3 ways dental assistants calm fearful patients

Dental assistants have many important roles in the dental office. Perhaps their most critical responsibility is providing patient care — and this can include alleviating any discomfort, anxiety or fear.

Dental patients can be fearful and anxious about their dental appointment for a variety of reasons. They may be in pain and nervous about what will happen during the appointment. They may feel scared about being judged in the dental office for the appearance of their teeth or oral-hygiene habits. Or they may be skittish if they had an unpleasant dental experience in the past.

As dental assistants, you likely already know that fear is one of the top reasons that patients may avoid the dental office altogether.

Since dental assistants are with patients every step of the appointment, it’s critical they understand how best to support patients, especially those who may be fearful.

Perhaps Kristie puts it best: “Helping people get past their fears of the dentist is one of the most important parts of a dental assistant role — which can lead to optimal oral hygiene for patients, and better long-term dental habits overall.”

Here, we highlight some of the strategies you’ve shared with us for soothing patients and providing a great dental experience.

1. Care and comfort come first.

Successful dental assistants always prioritize patients to ensure they feel cared for, comfortable and safe in the dental office. Dental assistants provide this care in a number of ways: by sharing kind words and a smile, by offering a pillow or cup of water, and through exhibiting empathy — by asking questions and listening. “I listen and let patients talk,” says Carrie.

Amy agrees it makes a huge difference for a dental assistant to think about the appointment from the patient perspective to ensure they have a comfortable experience. “Always remember to be compassionate,” she advises fellow assistants. “Sometimes, doing what we do day in and day out, we forget what it’s like to be on the other side. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and showing compassion — real, genuine compassion — comes across to the patient, and it is very much appreciated.”

2. Prioritizing patient relationships.

Dental patients, especially those who have visited the same office for many years, often appreciate the rapport and relationships they have with the dental team. Often patients say they look forward to catching up with the dental staff, and especially with their dental assistant, and we hear this from assistants about connecting with their patients as well.

Many dental assistants even say their patients feel like family members. This particularly feels true for those patients who have been coming to the practice for years.

“I’ve spent 13 years at my office, and I’ve enjoyed seeing young patients grow into adults and even leave for college,” says Jerusalen.

A simple conversation between dental assistant and patient can go a long way toward easing fear in the dental office. By remembering patients by name, as well as key personal facts about them — such as if they’re planning a trip or embarking on the next chapter in their life — dental assistants make dental patients feel welcome in the office.

“They don’t teach this in school — talking about feelings with patients, showing them compassion,” agrees Monica.

3. Education builds trust.

Since dental patients are looking to assistants not only for comfort and care, but also for education and guidance throughout the appointment, it’s best that assistants stay up to date in their dental education.

That’s why, no matter their educational background and experience level, the most successful dental assistants understand the importance of completing continuing education (such as those options available through the DALE Foundation, DANB’s official affiliate). Plus, many motivated dental assistants know that it’s extremely valuable to demonstrate their knowledge and skills through earning and maintaining DANB certification. Some even go the extra mile to hone their infection prevention and control expertise by completing the OSAP-DALE Foundation Dental Infection Prevention and Control Certificate Program.

By taking their knowledge base and skill sets to the next level, dental assistants communicate to patients and the entire dental team that they are as prepared as can be to support their patients.

Patients who may otherwise experience trepidation about going to the dentist are more likely to feel at ease with a confident and knowledgeable dental assistant to help guide them. To show their appreciation, many patients extend praise and gratitude in dental assistants’ direction. When this happens, it can make an assistant’s day and reaffirm their career choice.

Says Gina: “After 18 years at the same practice, I have patients who request that I work with them for their appointments. This does make me feel like I must be doing something right!”