By Lory Laughter, RDH, MS
Every dental professional has experienced the fearful or anxious patient. The individual’s first words to you are, “I hate going to the dentist.” Dental fear or apprehension is a leading reason why appointments are not made, pain is self-treated, and why, even after all of your education efforts, patients do not return to complete care.
Six years ago, I met my first patient with real dental phobia. He didn’t tell me how much he disliked being in my presence. Instead we spent one full appointment talking about exactly what might happen in the dental chair. It took him seven tries to call and book the appointment, even though he knew some of the staff members personally.
He actually drove by the building or into the parking lot a number of times before he could come inside. This was a level of patient discomfort I had never witnessed. Thankfully, I worked in an environment where providing care was more important than production goals.
After rapport was built and the patient agreed to treat his periodontal infection, the biggest contributing factor to his fear emerged. He was worried about pain and severely afraid of needles. It has been reported that almost one-half of American adults experience dental fear of at least a moderate level. In fact, 5% to 10% of adults report avoiding dental care due to fear.1
A quick search of online blogs and chat groups highlight two issues discussed most prominently for why people do not seek treatment for dental problems – discomfort/pain and fear of needles. We practice in an exciting time where both barriers can be addressed successfully and easily.
Even patients who may not be anxious but experience sensitivity during preventive appointments are resistant to injected anesthetic. The objections can range from numbness interfering with work or other activities to simply not wanting local anesthetic when no drilling is taking place.