How to Handle Patient Anxiety
Updated: Oct 22
“Mr. Jones is coming in today”, your secretary tells you during the daily huddle. Your brain automatically goes into hyperdrive and you can feel the rest of your body tense up. One of your assistants looks as you, already knowing what you are thinking. “Mr. Jones has such terrible dental anxiety, it stresses me out to just assist the doctor!”, she says to the rest of the staff. As your team looks at you, you are already thinking about a plan to handle the situation.
When it comes to dealing with patients that have dental anxiety, the most important thing you can do is acknowledge that it exists. We have all seen children come into a dental office and have a full blown meltdown. This, too, happens to adults but in a physically different manner. When you acknowledge that dental anxiety exists, you are better equipped in knowing how to better treat your patient. Below are some steps that will help you better be prepared to treat a patient with dental anxiety:
During the daily huddle, it gives you and the rest of your team the opportunity to know that a patient that experiences dental anxiety is coming in. It gives you and your team a head start on how to plan how things will go during this patients’ visit.
If you know that appointments with patients that experience dental anxiety take a little longer, then it would be beneficial to allot more time for treatment. Even though adding more time to an appointment can potentially close up other appointments for any other patients, it will ensure that the doctor and/or hygienist can treat the patient without feeling rushed. The patient will also feel more comfortable if the doctor and/or hygienist is taking his or her time with them. Therefore, having that patient relax more.
When the patient comes in, the doctor and/or hygienist should walk the patient through the procedure that is being done today. By doing this, you are informing that patient of everything that is happening and what to expect and not expect. Also, allow the patient to ask questions just so that they can help calm themselves as well. By having open communication, it creates an environment that the patient will feel comfortable in without any surprises.
If something unforeseen does happen, let your patient know immediately, if you are able to stop the procedure to let him or her know. Again, communicating to your patient what is happening can ensure that the patient will continue to feel calm.
In some instances, some patients have to take medication before their appointment to make sure they remain calm. If that is the case with your patient, find out what they are taking so you are well-equipped with knowing how that medication can affect them during their visit to the office. Also, throughout the appointment, make sure that the patient’s pain management is controlled. By doing so, this will continue to have the appointment run smoothly.
The most important and easiest thing the whole team can do is to act with kindness. When a patient comes in, regardless of how severe his or her dental anxiety is, act with kindness. Small acts, such as a smile or words of encouragement, can go a long way and will impact the patients’ experience.
Although dental anxiety varies throughout patients, it is important to know how to work with patients that experience it at a higher level than others. Having that knowledge can prepare the whole team to have a smooth appointment with this patient, or any patient. By following the above steps, you can ensure a calmer environment for your patient and therefore, a calmer patient throughout the appointment.
Sylvie Haber, Consultant
Sylvie first entered the dental field through her mother, who is a dentist. She grew up attending conferences and many dental meetings. Watching her mother’s passion and love of dentistry, Sylvie grew to love the profession as well.
After, she earned her MBA in Healthcare Administration from Loma Linda University. She completed the ADA ‘s Executive Program in Dental Management and also became a Fellow of the American Association of Dental Office Management.
Sylvie enjoys seeing dental offices thrive, become more productive and run smoothly under her guidance through management and coaching.
Sylvie can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org