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Ease dental patient anxiety with these body language tips

Oct. 20, 2014
This article will explore how your body language helps to shape a patient’s dental experience.

By Patrick G. Latcham, DDS

It’s not uncommon to come across patients who don’t want to be sitting in your dental chair. Many patients have some level of anxiety when it comes to visiting the dentist, even if the procedure is as simple as a cleaning. In order to provide the best care for your patients, it’s important to understand their body language, as Dr. Rose M. Vrabel explains in this article. But, did you know that your body language as a dental hygienist matters too? This article will explore how your body language helps to shape a patient’s dental experience.

Intro to Body Language

Body language is comprised of all of the nonverbal signals we use to interact every day. This can include gestures, facial expressions, posture, and proxemics (personal space). Research suggests that body language accounts for 50% to 70% of all communication, which can be critical in shaping a patient’s experience at the dentist.

As a hygienist, you will naturally make patients uncomfortable by invading their personal space. This is at no-fault of your own; it’s just part of the job! Since this break from the proxemics norm may cause some discomfort, you should take extra measures to try to make your patients at ease.

Tips for Hygienists

There are several nonverbal forms of communications that you can practice to help induce feelings of trust, professionalism, and comfort for your patients. Take a look at a few of our top suggestions:

  • Exude confidence with your posture and gestures — When you appear to be confident in your role, it can help to put patients’ nerves at ease. Practice standing tall and straight, no slumping! Good posture not only conveys professionalism, but it’s also better for your back in the long run! Make your arm movements meaningful and avoid fidgeting, as that can communicate anxiety on your part.
  • Adjust facial expressions to increase patient comfort — A genuine smile can really go a long way when it comes to nonverbal communication. A smile tells your patients that they can relax and feel comfortable with you. Make an effort to keep your facial expressions in check as you’re working a patient’s teeth, if you notice a problem and furrow your brows, it could alert the patient and cause unnecessary anxiety. Additionally, be sure to maintain eye contact with your patients when they’re speaking to you. It can be easy to get distracted by the task at hand, but by making eye contact, you communicate that you respect the patient and what they have to say.
  • Relax — Whether you’re new on the job or conducting a procedure that you’re not entirely comfortable with, your body may tense up without you even realizing it. In these situations, you will need to take extra caution when interacting with a patient, as they can sense your stress and discomfort. Take a minute to focus on your breathing and relax your muscles. It’s such a small signal, but it can make a big difference in your patient’s experience.

Now that you know all about how to effectively communicate nonverbally with your patients, it’s time to put it into practice! Remember to always exude confidence with your posture and gestures, adjust your facial expressions to increase patient comfort, and relax. By following these tips, you will help to make your patients feel more comfortable during their dental appointment.

Dr. Patrick Latcham is the owner of Pointe Dental Group, located in Grosse Pointe Farms and Shelby Township, Michigan. Dr. Latcham has more than 30 years of experience providing patients with comprehensive dental care in the areas of general and cosmetic dentistry, TMJ treatment, implant surgery, and laser treatment for gum disease. Learn more about Dr. Latcham on the Pointe Dental Group website.


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