Dental phobia is a huge enemy of dental practice growth. A full 36% of the population is believed to suffer from dental anxiety with another 12% suffering from extreme dental anxiety. For true dental phobia (those who simply will not go to the dentist), the numbers are 3% for men and 5% for women. Obviously, anything we can do to combat this huge problem will be well worth our efforts.
Fortunately, we know when most dental phobia begins. Half of dentally anxious patients self-report that their fears began in childhood. And dental anxiety and phobia has real costs in terms of oral health. Dentally anxious teenagers in numerous studies have shown the highest levels of dental caries. And according to a study of 275 children, (Prevalence of dental anxiety in 7- to 11-year-olds and its relationship to dental caries. Med Princ. Pract. 2009), the number of missing, filled, and decayed teeth increased as dental fear increased.
Know the Roots of Dental Phobia for Dental Practice Growth
Fortunately for dentists, (at least if you truly care about your patients and want a relationship with them) the BEST predictor of dental anxiety is and remains the patient’s evaluation of their present dentist.
What are the causes and/or triggers of dental phobia and dental anxiety?
- Modeling (Having someone else talk about their fear of the dentist can trigger the same feeling in a child especially.)
- Family history of dental anxiety or dental phobia
- Past negative experiences at the dentist
- History of trauma (Bullying, child abuse, sexual violence)
- Embarrassment/Fear at having someone close to your face (triggered by the dentist or hygienist leaning over you)
- Feeling helpless (triggered by being tipped back in the dentist chair)
All of these things can lead to a fear that begins in childhood and persists into adulthood. These fears can prevent patients from seeking treatment and cause oral problems that persist for the rest of their lives.
How To Head Off Dental Phobia for Dental Practice Growth
So how can we make our practices as child-friendly as possible? Here are some ideas:
- Activity table or fun mirror in waiting room/Video games both stationary and handheld/Lending library and bookshelf/Children’s movies and short dental educational videos/Bottled water or beverage station
- Wall of fame and/or photo album of patients
- Introduce yourself to parents first and then the child. (This will help the child see that the parents trust the dentist.)
- Give a tour of the office/ Point out restroom to a child
- Any staff interacting with the child should introduce themselves by name while getting down on the child’s level
- As you begin treatment, directions to the child should be given as polite commands (“Climb into the dentist chair, please.”) rather than as asking the child if they want to do something.
- Install TV in treatment room ceiling/Ceiling tile scenery/Weighted blanket/
- Explain, explain, explain. Tell them what you’re doing and why. (Call X-rays “pictures” and the lead apron a “heavy jacket.”
- Ask questions about interests, school, and favorite activities.
- Have a prize box and remind the child that they will get a prize at the end of the visit.
- Have a photo booth area with backdrop and take a picture together at the end of the visit.
Final Ideas/Follow-up To Counter Dental Phobia
- Do post-op calls (especially to any child that might have had a traumatic experience.)
- Host special days for children’s dentistry.
- Connect with your community on social media.
- Broadcast any special events for kids on these platforms.
For more help with social media advertising for dental practice growth, contact Client Connection Group. We have helped many, many dentists all across the country expand their reach on these platforms. We will help you reach your youngest patients, both expanding your community presence and giving all your youngest patients positive experiences that will prevent their becoming the dentophobic patients of tomorrow.