Treating Patients with Dental Phobias

by Jennifer Grzebien, RDH

So many suffer from dental phobias and the anxiety they suffer with can be a huge barrier to care. Some may go years without seeing a dental hygienist or a dentist. As a dental hygienist, I have seen how dental phobias affect clients.

These phobias can be due to any number of reasons. Some are afraid of pain, some of the sights and sounds of a typical dental office and some of being judged. These clients have become my why:  Why I became an independent dental hygienist and why I deliver treatment the way I do.

Seeing my clients overcome their phobias is beyond rewarding. I have learned so much working with my clients over the years. Firstly I have learned of the courage it takes for them to simply book an appointment and sit in my chair. Dental hygiene therapy is a very personal procedure as I am close to their face and working in their mouth.

Which brings me to the second thing that I have learned and that is, in order to have a successful appointment, you have to earn their trust. They are being vulnerable by allowing me to provide them with treatment and I can’t break that trust.

This brings me to the third thing that I have learned and that is full disclosure. I have to explain the treatment plan that I have made for them and put them in control of that treatment. They ultimately have to decide what they are willing to proceed with and what they are not. I have found that a lot of the anxiety they feel with dental treatment is because they feel a loss of control so I give it back to them.

Fourth is communication. I have an in-depth discussion with my clients about everything they are anxious about. Whether it is the texture of the prophy paste or the fear of flossing, it is all discussed so that I can come up with a customized treatment plan for them.

Lastly, I have learned to provide a relaxing, judgement free, safe space where they feel comfortable. Some dislike the typical dental office so I designed my studio to have a spa like atmosphere with minimal noise. This helps to relieve their anxiety. Many are anxious about being judged for a lack of oral hygiene. This makes me really sad because my clients are worthy of care no matter what their mouths looks like and ensuring that they feel supported and not judged is key. Working with my clients is a process that takes time. Time to build a relationship and slowly uncover the barriers that they face and ways to remove those barriers.

So, if you come across clients with dental phobias, remember that it takes time, patience and to not give up on them. When you see the progress that they make, it is truly rewarding and I find that they are so grateful for it. After all, who doesn’t love a smile?

About the Author

Jennifer Grzebien is an independent RDH who specializes in severe dental phobias and special needs. With over 8 years of experience and over half of that working independently, she provides a very unique personalized experience for her clients, working closely with them in order to overcome their fears, anxieties and barriers to care in order to achieve their oral health goals.

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