Jeff Wilcox, DDS
I just finished reading the article in the May issue of Dental Economics titled "Are your patients anxious?" I feel I must respond to it. I feel sorry for Dr. Mansky if he really believes that dental anxiety is caused by "emotional memories from infancy," "difficult, abusive, or otherwise threatening authority figures from ... childhood," or having someone in your "intimate space." I`m sure he means well, but I just had to laugh at the seven-step visualization exercise given as a solution.
We all see anxious patients every day and if we would just take the time to ask, we would find that almost all of them fear dental treatment for a very good reason - a dentist in their past has hurt them. People do what they do for what they consider very logical reasons. If people have been hurt by a rough dentist or someone who didn`t take the time to numb them, they are going to assume that all dentists will treat them the same way. It makes perfect sense for them to avoid all dentists until something hurts. Anxious dental patients are not born; they are created by dentists who hurt them. Only when we realize this can we address the real issue and really help them.
When I was growing up, I had a dentist who didn`t properly numb me before treatment. I had horrible experiences in the chair and, to this day, I would rather do anything than have dental treatment. These experiences not only made me a very nervous dental patient, but they also made me a great dentist. Here is how I deal with fearful patients and, believe me, it really works.
First, I acknowledge how they feel and I tell them that it`s perfectly OK to feel that way. I tell them that no matter how many good experiences they have with me, the bad experiences will probably never go away. I always tell them that I will get them very numb before I do any treatment, and they can stop me at any time they feel any discomfort. In other words, I let these people know that they are OK just the way they are. Most of these people think there is something wrong with them, or that they are just being "a baby." Frankly, I think that they are perfectly justified feeling the way they do. If we will just help them to see that we understand why we feel this way and give them good experiences, we can actually help them with more than just their teeth.
Doctors, remember that someone in our profession created that nervous patient and that it`s very normal for them to feel the way they do. Be sensitive and gentle and let them know they are OK just the way they are. You will be surprised how differently they relate to you and how many friends they tell about their wonderful dentist.