Although routine dental visits are a key aspect of oral overall health, around half of Americans experience some dental anxiety around their visits. For 5-10% of us, that fear translates into avoiding the dentist altogether. Though modern dental procedures are safe, effective, and generally painless, patients might experience a range of feelings that lead to dental anxiety — embarrassment about their oral health, lack of understanding about dental procedures, and a general sense of unease in the dental office setting.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to combat dental anxiety for your patients. By embracing an approach that seeks to minimize stress, increase relaxation, and help patients feel nurtured and at home — you can go a long way towards creating a more positive experience for your patients.
When individuals come in for dental work — even if it’s just a preventative visit — they’re coming in with a range of previous experiences and misconceptions about dental work. In the worst case scenario, they’ve had a painful or unpleasant dental experience themselves. In other cases, they’ve heard alarming stories from friends and family. Without adequate education and preparation, patients may unfortunately expect the worst from even simple dental procedures.
In all of these cases, your greatest weapon against fear and misinformation is education. Go through the steps of each procedure until the patient is comfortable with the sequence of events. Encourage them to ask questions throughout the process so that they feel empowered and in control. Throughout every step of the process, reassure them that they will receive adequate pain management, if applicable. When they leave the office, they should feel like they have a greater understanding of dental procedures — and how those procedures can help them thrive.
Because our sense of smell reports directly to our limbic system, the brain’s emotional center, many people have strong emotional reactions to smells. Even before we consciously recognize a smell, we can experience strong negative or positive reactions — without even knowing why.
In a dental setting, this can unfortunately contribute to anxiety. According to a large study from DentaVox, 24% of participants said that their fear of the dentist is due to the “chemical smell” often present in dental facilities. Although this chemical smell is usually just a positive indication that your facility is properly sterilized, these heavy scents can alarm anxious patients.
Luckily, this is one issue that’s easy to mitigate in your dental office. In pleasant weather, open windows slightly in the waiting room to allow fresh outdoor scents. Actively introduce pleasant smells into the office. For example, using an essential oil diffuser can incorporate soothing scents like lavender and orange into the waiting room can create a calm effect that appeals directly to your patients’ emotions.
An article in Dentistry Today highlights the surprising importance of a phenomenon called “biophilia,” which is the idea that humans actively seek connection to nature in their everyday lives. Research has found that by exposing patients to sights and sounds of nature, patients reported significantly less dental anxiety. In addition, they found that waiting times were perceived as shorter.
You can harness this in your practice by using nature scenes and imagery in your office. For example, if you have a television in your waiting room, queue it up to highlight calming nature scenes instead of movies or the local news. For your decor in your office, consider soothing images like nature prints. Water features, though they often require a bit more in terms of installation, can work wonders in a waiting room.
Many anxious dental patients express discomfort at the idea of being “stuck” in a dental chair, under the glare of harsh fluorescent lights. Not only do ordinary fluorescent lights have a very clinical look, they can often make patients feel like they’re under a spotlight. Add to that the fact that fluorescent lights are linked to headaches, irritability, and fatigue — and it’s no wonder that dental office lighting causes discomfort for patients.
Luckily, simple innovations can help combat this fear. For example, decorative fluorescent light diffusers can significantly cut down on glare and brightness. Using special durable plastic panels, these diffusers easily replace your pre-existing light panels. By cutting down on glare and reducing that “spotlight” feeling, light diffusers geared towards dental offices can make a huge difference for anxious patients.
Even better, companies like Sky-Scapes create light diffusers in a variety of cheerful, decorative patterns to put clients at east. From puffy clouds in blue skies, to beach scenes, to floral patterns, to under-the-sea views, these calming diffusers can help soothe, entertain, and create a welcoming atmosphere for patients.
Severe dental issues and dental anxiety go hand in hand. In fact, one study of people who had irreversible pulpitis demonstrated that 83.1% had dental anxiety and 16.2% had dental phobia (severe fear). Those suffering from advanced dental decay and gum disease may fear being shamed at a dental visit. They may feel embarrassed and afraid to face judgment from dentists and dental hygienists.
This is why it’s so important to treat patients with kindness and compassion throughout every stage of the process. From the initial phone call, to the waiting room experience, to the evaluation from the dentist — every encounter should reassure the patient that they have no reason for shame. With a little bit of compassion, anxious dental patients can be made to feel safe and comforted throughout their visit.
Dental anxiety is a genuine and common feeling experienced by many people, regardless of their past experiences in the dental office. As an office, you can help ease and alleviate these anxieties by taking a holistic approach. Treating patients with kindness and compassion throughout the experience, as well as providing a pleasant and comfortable sensory experience, can make all the difference.
If you’d like to learn more about Sky-Scapes’ innovate fluorescent light diffusers, and how they’ve successfully mediated dental anxiety, please contact us today.
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