A Step-by-Step Guide to Dealing With Anxious Patients

August 13, 2020 Karen Axelton

lighthouse 360

We’re all feeling a bit more anxious than normal in these unusual times. However, patients who already suffer from dental anxiety may be hit especially hard as COVID-19 related fears multiply their existing worries about visiting the dentist.

By some estimates, up to 60% of all patients are afraid of visiting the dentist at the best of times. Now, even normally calm patients may feel anxious about the possibility of catching COVID-19 in your office. In a June Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 52% of respondents said they or someone in their family has delayed getting medical or dental care because of coronavirus; 27% said that’s because they felt unsafe visiting a medical facility at this time.

How can you help skittish patients get the dental care they need? Follow these steps to shepherd them through the procedure. 

Before the appointment

Know what you’re dealing with. Do a phone consultation before the appointment to discuss how to ease the patient’s fears. Try to find out what the patient doesn’t like about dental visits. (You can use this short dental fear survey, which many dentists like—it’s literally only one question.) Listen and be understanding; don’t try to minimize their fears.

Armed with this information, you can take steps to stop the problem. For example, if someone has issues with the sound of a drill, you could provide noise-canceling headphones to drown out the sound.

Schedule anxious patients as early as possible in the morning; this gives them less time to worry and possibly become no-shows. When scheduling appointments, your staff should explain the safety protocols you are following to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Assuring nervous patients you’re following CDC, ADA and other medical professionals’ guidance for dentists’ offices will help ease their fears.

Since lack of control is a major factor in dental anxiety, staff should walk nervous patients through any new procedures so they know what to expect ahead of time. Lighthouse 360 gives you all the tools you need to create a “virtual waiting room” experience, which can help put nervous patients at ease. For example, new patients can pre-register ahead of their appointment using Patient FastTrack on their own phones, eliminating the need to touch pens, clipboards or tablets at the dentist’s office. You can also promote these on your website so patients can review them at their leisure.

Once appointments are made, use Lighthouse 360’s automated appointment reminder and auto-confirmation features to streamlining scheduling and prevent cancelations and no-shows. With Lighthouse 360, you can text, call or email patients—whichever they prefer. You can even use two-way texting from your desktop computer without the need for a mobile device. With so many ways to communicate, it’s easy to calm patients’ fears.

During the appointment

As you work on a nervous patient, be sure to explain what you’re doing step by step, in a fashion that’s easy for patients to understand. Don’t overwhelm patients with information. If you’ve added new equipment to help maintain safety, tell the patient what it does in terms they can understand (for example, “This machine provides extra air filtration”).

During treatment, proceed slowly and gently. Stop frequently to let patients know what you’ll be doing next and make sure they’re ready to move on. Create a signal the patient can use to stop the procedure, such as raising their hand, when they need a break.

Be prepared. Having your office organized, supplies readily at hand, and your team functioning efficiently will make patients feel confident you’re on top of the situation. COVID-19 has added new steps to even the simplest procedures, so it’s important to make sure your team works smoothly under these conditions.

Use distractions. Help patients take their minds off procedures by using televisions at treatment chairs, letting them listen to their own music on their smartphones, or providing noise-canceling headphones.

For severe anxiety, consider sedation or anti-anxiety medication. Tooth-desensitizing rinses can help patients who are afraid of needles.

After the appointment

Follow up with the patient the day after the appointment to see how they’re doing. They’ll appreciate knowing that you care. You can automate this process using Lighthouse 360’s patient messaging tools.

Ask the patient for feedback. If the feedback is negative, learn from it to do better in the future.

If it’s positive, ask if they’d like to review your practice. Lighthouse 360 makes this easy to do—you can use email or text to automatically request a Google review. See if the patient can mention what you did to ease their anxiety; this can help attract other patients with dental fears.

Promote what you’re doing to ease patient anxiety. Consider using your email newsletter and website to share a testimonial from a nervous patient or a success story of someone who successfully overcame their dental fears thanks to your efforts.

Convincing patients who fear the dentist to come in for treatment is challenging but rewarding. By taking some time to understand what patients are afraid of, taking their concerns seriously, and providing help in overcoming them, you can create loyal patients for life. 

This article is paid for by Lighthouse 360, Inc. You should not rely upon the material or information provided by Lighthouse as a basis of making any decisions without the proper legal or other professional advice specific to your situation as needed. Certain components of the products or services described above are provided by third parties. Lighthouse 360, Inc and its affiliates are not responsible for, and expressly disclaim, all liability for damages of any kind arising out of the use of those third-party products or services.


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