dental anxiety

Dental practices don’t need to be places your patients fear, Amanda Pope says.

Going to the dentist should not be a source of fear and anxiety. However, research from the European Journal of Dentistry suggests that anxiety increases during developmental years before plateauing to an uncomfortable but manageable stressor in adulthood.

According to the research, between the ages of eight and 12 years old, dental anxiety leaps from the lowest it is ever likely to be, to the highest. By age 12, 76% of children reported experiencing moderate or extreme anxiety at the dentist. And, by adulthood, 48% of adults report experiencing some anxiety before a dentist visit.

Whether you are five years old or 95 years old, dental clinics should be a place for healing and wellbeing – not a source of anxiety. So how can dental clinics reduce anxiety for patients under their care?

Here are three areas to consider.

Dentist’s presentation

While some suggest that the dental attire (white coat and mask) is a source of uneasiness for patients, a patient survey found that both children and adults prefer the white coat over more colourful options. For adult patients, more formal attire was preferred, while for children more informal attire was preferred. Additionally, both children and adults expressed strong preference for a dentist that is their same sex.

While they say first impressions are important, dressing to put your patients at ease is a first step to building a level of comfort that facilitates open communication. Patients, both adults and children, should share their anxiety with the dentist, and the dentist should take the time to explain the process and the tools to set expectations in the appointment.

Additional support for young patients and parents

Parents are an important part of making the dentist visit a success, so don’t hesitate to ask for their help. A parent’s attitude and fears about the dentist have been found to influence the attitudes and fears of their children.

It is helpful to ask parents about their own anxiety about the dentist in anticipation of their level of comfortable in the exam room and possible influence on the child. Additionally, provide materials on words to avoid and words to encourage when talking about the dentist – because kids hear everything. This can be supported with children’s games, like the Dental Buddy Study, or children’s books that illustrate good habits and provide explanations about procedures. Parents can be an ally by making at-home oral care exciting and preparing a child an in-office conversation with the dentist.

Waiting room

Sitting in a waiting room can cause initial low levels of anxiety to build into emotional distress. For both adults and children, interaction and entertainment can turn waiting periods into more manageable experiences. Unlike single-user, sedentary activities, like watching television and playing games on a mobile device, collaborative multi-player touch table games, like the Play touch table, can help patients manage stress and provide a real-time human connection in an otherwise uncomfortable situation. The collaborative play provided by touch tables offers children playful learning opportunities and adults an entertaining distraction that directs focus away from anxious feelings by facilitating positive interactions.

Communication and gamification can help patients establish reasonable expectations for a dental visit and manage anxiety by creating positive experiences. A dental clinic should not be feared – it can even be fun!