Tech, Tools, and Tactics to Help Ease Dental Anxiety

Dental fear and anxiety can result in a vicious cycle of poor oral health. Fill your toolbox with innovative technology and tactics to put patients at ease.

By Susan Richards

Every dentist is aware of the detrimental impact that fear and anxiety can have on a patient’s wellbeing. It’s a vicious cycle that leads to delaying preventative care, resulting in dental problems and symptom-based treatment, then back to being anxious about the dentist’s office.

The increase in fear can also affect the practitioner and dental team which elevates the stress level during treatment. What can be done to assuage the anxiety and create a calmer environment for all?

Providing the patient with a sense of control and agency can go a long way toward easing their fears. Discuss their specific triggers and concerns, such as noise, smells, pain, and needles. Explain the procedure ahead of time and agree on a hand signal when a break is needed. Be sure to incorporate positive reinforcement throughout.

Communication is an invaluable tool, but what about other tactics and technology to assist the most anxious patient? There are many great options to explore and add to your arsenal for fearful patients.

Keeping it Simple

There are a number of simple yet effective methods for de-escalating anxiety without employing any physical items or gadgets.

  • Encourage patients to bring a trusted friend or family member to the appointment for moral support before and after the procedure.
  • Introduce guided imagery and visualization techniques before proceeding.
  • Deep breathing exercises such as the box method can reduce anxiety and quickly calm an anxious individual.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation is a mental exercise that is known to help lower blood pressure.

Train your team in any or all of these easy tactics for patients in the chair who are exhibiting signs of stress.

Natural Solutions for Anxiety

Many dentists now offer a menu of spa-like amenities to their patients that are really designed to make treatments and the full dental experience much calmer and more relaxing. They may include:

  • Aromatherapy, when using essential oils like lavender or chamomile, is a proven alternative method for relieving pain and promoting a sense of relaxation. For a more soothing effect, use a room diffuser or incorporate an herbal eye mask.
  • Music is a wonderful distraction that can be filtered into the operatory, or you can encourage patients to bring their own headphones and playlists.
  • Warm or weighted blankets can have a calming effect on patients in the chair.
  • Stress balls or fidget spinners will keep hands and minds occupied. Marketing tip: brand a squishy tooth for patients to keep.

“We get a fair amount of scaredy-cats and we welcome them,” said Dr. Arthur Kwan, DMD, of Nu Smile and one of the 2021 Safe Sedation Dentists of the Year. In addition to sedation protocols, his practice offers a number of spa-like perks that can help bring cortisol levels down and calm the central nervous system. “On full cases, we provide booties so they can take their shoes off and fully relax.”

Technology to Tame the Fear

Just as there continue to be advances in technology elevating the practice of dentistry, we’re also seeing new and exciting tools for the anxious and fearful dental patient, ranging from simple to space-age.

  • By combining aromatherapy and breath work, devices like CalmiGo provide drug-free relief in moments of extreme stress.
  • Tech-savvy practices might incorporate screens into the dental chairs so that patients can distract themselves with a show or movie. This can also be done more portably with tablets or virtual reality goggles.
  • One breakthrough in technology that has shown promise with anxious patients is cranial electrotherapy stimulation – or CES. A small, portable device called an Alpha-Stim administers a low-intensity current to the patient’s earlobes or scalp, activating targeted groups of nerve cells in the brain to induce feelings of calm.
  • This writer (and self-professed scaredy-cat) was recently introduced to a gadget that made all the difference in the dental chair. Advertised for relieving headaches and promoting sleep, the SmartGoggles combine massage, vibration, and heat to reduce stress. Many brands also have Bluetooth, so you can include music in the experience. 

Just as DOCS Education teaches thousands of dentists how to safely combine oral sedation or nitrous oxide with local anesthetics, it can be hugely beneficial to include one or more of these relaxation tools and tactics in your protocols. No matter how nervous a dental patient might be, open communication with the dental team and the implementation of creative strategies for each individual will result in a calmer and safer experience for all.

**DOCS does not endorse any of the products mentioned or linked. Please research to find the best item or deal for your practice.**

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Author: Susan Richards is a staff writer at DOCS Education with over 20 years of experience in local journalism and business marketing. Her career includes award-winning feature writing, as well as creating content with context for a wide variety of industries.

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