How 8 dentists are easing patient nerves

Music, jokes and blankets are among some of the things dentists are using to make patients feel more comfortable during appointments.

Eight dentists recently spoke with Becker's about how they are easing patient nerves.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Elizabeth Abrams, DDS. Manhasset (N.Y.) Dental Arts: I try to joke a little bit to relax them, explain all treatment options in detail to make them comfortable with the choice and [have a] gentle approach during treatment itself. So far, it works out every time as a charm.

David Blanchard, DDS. Riverside Family Dental (Menomonee Falls, Wis.): I strongly believe that making a patient feel at ease is absolutely crucial for having high-quality interactions in the dental chair. For me, it helps to make a few general statements to patients before we start treatment. I simply remind them of two things. First, that I am only here today to provide great treatment for them, and, second, that they are in control of this appointment, not me. I reassure them they can take a break any time they wish, and if there is any discomfort at all, to please raise their left hand and let me know so I can make them more comfortable.  If they are fearful, we discuss sedation or nitrous before doing anything operative.  

Spencer Bloom, DDS (Chicago): I believe "laughter is the best medicine" and I tell short, clean jokes to get people to laugh and be distracted. Many new patients literally say thank you when they're done laughing. My regular patients expect to hear new jokes and ask for them if I fail to provide them.

Then, I ask what music mood they are in that day, and I use Alexa and Amazon Music to give them what they want. I want to give what interests them as a distraction from listening to the sounds of dental work in their mouth. It is often interesting to me what musical interests they have. I'm often pleasantly surprised and I often learn of great music that is outside my own circle of interest. The only music I veto is rap and heavy metal. I cannot work to that. Patients have to live within those limits, but 98 out of 100 readily state that is not what they want to hear anyway.

Allen Dorsey, DDS. Dorsey Dental Services (Houston): By being honest with the patient. If certain parts of the procedure will cause pain, I always inform them before proceeding. I explain everything I am doing to the patient in layman’s terms to make them feel at ease. Sometimes I would joke with the patients and try to take their minds off the current physical event at hand. 

Raul Escalante, DDS (San Marcos, Calif.): Making patients feel at ease and comfortable during dental appointments is a challenge every dentist faces. There are a number of people who will tell you right at the beginning of the appointment something along the lines of "Nothing personal, but I hate being here." It's when you hear these words that you kind of steady yourself and think "Okay, how are we going to get through this?" Over the years, I have tried different methods of dealing with anxious patients. I have tried explaining to them whatever procedure I am about to do or asking them what it is that makes them nervous or anxious. I have tried talking in a calmer voice and slowing things down, among other tactics. However, I've found that as I get older, my patience is not what it used to be. When a patient tells me they are nervous or anxious, I don't treat them any differently than everybody else. I simply explain what it is I'm going to do and oftentimes I talk patients through the procedure. I have a television mounted on the ceiling and the dental chair has headphones. I find that people like being entertained by whatever they are watching and many times my talking seems to bother them. If they don't want to watch anything, they can listen to music and, in my opinion, this has been the best way to make patients comfortable and more at ease. People want to be entertained, even at the dentist.

Usha Hecht, DDS. Hecht Family Dentistry (Carmel, Ind.): Communication is the key to making patients feel more at ease and comfortable during appointments. One skill that is always in need of improvement is listening. When a patient presents with anxiety it is important to ask the why's and when's in a calming manner and then listen. Usually, they will open up and that will help you understand to better serve them. Trust is also important and may take a few visits to earn. It's such a wonderful thing when a patient who has dreaded coming in leaves with a happy smile and looks forward to coming back. 

Eric Mintalar, DDS. Twin Lake Dentistry (Brooklyn Center, Minn.): Patients are normally anxious when they see their dentist, especially when they’re new patients and haven’t met the dentist and the team. [What helps is] talking to patients with a calm voice, breaking the nervousness with conversation and a smile before reclining them back in the chair, when appropriate, touching the patient's shoulder or arm asking if they're comfortable and addressing their questions. We also offer patients a blanket for warmth and noise-canceling headphones before we begin the procedure. 

Jake Uram, DDS. Dentistry in Middletown (Del.): I offer a "comfort menu" that includes noise-canceling headphones, heated blankets and warm scented towels. I also have a rule that if they raise their hand for any reason, all tools and instruments are immediately removed from their mouth. I think that gives patients back a sense of control over the situation, which helps to comfort them. I also use a custom topical gel and warmed anesthetic. The combo greatly reduces the discomfort of being injected.

Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.