Top 5 Ways to Prevent Dentaphobia in Your Dental Practice

During a recent Reboot Practice Jumpstart Training, a sales representative from one of those “Big Three” supply companies, asked me a few questions.

He said, “What’s the deal with those televisions above the patient? Do patients hate it?”

“Pull up a (dental) chair,” I said.

I rarely take time to meet with the “Big Three” representatives since they so often just look for proprietary information, but I’m glad I gave him a few minutes of my time. It was clear that he needed to look at dentistry from the patient’s perspective. He needed to really understand the importance of making patients comfortable, and less fearful. And hopefully the experience helped shape the salesman’s perspective on patient care.

Dentaphobia is not defined solely by a fear of the dentist but more so by a fear of going to the dentist. It’s a real thing that can have long-term, paralyzing effects. Those who suffer from severe cases of Dentaphobia may require therapy, medications, and hypnosis. For most, fear of going to the dentist stems from anxiety felt from being placed in a vulnerable situation and surrounded by scary sounds, smells, and pain. So what can we do as healthcare providers to combat these emotions? 

Here are the top five ways to manage dentaphobia. 

1. Have a greeter. Someone needs to greet your patient the moment they walk into the door. “Where do I go?” “What do I need to do?” “With all these nerves penned up, I need to pee!” Are you really thinking of buying a kiosk for patient check in? Nothing says welcome better than a computer! Huh? What happened to customer service? You need to provide a customer service level of the “Happiest Place on Earth.

2. Keep all dentistry in the clinic. If you have a television in your reception area, turn off the dental reel of the day. There isn’t anything more that will drive a fearful, new patient out the door faster than walking into a practice with implant surgery videos smacking them right in the face. Turn off depressing news. Instead, put on a channel that people can get excited about – like HGTV. According to Variety Magazine online, ESPN, TLC and HGTV are the Top Rated Channels of 2020. You spent all that money improving the esthetic of your practice with fancy artwork and furniture but an anxious patient does not see any of it! They are watching (what appears to them as) torture right in the face. I know you want to showcase what you have to offer but keep all those pamphlets in the back. Educate with YOUR words, not someone else’s.








3. Keep sharp instruments out of your patient’s line of sight. When a patient walks into an operatory, what does he/she see? Handpieces? Instruments? Wires? Clutter? Trust me, they see everything. Your patient is looking for every reason to leave and a torn sterilization pouch over a handpiece is not going to cut it! – No pun intended.

Yes, the patients notice the scary instruments and clutter on your counters. They notice it even more when you put it on a tray right in front of them!

A Dental Operatory free of any intimidating handpieces or clutter that may scare the patient.










4.  Is that a dust bunny? If you have a dirty house, I will never come back. How clean is your practice?. Cleaning your operatories is a must – not just disinfecting surfaces.  I am talking about hoses, lights, the base of chairs and you ought to be able to see your reflection off the rheostat. For smaller practices (4 ops or less), a paper checklist for daily tasks is a reasonable solution to hold your team accountable. For larger practices, consider a Google Doc for daily checklists and have it open in every operatory.

5. Distractions – the mother of all dentaphobia cures. Do you know any white knucklers? Distract your patient and offer patient entertainment. Yes, a television viewable from supine. How much is a television these days? $100? Let’s get one thing straight though. Dental videos playing on said television is not entertainment, it’s sales pitchy.  Have you considered the power of a remote control? If not, hand your patient one when you seat them. Whether or not your patient ever changes the channel or adjusts the volume, just giving them something to control in the most vulnerable place – the dental chair – they are more likely to A. accept proposed treatment and B. become a lifelong patient. It is a value add – something a patient IS willing to pay for.  Give your patient a pair of headphones and let them sit back, relax, and enjoy their personalized dental experience.

So I beg your pardon, Mr. Ben PatterSchein. I have never worked with a dentist who lost a patient because there was a television set on the ceiling in the treatment room. It very well could have been the reason they stayed. 

Patients are more informed than ever these days. Remember 95% of all buying decisions are not made by what you say but rather how you make your patients feel.



Author Angie Bachman