Distracting patients at the dentist to lower their fear



Nearly one-quarter of all Americans avoid dentists because they’re afraid, according to American Dental Association surveys. There’s fear of pain, fear of needles, fear of drills, fear of blood, fear of gagging, fear of feeling helpless or having personal space violated, fear of being lectured for not brushing or flossing adequately and fear of being admonished for staying away so long…

Minimizing pain, maximizing distractions. 

Dentists are trying to find new ways to calm their patients. Some practices let patients virtually sleep through the procedure. Others focus on minimizing pain as well as the typical sounds and smells of dentistry that can trigger unpleasant memories, while maximizing soothing distractions.

Behavioral psychotherapists can teach ways to overcome anxiety. Some people find that hypnosis helps them relax, and some hypnotherapists can provide sessions by phone before dental visits.

Some dentists also boast spa-like comforts, such as massaging chairs, warm neck rolls, paraffin wax treatments for hands and reflexology, the traditional Chinese foot massage.

Taking a cue from pediatric practices, some dentists offer an array of entertainment options to keep patients’ minds off the drilling and filling. Various psychological techniques, including distraction by virtual reality environments and the playing of video games, are now employed to treat pain. In virtual reality environments, an image is provided for the patient in a realistic, immersive manner devoid of distractions. This technology allows users to interact at many levels with the virtual environment, using many of their senses, and encourages them to become immersed in the virtual world they are experiencing. When immersion is high, much of the user’s attention is focused on the virtual environment, leaving little attention left to focus on other things, such as pain. In this way virtual reality provides an effective medium for reproducing and/or enhancing the distractive qualities of guided imagery for the majority of the population who cannot visualize successfully.

What can patients do themselves to alleviate their anxiety? 

Bring your own distractions—a riveting book, a music player full of transporting tunes or favorite movies if your dentist is equipped to play them.

Tell the dentist and the staff about your fears. And shop around until you find a practice that is empathetic.

In the meantime, take very good care of your teeth and gums. The healthier they are, the more pleasant every dental visit will be.

To thus who want to go farther on the subject, we published a paper called Virtual reality and interactive simulation for pain distraction in the Cyber Therapy issue of 2010

This article is based on Melinda Beck’s, More dentists talking pains to win back fearful patients.