3 Ways Technology Can Help Alleviate Anxiety in Dental Patients

by Rahul Varshneya, Arkenea

Fear of visiting the dental office is a problem faced by people all over the world. In a recent worldwide survey of 18,000 people, close to 61% of respondents said that they suffer from dental anxiety and fear. More often than not, this anxiety manifests as dental avoidance at a later time, which can lead to oral health complications.

Within a dental office, anxious patients generally exhibit irritability, aren’t as cooperative, and are prone to a greater pain response than their composed counterparts. These responses are problematic not only for the patient, but for dental professionals too. 

To avoid negative experiences for patients and ensure quality care, it’s critical for dentists and their teams to practice effective ways to help patients with dental anxiety and help them address and overcome their fears. 

Technology has emerged as an effective tool for lowering the level of anxiety within dental patients. Read on to know how it’s doing just that!

1) Teledentistry

WHO has announced that dentists remain the most susceptible to contracting COVID-19 due to exposure to aerosols during dental treatment. The thought of visiting a dentist for an oral health checkup can be even more intimidating for patients in the midst of a global pandemic. 

With the coronavirus measures relaxing and dentists looking at resuming their operations, a slew of other new questions have emerged, including:

  • How do dental professionals protect themselves and their patients?
  • How does dentistry avoid becoming a vertical industry hotbed for new COVID-19 outbreaks?

The solution lies with teledentistry.

Given that mobile phones, tablets and laptops are now equipped with high precision cameras resulting in ultra high definition images; patients can seek dental consultations from the comfort of their own homes without the associated stress and anxiety. 

Making yourself available to patients for general consultations, dental emergencies and post-operative follow-up appointments outside of office hours can result in a more loyal patient base and a better patient experience for them. 

With teledentistry, new patients no longer have to kill time in a waiting room as you provide consultations over video instead. Neither do the dental assistants have to don and doff personal protective equipment (PPE) for each new patient onboarding encounter. 

You can also provide an additional level of convenience and safety when it comes to periodic patient check-ins to monitor their homecare or the healing of a newly placed implant. No waiting room, no travel and, once again, no PPE required.

All of these safety measures play an essential role in reassuring your patients that they’re in safe hands. This greatly helps alleviate anxiety on their part, irrespective of whether a pandemic is in effect or not.

2) Virtual Reality

One of the most challenging aspects of dental anxiety that practitioners face today is a patient’s fear of having to undergo excessive pain during the procedure. 

Despite advances in treatment techniques and technologies, the majority of people still delay or even completely avoid dental care because of the fear and anxiety surrounding pain. Analgesics have been the conventional solution for reducing pain in the past. However, medications are not the only solution. 

Our pain perception depends on a strong psychological component – conscious attention. Therefore, not surprisingly, distraction has been found to take a patient’s awareness away from pain. Attention given to pain often determines not only the distress levels, but also the level of pain being reported. By motivating a patient to focus his/her attention on other thoughts, less attention is available for the pain.

Virtual reality (VR) utilizes advanced technologies to create virtual environments (VE) that allow patients to be immersed in an interactive, simulated world. 

These advanced systems interact at many levels with the VE, stimulating sights, sounds, and motion to encourage immersion in the virtual world to enhance distraction from pain.

Studies have shown that involving the patient in a VE reduced their reported levels of pain during medical procedures such as chemotherapy, physical therapy, burn wound changes, and surgery. 

Specifically for dental work, another clinical study observed that dental patients undergoing periodontal treatment experienced considerable reduction in pain when using VR compared to participants that watched a movie and to participants that did not have any type of distraction.

Virtual reality is set to become a viable form of anxiety and fear control for dental treatments in the near future. 

3) Technology-enabled Anesthetic Administration

So, there is actually a name for fear of surgery — tomophobia? That’s about right! 

There are some patients who are afraid they won’t wake up from surgery—or they worry they will wake up during surgery, which is an extremely rare phenomenon. 

But, in general, patients going into surgery often have a generalized fear of the unknown. You are about to lose control where you previously had control.

Local anesthetic administration, backed by state-of-the-art technology, can easily help alleviate anxiety arising due to tomophobia in dental patients. 

Electronic dental anesthesia is a technique used to produce dental anesthesia by using the principle of transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation. By means of electrodes, electric flow from the stimulation unit is converted into an ionic current flow in the living tissue and anesthesia is produced, offering pain control without needles, based on the gate-control theory of pain. 

Electrodes can be placed either extraorally or intraorally. The intraoral electrodes are cotton-roll electrodes, clamp electrodes, and adhesive electrodes. Adhesive electrodes are the most widely used. These electrodes are thin and flexible, and so can easily adapt to the oral mucosa. The technique is noninvasive, safe, and generally well accepted by the patient. 

Some of the advantages that come alongside the use of electronic dental anesthesia are as follows: 

  • limited soft-tissue anesthesia, 
  • the residual analgesic effect remains for several hours, 
  • it is suitable for the needle-phobic, and 
  • there is no residual anesthetic effect at the end of the procedure.

Closing Words

It is important for dental practitioners to remember that although technology can help eliminate anxiety in a number of ways, the best method to do so is building rapport with your patients and winning their trust over time. This is extremely crucial if you’re aiming to ameliorate patient satisfaction and build a loyal customer base for your practice.

You need to balance out things so as to make sure that technology becomes a facilitator in the process, not a replacement for human touch. 

Let technology do its part, while you do yours!

About the Author

Rahul Varshneya is the co-founder and president of Arkenea, a digital health consulting firm. Rahul has been featured as a technology thought leader across Bloomberg TV, Forbes, HuffPost, Inc, among others.

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