By Sally McKenzie, DrBicuspid.com contributing writer

September 6, 2017 -- The thought of going to the dentist sends some patients into a state of panic. This could be because they've had a negative experience in the past or because they've heard horror stories from family and friends. No matter the reason the result is the same: They'd rather be just about anywhere else and often find plenty of excuses to cancel or delay their appointments.

Sally McKenzie
Sally McKenzie, CEO of McKenzie Management.

As stressful as dental appointments are for these patients, they can be pretty difficult for you and your team members as well -- especially if you have not had the proper training. But while these patients can cause plenty of frustration at first, they also can be great practice builders.

If you are able to put these patients at ease so they can receive the treatment they need, there is a good chance they will stay loyal to your practice and maybe even refer you to family and friends.

Here are my tips to help you better manage fearful patients in your practice:

1. Put them in control

The loss of control is often what makes patients nervous while in the dental chair. Want to make them more comfortable? Give them some of that control back.

You can develop a signaling system. Make sure patients know that if they ever feel uncomfortable during the appointment or simply need a break, all they have to do is raise their hand. This tells the dentist or the hygienist to stop working, so he or she can find out what the concern is and then address it.

This might seem pretty simple, but it goes a long way in reducing the anxiety that fearful patients experience. Knowing they have the option to stop the procedure will make patients more likely to accept treatment -- along with helping to keep them calm as you work.

2. Get to know them

“While these patients can cause plenty of frustration at first, they also can be great practice builders.”

Take the time to build connections with anxious patients and to talk with them about what's behind their dental fears. Then, focus your education to address those fears.

Asking patients about their work and their families and talking with them about their oral health goals also are important. Let them know how you can help them meet those goals and show them relevant before and after photos of successful cases you've completed. This will help make them more confident in your skills as a clinician, as well as establish that all-important trust.

3. Discuss the most essential treatment first

Don't overwhelm patients with expensive treatment plans the first time you see them -- especially if they're clearly nervous about being there. This could make them suspicious of your intentions, giving them a great excuse not to come back.

4. Ask the right questions

Remember, these patients are scared, so it will likely be difficult to get them to talk to you at first. Knowing the right questions to ask will help. I suggest you start with the following:

  • Have you had negative dental experiences in the past? If so, will you please share those experiences with me?
  • What are your concerns about treatment?
  • Do you have concerns about drilling, injections, or anesthesia? If so, do you mind talking with me about those concerns?

The answers to these questions will give you valuable insights into what has kept these patients from going to the dentist. Spend time addressing their concerns and their perceived barriers to care. They'll start to relax and will be more open to accepting treatment you recommend.

5. Don't scold them

Chances are that your most anxious patients haven't been to the dentist in a long time. Don't lecture them or make them feel bad for not taking better care of their oral health. Instead, educate them and let them know how you can help them now. They'll be much more likely to get the treatment they need if you take this approach.

6. Spot the nervous patients

It's a good idea to train your team members to recognize common signs of anxiety, such as an elevated breathing rates and perspiration. Patients who have muscle tension or who constantly grip their hands are likely anxious about the appointment. The same also goes for patients who are unusually loud or quiet.

When team members notice any of these signs, they should give the patients displaying them extra attention and do whatever they can to put them at ease, which could mean simply talking with them as they wait to be called back or helping them fill out paperwork.

While treating fearful patients can be stressful, it also can be pretty rewarding. When you take the time to make these patients as comfortable as possible, they'll be more likely to accept the treatment they need -- which also helps grow your production numbers and your bottom line.

Sally McKenzie is the CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service, nationwide dental practice management company. Contact her directly at 877-777-6151 or at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.


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