DATE: Apr 06, 2016 
AUTHOR: Amber Metro-Sanchez

Every hygienist knows that anxiety can be a major problem for patients. 5 percent to 8 percent of Americans avoid seeking professional care due to some degree of dental phobia according to Peter Milgrom, DDS, author of Treating Fearful Dental Patients and a known researcher of dental anxiety. As an RDH, you may see anxiety manifest in new patients who haven't had dental care in years or even in existing patients who've had negative experiences in the past.

It is vital that you can help ease your patients' dental anxieties, otherwise you can't do your job well. It helps keep your patients returning for dental care confidently and on schedule. Here are a few easy tips to help patients feel as comfortable as possible during their next appointment.

Chat It Up

To help make their visits pleasant, chat with your patients about any issues that may cause their anxiety to flare up. This is particularly important with new patients, so make this topic a part of your initial patient exam. One past negative experience with a "rough" clinician, for example, can stick with a patient for a lifetime. If your patients tell you that they have dental anxieties or fears, be sure to note them in their records for future reference.

Minimize Pain

For many patients, fear of pain is a major stressor. So when they know you're doing the best you can to make them comfortable, it can help them relax. During treatment, encourage your patients to tell you if they're in pain so you can stop and apply a pain relief product to make them more comfortable. If they have sensitive dentin, for example, try polishing to help minimize pain. Reassure your patients from the start that you want their appointments to be as comfortable as possible, and use whichever tools are at your disposal to ease their anxiety.

Explain What's Happening and Why

Some patients with dental anxiety are hesitant because they're afraid of the unknown, according to RDH Magazine. People dread the potential that they'll hear bad news about their teeth, such as that the sensitivity in a tooth is caused by a cavity. Some even have concerns over rare conditions they think they might have. Eiither way, your patients' concerns are best addressed in a clear and caring manner. Take the time to explain all necessary treatment in easy-to-understand language, and encourage them to keep up good dental habits as a method to help prevent cavities. And don't forget to invite patients to ask questions or to call later if they have any concerns.

Work on Trust

Dental anxieties and fears can often be caused by a strange and vulnerable setting – the smell of latex gloves alone can make some patients nervous. If you can gain the trust of your patients, however, this association dissipates over time. It's crucial that you give your patient the opportunity to connect with you and the rest of the team to form positive associations. Don't be afraid to ask them about themselves. How's school going? Any plans for the weekend? Forging this bond has little to do with dentistry itself and is all about relating to each other as people. By showing concern and empathy for each patient, you help them trust you naturally, both in and out of the chair.

Keep Them Distracted

When your patients are focused on their dental anxiety, it's a tense situation for both of you. Using a distraction can help make the dental experience a positive one, according to Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. Most pediatric dentist offices have TVs so younger patients can take their minds off what's going on in the chair, and this method can be applied to nervous adult patients, too. Encourage them to bring MP3 players with them to their appointment. Music that they enjoy offers a familiarity that may help them relax. Also don't shy away from giving patients rest breaks to help keep stress to a minimum.

Dental anxiety can prevent people from receiving regular oral care and make it harder for you to treat them. But when you're fully prepared to help them let go of their jitters, they'll come to welcome the dental care that once caused undue stress.


  • Get to know your patients as people, both in and out of the chair, to build trust.
  • Encourage patients to bring music to their appointments to help relax them.
  • Help your office ensure more regular appointments by managing a patient's dental anxiety.

Why It's Valuable

A patient with dental anxiety can create anxiety for the hygienist, too. When you're able to diffuse the situation with the tips above, everyone benefits.


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