5 Tips for Working With Patients With Dental (and Orthodontic) Anxiety

Prevalence of Dental Anxiety

Dental anxiety is more common than many of us general dentists realize. While the National Library of Medicine published insights many years ago suggesting that dental anxiety impacts 36% of the population, the chances are that this statistic is much higher today. And with so many experiencing anxiety that keeps them away from the dental chair, this implies that those people are not receiving the dental care they need.

As general dentists, we need to know how to work with patients who experience anxiety—or fear—of the dentist. This might mean being extra patient, taking more time, and answering more questions than normal. Doing so can help improve treatment plan acceptance and ensure that patients receive the care they need to keep their smiles happy and healthy.

Understanding Dental and Orthodontic Anxiety 

As we shared earlier, there is a high percentage of the population with some form of dental anxiety or fear. And that anxiety can work its way into orthodontics as well. Unsurprisingly, dental anxiety can stem from a variety of sources. 

Often, it begins with a past negative experience at the dental office, such as a painful childhood memory or a feeling of not being in control while in the dental chair. Patients might feel anxious due to the sounds and smells associated with dental work, which can evoke unpleasant memories or sensations. Additionally, some people may fear others’ judgment about their oral hygiene or the condition of their teeth.

This anxiety can manifest in several ways. For example, some patients may experience sweating, increased heart rate, or even nausea at the thought of going to the dentist. Others might delay or skip appointments altogether to avoid the anxiety, which only worsens their dental issues. 

In more severe cases, patients can feel overwhelming panic attacks or intense dread as their appointments approach. Recognizing these signs early and addressing them with compassion and understanding is a must to help patients manage their fears and maintain their dental health.

5 Tips for Managing Dental Anxiety in Patients

If you have ever experienced anxiety about something—perhaps it was starting your dental practice, deciding to add orthodontics to your general practice, getting married, or having your first child—you know that it can make you feel poorly and perhaps express behaviors that are not normal for you. The same is true for patients. And the key to helping them is understanding that they don’t want to feel the way they do. In fact, most truly do want to get the best possible dental care.

Here are some tips from the American Orthodontic Society to help you keep your patients as relaxed as possible in the dental chair.

  1. Clearly communicate. Explain each procedure step in simple terms. Allow ample time for patients to ask questions, which will demystify the process.
  2. Create a comfortable environment. Enhance your dental office with elements that promote calmness, such as soothing music, warm lighting, and inviting decor. These touches can make the environment feel less clinical and more comforting.
  3. Offer sedation. Discuss the various sedation options available, such as nitrous oxide or oral sedation. These methods can help patients feel more relaxed and less aware of the procedure.
  4. Use distraction techniques. Implement distractions like TVs, music, or even virtual reality headsets during dental treatments. These help divert the patient’s attention away from the procedure and reduce feelings of anxiety.
  5. Gradually work up to longer appointments. Start with brief, noninvasive visits and gradually increase the complexity of dental care as the patient becomes more comfortable. This approach helps build trust and confidence in the dental setting.

Remember, practicing a bit more patience can go a long way in easing dental anxiety—and orthodontic anxiety, too.

The Benefits of Continuing Education With the American Orthodontic Society

So what does continuing education (CE) for dentists have to do with dental anxiety? While CE for dentists can help you expand your knowledge base to grow your practice, it also allows you to network with other like-minded professionals in the dental field. This means you can talk to other dentists and dental practice owners about their own experiences helping patients who face dental anxiety or dentophobia.

But there are other benefits as well:

  • Improved skills: Learn advanced techniques and the latest methodologies that improve patient care.
  • Increased confidence: Build confidence in handling complex dental issues in anxiety-prone patients.
  • Peer learning: Exchange insights and strategies with peers dealing with similar challenges.
  • Professional development: Stay current with industry standards and innovations to ensure the very best in patient care.
  • Patient loyalty: Build trust through continuous improvement and expertise that attracts and retains patients. When you add orthodontics to your practice, for example, you save your patients from needing referrals and reassure them you can address all their needs.

The American Orthodontic Society offers CE for dentists.

While we didn’t mention it above, perhaps one of the greatest benefits of being a member of the American Orthodontic Society and taking orthodontic courses is the ability to learn how to work with different patient personas. Understanding differences in various patients can help you tailor your approach and increase patient loyalty—including with your anxious patients.

Are you ready to expand your practice, grow your skills, and benefit from networking with other like-minded dental professionals? Become a member of the American Orthodontic Society and sign up for a course today.

To learn more about our popular orthodontics courses for pediatric and general dentists, check out one of the upcoming events below.

1st Session: April 26-28, 2024

AOS Institute
1785 State Highway 26
Grapevine, Texas 76051

July 19-21, 2024

AOS Institute
1785 State Highway 26
Grapevine, Texas 76051

August 23-24, 2024

AOS Institute
1785 State Highway 26
Grapevine, Texas 76051

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