Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2018 01 Scared At Dentist 1

How to turn fearful dental patients into loyal patients

Jan. 11, 2018
Most dental practices have patients who fear visiting the dentist. There are ways to help them overcome these fears. Doing so will lead them to become loyal fans who share the word about your practice with their friends.
Sally McKenzie, CEO of McKenzie Management

These patients constantly come up with excuses to stay as far away from the dental chair as possible, and are known for canceling at the last minute or just not showing up at all.

There’s no doubt that fearful patients cost you money and wreak havoc on your day. This can be pretty frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, I want you to start thinking of them as practice builders rather than patients who hold you back. This might take a little work, but if you’re able to put these patients at ease during their appointments, they’ll eventually become the loyal patients your practice needs to thrive, and they’ll happily sing your praises to family and friends.

I know what you’re thinking. That’s great Sally, but how do I make fearful patients comfortable enough to keep their appointments as well as to go forward with recommended treatment?

Here’s my advice.

Prepare your team members—When anxious patients walk into your practice, they’re looking for any reason to leave and never come back. Don’t give it to them. Instead, train your team members to recognize these patients and give them the extra attention they need to feel at ease. Team members should greet them with a friendly smile and offer them water as they wait for their appointment. They should ask if they’d like help filling out their paperwork, and then reassure them that they’re in good hands. This will help lower their anxiety as they wait to be called back, while also helping them feel more connected to the practice.

How will team members know when they’re dealing with an especially nervous patient? Train the team to recognize common signs of anxiety, such as perspiration and rapid breathing rates. Patients who are unusually quiet or extra loud are probably on edge, while muscle tension and hand gripping are also tell-tale signs that someone would rather be just about anywhere else.

Focus on education—Some patients are fearful of the dentist because they had a bad experience when they were younger. Others have heard horror stories from family and friends. You and your team need to find out why patients are anxious, and then address their concerns. Take the time to educate them about the importance of maintaining their oral health and the value of the services you provide. Talk with them about their oral health goals and how you can help them meet those goals. Show them before-and-after photos of the work the practice has done, and talk with them about what you can do for their smile.

Help them feel a connection to your practice. This will make them more likely to accept needed treatment and actually show up for their appointments. Of course, getting these patients to talk might be challenging at first. They’re uncomfortable and anxious about being in your office, so be patient.

Here are a few questions you can try to get the conversation started:
• What concerns do you have about dental treatment?
• Have you had any negative dental experiences in the past?
• Can you tell me about those negative experiences?

Listen carefully to how patients answer these questions, and use their responses to guide the conversation. Then, encourage them to ask you questions. It’s also a good idea to send them home with brochures and other educational materials they can refer to later. Remember, education is key to helping patients get over their dental-related fears.

Establish a signaling system—This will go a long way in putting patients at ease. Signaling systems give patients a sense of control. They know that if they ever feel uncomfortable during a procedure, all they have to do is raise their hand and you’ll know it’s time to take a break. Make sure patients understand that they can signal you to stop if they’re in pain, have a question, or just need a minute to catch their breath. This helps reduce anxiety and makes patients more likely to accept treatment.

Treating fearful patients can be stressful for both you and your team members. But if you take the time to educate them and show them that you care, these patients will become loyal to your practice. Once they trust you, they’ll feel much more comfortable accepting the treatment you recommend, and they won’t want to go anywhere else for their dental care.

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Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service, nationwide dental practice management company. Contact her directly at (877) 777-6151 or at [email protected].
About the Author

Sally McKenzie | CEO of McKenzie Management

Sally McKenzie was CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service, nationwide dental practice management company. For over 30 years, Sally immersed herself in techniques, systems, and methods to improve the performance of dental practices. She was a dental auxiliary, dental business administrator, and dental educator for several years prior to founding McKenzie Management in 1980.

Read more about her legacy in the dental profession from Chris Salierno, DDS.