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How to Make Dentist Visits Better

Waiting room of a dental office with chairs, door and plant

The dentist’s office has become cliche for places people dread the most. In fact, a 2017 survey reported that 61% of people worldwide have “dental fear.” And Berxi’s 2022 Dental Confessions Report showed that even dentists don’t like going to the dentist. There must be a way to do better.

Below are the top reasons people report for being uncomfortable at a dental appointment. Fortunately, dentists, as well as patients across the internet had suggestions about how to improve the experience.

Why Do People Hate Going to the Dentist?

According to the Berxi survey, these are the five things that stress patients out the most about dental visits:

  • Having a cavity drilled: 46%
  • Having teeth scraped: 41%
  • Receiving bad news: 39%
  • Fear of COVID-19: 35%
  • Fear of judgment from the dentist: 33%

To round out the list, many people also said they get anxious about whether they’ll be able to take time off work, as well as sitting in the waiting room where they think nervously about what might happen during their appointment.

Patients aren’t the only ones who get nervous in the dentist’s office. The dentists do too. Here’s what they revealed about what stresses them out about going to the dentist:

  • The waiting room: 47%
  • The appointment scheduling process: 45%
  • Receiving bad news: 44%
  • Fear of COVID-19: 43%
  • Ability to take time off work: 41%
  • Hygienists: 36%
  • Other dentists: 34%

How to Create a Better Dentist Visit Experience

So, with all these stress points outlined, dentists have a clear road map for where they can make improvements. There are many things dentists can do to make their patients more comfortable. We posed the question to dentists, orthodontists, dental business consultants, and to the social media universe of dental patients. Here are the best ideas we came back with:

Improving the Waiting Room/Booking Experience

Sitting around and waiting can heighten anxiety. Giving your entrance and waiting area more of a modern lounge feel can transform the first impression into a calm, comforting, relaxing space. Gareth Edwards, BDS, MFDS, aesthetic dentist and co-owner of Smile Stores, offered these suggestions for improvement:

  • Add ambiance. Focus on soft lighting, modern chairs (that are also comfortable), and calming contemporary music - without ads.
  • Maximize decor: Add interesting art to the walls to capture your patients attention, pulling their focus away from the procedure that awaits them.
  • Separate the front desk. No one wants to feel like they are being watched or listened to by patients or staff. And, patients going in to their appointment often don’t want to hear or see the patients coming out. Try to position the chairs away from the receptionist area, facing a window or TV.
  • Create a fun space for kids. Books, video games, and a TV can be great distractions for little ones in the waiting room. Consider setting up a selfie booth. Kids get a cute picture, and you get great branding for social media if parents tag your office in their post.
  • Move booking online. Not everyone has time to call your office during business hours. Online scheduling makes booking stress - free. In fact, it can even increase new patient visits. Since Kyle Lowe, DDS, co-owner of Grove City Center for Dentistry launched online booking several years ago, he’s increased his new patients by about 50%. The key, he said, was promoting the system via email, social media and digital ads.
  • Expand hours. Getting time off work for a dental appointment isn’t always easy. Think outside the 9 - 5 box for your patients. Many said they would appreciate the option for early morning, after - work, or weekend appointments. Consider making these appointment slots available at least a few times a month.

Managing Pain and Discomfort

While patients might anticipate some pain from their appointment, dentists can take steps to reduce (or even eliminate) much of the discomfort.

  • Upgrade equipment. Many new dental tools are designed to reduce a patient’s discomfort. Be sure you have the most up - to - date equipment in your office. Attending conferences and webinars can alert you to the latest changes in the field.
  • Offer entertainment as a distraction. Many patients reported distractions help with managing any pain. For example, Kristin White, a patient from South Carolina, recommended putting TVs in the ceiling (and giving your patients sunglasses) so patients can watch a show while you’re working. Or, Jaime Scott from West Virginia suggested giving patients headphones and music to drown out the sound of your equipment if you’re drilling.
  • Get patient input. Don’t assume you know the best way to help your patient through their pain. Talk with them about their pain management preferences. Giving them a voice can ease their anxiety and make your work easier, suggested Thomas J. McCarthy, DDS, independent practice owner and dental advisor to SportingSmiles, in an email interview.
  • Be honest. Be upfront and honest with patients about any potential discomfort. It’s the key to helping patients handle any pain they might feel, said Dan German, DDS, founder, and chief orthodontist at orthobrain®.

Delivering News

Your patients always know there’s a possibility of bad news, but you can make it easier to hear. Dr. Lowe impresses that the most important thing is properly training and to keep honing your technique when it comes to these difficult discussions. Here are some strategies:

  • Educate your staff. Train your staff to discuss treatment options in lay language and perhaps use models or diagrams. Remember your patients likely don’t have a dental degree. It’s also nice to know their problem isn’t unusual, said @nwspicer, so offer some context around how common their dental needs are.
  • Show empathy. If you have bad news, let your patient know you understand it might be upsetting to hear. Be sure you make eye contact. Reassure them you can help them through the process -- and explain how you’ll make things as comfortable as possible. Melissa Bradley from North Carolina also reported hearing how others navigated treatment helps to calm fears and frustrations.
  • Be direct. While showing compassion, clearly explain what’s going on to your patient. Patients, including Heather Mabrouk from New York, said they appreciate -- and have more confidence in -- a dentist who provides clarity rather than talking around a problem.

Creating a Safe Environment

COVID-19 has made safety protocols even more important in your practice.

  • Digitize. Creating a digital check - in process and using non - contact thermometers to screen patients goes a long way to limiting viral exposures -- it will also help reassure that you are restricting the germs from accessing the office.
  • Share your COVID protocols. Bought air purifiers for every room? Every team member vaccinated? Have specialized germ - prevention equipment? Share that information, said @Tuffysprite. Send emails. Post pictures on social media. Spread the word on your COVID safety -- so you can share your pride on how you are keeping your team and patients safe.
  • Place sanitizer strategically. Adding hand sanitizer to your reception area and showing your patients that you sanitize your hands before you put on your gloves can also help settle nerves.
  • Consider telehealth: Some patient problems are minor, but they should be addressed to prevent future problems. For these small things that might not require an in - person visit, Lowe said, let your patients know you offer virtual visits. It’s a great way to make sure they stay current with their dental health.

Training Your Team to Build Trust

Creating an environment of trust is critical both for your patients and your staff. There’s no silver bullet to magically attaining that level of confidence, but there are several things you can do to earn it.

  • Hire like-minded staff: In addition to being sure your staff is highly skilled, hire staff who have a strong chemistry with the rest of the office. Your positive energy will fill your space and create an enjoyable place for your patients and your team.
  • Be reliable: Make sure your staff provides patients with good estimates of how long it will take you to complete a task. Over - estimate the time and finish faster, Dr. German suggested.
  • Reduce patient vulnerability: Be sure the team is requesting permission before they touch a patient, or lay them back. Personal touches like telling patients what you’re going to do before you do it -- and sitting them up to talk with you, shows respect and helps them trust you. You never want to look down on your patients, said Charlie Cage, DDS, MS, a general dentist with the U.S. Navy. Always talk with them face - to - face, like you are part of a team. It helps patients feel more in control and less scared.

Final Thoughts

Even though a dentist appointment can fill a patient with anxiety and fear, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can turn your office into a warm, welcoming environment where your patients feel relaxed about the high quality care they will receive. By following the tips above, you can improve the likelihood your patients will look forward to their visit to your office.


Image courtesy of istock.com/Pincio


Last updated on May 12, 2022.

Originally published on May 12, 2022.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berxi™ or Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company. This article (subject to change without notice) is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute professional advice.

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