based stress reduction as a technique they can take with them into a variety of anxiety-producing situations.
5. Listen Openly and Take Feedback Seriously
While all of the above have helped anxious patients in the past, part of the nature of anxiety is that it manifests in various ways. What might seem calming for one person may seem to set someone else’s teeth on edge. This is why part of the most effective solution has to do with how you process information from your patients. It can be frustrating to feel like you have accommodated an anxious patient and, yet, they still have some critical feedback. However, remember that this feedback is so valuable! It can give you insight into how to make small changes that could help another patient in the future. Even if a particular patient is complaining about small things, it is valuable to know to make small changes.
The results of these efforts are incredibly important: studies have shown as many as 40% of patients with dental anxiety become caught in a vicious cycle, where fear keeps them from visiting the dentist and thus exacerbates any dental concerns they have. Creating an environment of calm is really about being deeply patient-centric. You already have the excellent skills of dentistry and patient care. Thus, helping calm anxious patients is just an additional commitment to this kind of assistance. Are you ready to learn more about leveling up your dental practice? Contact us today!