According to research, possible reasons for phobia include the claustrophobia of sitting in the dental chair, the cost of dental expenses, or the fear of bad news that the dentist might give them.
Fortunately, there?s a solution. Psychological treatments, including cognitive behavioral therapy, are available for patients. Dr. Lisa Heaton, a licensed clinical psychologist who treats patients at the University of Washington?s Dental Fears Research Clinic, has conducted extensive research on psychological treatments for dental phobia.
Dr. Heaton found that behavioral and cognitive-behavioral treatments, like exposure therapy, were effective at reducing the fear, even months or years after the intervention, she said. If you struggle with fearful patients, consider contacting a psychologist and seeing whether you can set up a partnership that will let the psychologist come to your clinic and help anxious patients.
However, if bringing psychologists into the clinic is out of the question, focus on building trust with your patients. Fear translates into more pain, but trust can mitigate that fear. Additionally, there are actionable steps you can take with fearful patients.
- To start with, have patients check out their score on the Dental Anxiety Scale and then bring it in so you know where you stand.
- With fearful patients, take time to talk to them about past dental experiences that were scary or frustrating.
- Make your office calming. Play soothing music, and consider putting up posters of calming landscapes.
- Encourage worried patients to use controlled breathing. By taking a big breath, holding it, and slowly letting it out, patients can relax their muscles and slow their heartbeat.
- Allow patients to listen to their own music on headphones, and if they would like to hold some of the dental tools, let them do so?it will help them feel a little more in control.
If all else fails, jumpy patients may want to consider sedation dentistry. If that?s not in your office offerings but you?d like to start, check out some of the reviews of sedation and dental equipment on our website.