Gentle Dentistry for Dental Phobia


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As the problem of dental phobias has become more prevalent and recognised in recent years, the dental industry has taken steps to adjust their practices to better accommodate patients who are less than comfortable with taking a seat in the dentist’s office. Gentle dentistry is an approach which has garnered success, and provides patients with a level of comfort that can allay their fears.

What is gentle dentistry?

For those patients who are phobic, or even just nervous or anxious, the term 'gentle dentistry' is one which is probably familiar to them. More and more dental practices are using this term as many dentists have come to realise that how they treat their patients and how they make them feel is just as important as their technical ability. Many dentists are investing a lot of time, money, and resources into working to improve the patient’s overall experience. 

The term 'gentle dentistry' does not refer to particular treatment or single kind of approach. It is simply a phrase that has been adopted by dentists to describe their approach and style of treatment as a whole. It is a general term that can include many things; every dentist’s approach is individual as they adapt it to suit their own practice and patients. There is also an element of interpretation; while for one patient a dentist’s approach would be considered gentle, for another patient it might be painful. Patients have varying pain thresholds and needs, and an important aspect of gentle dentistry is being flexible enough to adapt to these wherever possible.

Aspects of gentle dentistry

As a general rule, those dentists that do claim to practice gentle dentistry have in all likelihood developed their approach around four key principles.

1) Dental Skill

Nowadays dentists have access to far more training and knowledge about how to treat patients who are phobic or anxious than they use to. Many dentists are now able to learn and then implement various sophisticated behavioural management techniques to help their patients to relax and develop a rapport and trust. Additionally there are some dentists who are just naturally more sensitive to how their patients are feeling, and are thus able to adjust their behaviour and approach to suit each individual patient. The emphasis should be on treating each patient as a unique case that will have unique needs and requirements. 

2) Investment in New Technologies

As dentistry has progressed and improved immensely in recent history much of the new technology that was developed in the US in now being adopted by UK practices. This is very good news for patients as a lot of this technology has been specifically designed to not only make dentistry easier, but also much more comfortable for the patients. For many dentists these advances in dental technology has enabled them to build an approach to gentle dentistry which focuses upon enabling the patient to have a choice over their treatment; by giving them back the control over the situation which they feel they have lost. Furthermore by installing these new technologies the dentist creates a talking point, creating opportunities for the patient to talk to and open up to the dentist. 

3) Techniques

A dentist has many different techniques in their arsenal, and these are not limited to purely dental treatments. There are many techniques in handling a patient and going about treating them. It is vitally important for a dentist who aims to practice gentle dentistry to build an excellent rapport with their patients. Placing great emphasis on spending time with their patients, discussing with them how they wish to be treated and which options they would like to consider, as well as ensuring that they feel comfortable before, during and after treatment are all techniques used to build a trust and help ease fears. Allowing a patient to take small steps is another technique. For example accepting that it may take several visits and attempts before a phobic patient is actually able to go through with treatment. Or alternatively allowing a patient to get as much done as quickly as possible, as some phobic patients would prefer to get everything out of the way quickly. Discussing new technologies and products with a patient not only helps build rapport but also helps the patient to develop trust not only in their own personal dentist but in the dental experience as a whole.  

4) Overall Customer Experience:

Those who visit the dentist are not merely patients they are also customers. While these customers may be paying for an essential element of health care, they are nevertheless customers and thus many principles of good service can be incorporated into providing a welcoming, fulfilling and inviting practice. This is important as the phrase 'gentle dentistry' is concerned with how the patients feel as opposed to dentists being purely focused on the treatment. How to go about making the overall experience a pleasant one is not by any means an exact science and methods vary from practice to practice. For example as many patients find the act of waiting in the waiting room an experience which just exacerbates their feelings of anxiety, some dentists bypass a waiting room altogether and lead the patient directly into a treatment room. For other phobics they find it almost impossible to relax in the dentist’s chair so the practice may have a television or music to help relax and distract the patient. Also if a dentist is flexible in their treatments, tailoring them to match individual needs also creates a better patient experience. In the US some dentists have employed some quite extreme techniques in an attempt to offer premium services such as hiring masseurs, therapists, and beauty treatments. 


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