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How to handle fearful patients

Fearful patients can be problematic for your practice’s bottom line. Cancelled appointments. Refusal of treatment. No shows.

But scared patients can actually be good for business. Convert the fearful and they’ll become steadfastly loyal and sing your praises.

Here are some tips for handling fearful patients.

Identify and investigate

Train reception staff to notice signs of anxiety. They may be able to notice patients who are agitated and reassure them. Ask front office staff to notify you in advance that a nervous patient is coming into the operatory.

Before beginning your examination, ask a few open-ended questions to prompt the patient to open up about their fears:

  • Do you have any concerns about your dental treatment today?
  • You look a bit nervous, have you had a negative experience at the dentist in the past?


Many patients are unaware of the myriad of technological improvements that have made dental care more painless than ever.

Bear in mind, however, that fear of pain is not the only stressor. For some it’s a smell and for others it’s the sound of the drill. Others yet are bothered by the loss of control.

It’s important to get scared patients to open up. Once you know the problem it’s easy to find the right information to mitigate their concerns.

Try a signaling system

Let nervous patients know that they can take a break whenever they need one. If they raise their hand during treatment, stop immediately.

Be patient with those who need a lot of breaks. Over time they will feel more in control and ask for fewer interruptions.

Employ distractions

Music can be incredibly soothing during a stressful situation. A set of headphones and some relaxing tunes can work wonders.

Another popular distraction is to install a flat screen TV in the operatory and allow patients to put on their favorite Netflix show.

Special considerations for children

Children are notoriously scared of going to the dentist–but in many cases, this fear is projected from their parents.

It’s a good approach to coach parents on how to avoid projecting fear onto their kids. Remind them that dentistry has come a long way since they were little. Suggest they tell kids how lucky they are to experience modern dentistry.

Practice at home helps, too. Ask parents to brush their child’s teeth and rub their fingers along their gums and teeth so that they’re more accustomed to the sensation on the day of their visit.

Build a long-term relationship

Stressing the value of oral health helps. Patients are more likely to overcome their fears if they think it’s important. Without being pushy, don’t be afraid to share the negative impacts of skipping out on regular visits to the dentist.

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