It is no surprise to most people that dental treatment is ranked as the fifth most commonly feared situation in our day-to-day lives. It affects both patients and the dental health professionals who treat them.
I have written this article drawing from 20 years of clinical experience and a review of the most recent dental literature. There are always two sides to the story.
From the Patient's Point of View:
The majority of people will feel anxiety when anticipating a dental appointments. Unfortunately, this often causes people to avoid their dental appointments and risk endangering their oral health in the long-term. The causes of this fear are typically: the fear of imagined pain; bad past experiences; influence of anxious family members; and blood-injury fears. Remember that avoidance of treatment makes anxiety worse, with fear often escalating as a result, and that there are several ways to overcome these fears:
- Make an appointment for a consultation only, so you can assess the situation and establish a trust relationship with your dental health professional.
- If a child is anxious, it is usually because they feel the projected anxiety of those close to them. If you are a parent, do not talk about the negatives. You will be doing your child a disservice by “preparing them for the worst”.
- Ask about pre-medications, behavioural therapy, and the all-time favourite, nitrous oxide ("happy gas")
- Educate yourself on your treatment, your anxiety and your dental health professional. Understanding reduces anxiety profoundly.
Controlling or limiting your anxiety and working with the people who are there to help you has been shown to produce much better clinical and long term outcomes, and is vital for a working relationship with your dental health professional.
If you are anxious, do not be afraid to ask for help from your dental health professional. Communicate your fears and ask for advice; you are definitely not alone.
From the Health Professional's Point of View:
There are a myriad of ways of helping your anxious patients. Highly anxious patients are best treated by clinically experienced individuals. Treating anxious patients is time consuming, emotionally draining and can be costly, however it can also be very rewarding and it is vital to developing a very loyal patient base.
There are several factors and techniques which should be engaged:
- Staff and dental health professional need to be supportive, communicative, and positive with anxious patients at all times.
- Make sure appointments are long enough for anxious patients and that their waiting time is minimal.
- Give the patient some control with stop and go hand signals.
- Provide distraction techniques such as iPods, television, stress balls and breathing exercises.
- Reduce the Sights, Sounds, Sensations and Smells for anxious patients as these trigger stress.
- Have a range of alternatives for conscious sedation, such as Valium and, nitrous oxide.
Communication and education of your patient is the single most important way of reducing anxiety. What may seem obvious to you, is generally not obvious to the patient.
I have found using techniques such as laser, carisolv and air abrasion to have a minimal impact on anxiety reduction. Focusing on improving your patient management techniques is a much more effective strategy in my experience!
For further information please contact Caroline Downing at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com