9 Ways to Reassure Patients Who Worry About Dental Pain

9 Ways to Reassure Patients Who Worry About Dental Pain

Dentistry has evolved considerably over the past few decades, but some treatments still cause discomfort for patients. Root canals, extractions, and gum grafting can all be unpleasant for patients. And for some individuals, the fear of dental pain alone is enough to cause them to delay appointments. But, there are steps you can take, as their dentist, to put these patients at ease and keep them on a regular schedule of dental care.

9 Ways to Reassure Patients Who Worry About Dental Pain

1. Greet Them Warmly When They Arrive

You probably already have a handle on which of your existing patients are anxious about being in the chair. When a nervous patient arrives for an appointment, be sure to have a member of your team greet them by name in the waiting room and personally walk them to the room. Try to minimize their time in the waiting room, as that’s a time when an anxious mind wanders.

If there’s going to be a delay, make sure a member of your staff greets them, informs them of the holdup, and asks if there’s anything they need as they wait. By doing this, you’re demonstrating that your team is attentive to their needs. This also gives the patient a primary point of contact as they wait.

2. Listen to Their Concerns

Some anxious patients will own up to their fears as soon as they set foot into your practice. In fact, it’s not uncommon for nervous patients to describe themselves as cowards. It’s important to validate their fears and explain that there’s nothing wrong with being nervous. It’s also essential that you listen to their concerns and allow them to be heard. Try to develop a rapport with them and assure them that you’re there to help.

3. Explain Everything Happening

Once your patient is settled in the chair and you’re ready to get started, be sure to take a moment to give them an overview of the treatment they’re in for. Walk them through the basics of what you’ll be doing using non-medical terms.

And while you’re working, be sure to let them know what to expect. Perhaps you’re about to start using a tool that will produce strong vibrations or you will be applying an oral medication that tastes poorly. Anything you can do to keep your patient informed about what’s happening and reduce the unknown will help calm their nerves.  

4. Give Your Patient a Way to Communicate

Let’s face it: it’s hard for patients to communicate with you when your instruments are in their mouths. Before you get started, let them know how they can communicate, even if it’s a simple raise of the hand to signal that they need a break or feel uncomfortable. Although they may never need to signal you in this way, simply knowing that they have a way to speak up can be a comfort.

5. Be Gentle As You Work

It’s always good to be gentle with patients, and that’s especially true with anxious individuals. This means trying to avoid bumping teeth with your mirror and, when probing is not necessary, inspecting an area of the mouth visually instead. Remember that a casual brush of the teeth with an instrument can feel like an earthquake to a nervous patient.

6. Keep the Conversation Going

Even when you don’t have anything to explain to the patient, try to keep a steady stream of conversation or small talk going. Admittedly, it will be hard for the patient to respond with much more than an occasional small nod, but the conversation will help keep their mind off of what is happening. Some practices also offer music of the patient’s choice, or video screens.
The dental hygienist assisting you can also help with keeping the patient engaged. In fact, some dentists find that having the hygienist take on this role frees them to concentrate on some of the more complicated aspects of treatment. Over time, you’ll develop a sense of which people on your team are best able to talk with and soothe nervous patients.

7. Use Reassuring Body Language

In addition to your specific words and actions, there are several small ways you can use body language to comfort a patient. First, try to make eye contact as much you can while still keeping things comfortable. This assures the patient that you are focused on their well-being.

Pay attention to the tone you’re using when speaking and don’t rush through your sentences. A nervous patient may not be fully focused on what you’re saying and may need time to process what you’re saying. Overall, it’s important to convey to the patient that you’re both calm and confident, and that you’re someone they can trust.

8. Be Honest

Be honest with your patients about the treatment, the likely outcome, and any discomfort they may feel. This can be done in a way that gives them the information they need without frightening them. Demonstrating that you are both caring as well as honest will help them develop trust in you.

Cultivating their trust is one of the most important things you can do to establish a long-term relationship between your practice and the patient.

9. Share Pain Management Strategies

Depending on the treatment you are performing, it may make sense to offer sedation or anesthesia to your patient to either control their pain or help them relax. Your patient may be relieved to find that this is an option, but you’ll want to take the time to carefully explain how these medications work and the relief they can offer.

We all know that when patients routinely put off dental care, there are consequences. But there are simple steps you and your practice can take to address patients’ concerns about dental pain and build a long-term relationship with them.

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