Many people have at least some fear of going to a dentist for treatment. As we all know some even suffer from an anxiety so strong they forego treatment altogether – allowing their teeth to decay rather than paying us a visit. We are highly skilled professionals, who care a great deal about our patients, but old fears die-hard.

Part of our role is to help patients overcome their fears and anxiety by recognizing what their fears are and how to create an environment to alleviate their concerns. The following are the top five reasons potential patients are afraid of you and what you can do to ensure that your practice isn't viewed like the Steve Martin movie with the big plant.

The top five reasons:

  1. The Handpiece. It's a fact of life in dentistry that at some point a “drill” will be needed. However, the undeniable sound of our handpieces and their cold, mechanical precision is an understandable concern. Drills are used for construction – piercing holes into structures; some apprehension is understandable. It hurts.

    You might consider offering your patients noise-control headphones piping in music that can mask at least some of the sound – and demonstrate to your patients that you understand their discomfort.

  2. Injections. Many adults are afraid of needles related to medical treatment (trypanophobia). This often stems from at least one bad experience a patient has had, or someone they know.

    If you have not been on the other end of a syringe lately, you should. Technique is everything. Using topical and not injecting too quickly to reduce tearing of tissue makes a big difference. Not to mention how the patient will feel once the anesthetic has worn off. Most injections won't be 100 percent painless; however, you can make sure your patient is as comfortable as possible by implementing a detailed procedure and explaining what you're doing to build trust.

  3. Loss of control. For many, the science involved with their oral health issue and treatment causes them anxiety. This comes from the loss of control; they have to trust you as the expert to perform procedures that they don't understand in order for them to feel better.

    It's important that we listen to our patients and deal with the concerns they share with us. Inform them exactly what you will be doing and why the treatment is necessary. Always remember to warn them before you do something that may cause them discomfort. When people understand that their anxieties are acknowledged they feel more at ease.

  4. Scolding. For the most part, your problem patients are aware that they haven't been oral health advocates. If someone hasn't brushed their teeth in a few days and haven't used floss since the Clinton administration, they know there's a reason they're sitting in your chair writhing in pain.

    People don't necessarily take issue with someone with an informed opinion suggesting helpful instruction. However, most people tend to avoid criticism and having others harshly point out the obvious will cause some to shut down and avoid.

    Remember, letting them know the condition of their hard and soft tissues and the consequences of not doing anything allows the patient to ask you for treatment. You're not telling them what to do; you're explaining what can happen if they continue on their current pattern of neglect.

  5. The Bill. This is unavoidable. Unfortunately, a large number of people associate dentists with pain and a large bill (uninsured or not).

    On a basic core level people understand that money changes hands for services rendered. But the loss of control that many experience while visiting a dentist – lack of comprehension and compromised position with a drill or needle in their mouths – tends to distort the economic reality of the situation for some.

There are always people looking to take advantage of others, and those instances get all the headlines. We've heard the stories before: An unlicensed “dentist” performs a root canal in their garage with power tools and whiskey as anesthetic.

As dentists we have a responsibility to recognize the fears of our current and potential patients – and do whatever we can to help alleviate those concerns and build trust.