Cancellations and missed appointments are a constant frustration with anyone running their own dental practice. Making sure patients arrive on time can feel like a gamble with busy schedules, but it’s not necessarily life that’s getting in the way of some patients making their appointments. Quite often, reasons to cancel appointments stem from anxieties with dentists in general.
Engaging with patients can sometimes be a difficult process if they’ve had poor experiences with a previous dentist. Some studies through Statistics Canada suggest up to 40% of Canadians have some level of anxiety towards their dental visits. Deep anxiety was reported as a substantial driver for early and last-minute cancellations alike. If you’re ready and willing, providing a caring experience will reward you with a patient that’s calmer and more at ease, but also indebted to you. The patient that you go the extra mile for will deeply appreciate your hard work. So what can you do to calm the nerves of someone with post-traumatic dental stress?
Offer Up an Ear
If a patient is brand new to your practice, it may be worthwhile to expand on their medical history. Taking time to establish their previous experiences with dentists gives you an idea about how much care or attention they may need. Asking about their previous dental experiences to learn about possible sore spots is a great way to actively listen, but there’s no need to simply dwell on the negatives.
If there were positive memories, beyond the toy reward during a childhood visit, bringing them to the surface can help to identify paths forward and even persuade them that their dental experience can turn into a good memory. Some dentists also find success by adding certain questions to their intake forms so that the information can be kept as part of the patient’s file.
A Calming Welcome
Sensory input is a big cause of anxiety. Smells, colours, and surroundings are the first things that set off our nervousness, and all those things are staples of dental offices. Depending on the size of your office, you might be able to curb that sterile chemical smell with a hypoallergenic air freshener, so when a nervous nelly enters for the first time, they don’t immediately feel as though they’re on the defensive.
While we’re on the topic of your reception area, are your walls a clinical off-eggshell, or have you added a splash of paint or an accent wall to spice things up?
A soft blue or green are both shades that naturally put people at ease. If you prefer neutral colours, then consider filling your walls with unique art centered on nature or historical sites, both of which can calm our brains. Other options include adding a TV that can distract, or cover up a particularly loud drill.
Focus on Distractions
When it comes time to actually take a seat in the dentist’s chair, that same sensory input we talked about before is now in full swing, and there’s not much you can do to limit the sounds, smell, or feel of the room. Presenting distractions for your patient to focus on can relieve a lot of their tensions.
Start by reserving any spaces with natural light, windows, or a more spacious layout to allay any feels of claustrophobia. If you’re lucky with the layout of your office, you may have a secure enough ceiling to position a TV or screen that’s aimed at any reclining individual. The combination of sound, images, and stories is a surefire way to distract from discomfort and pain. If you’re concerned that the sound may distract from conversations between you and your assistant, let your patient know they’re free to wear headphones while they get lost in a podcast, audiobook, or music.
The stresses that compile into a bad dental experience may not always be under your control, but how that anxiety and nervousness is handled in patients of all ages is yours to command. When a patient goes from fearful to optimistic about their impending cleaning or cavity filling, they know exactly who to thank, and they thank that dentist or practice with loyalty that can last for a lifetime.