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Any dentist can tell you that anxious patients don’t just risk damage to their own dental health but also create a challenge for a practice itself.

However, creating the right environment – from the design and layout to lighting, décor and well-chosen distractions – can make a visit a more positive experience for nervous patients.

Overcoming Dental Fear: The Practice Environment

For the patient, a fear of the dentist can cause – of course – fewer visits to the dentist than necessary with the patient perhaps even only seeking help in emergency cases.
Meanwhile, for the practice a nervous patient can present a time-consuming and generally more difficult experience for the dentist.

An unfortunate factor at the core of the issue is found in the fact that anxious patients may have a greater perception of pain as well as remembering a visit as being more painful than actually was the case.

The science of helping a fear of visiting the dentist may cover many areas, including dentist-patient communication methods, relaxation exercises, CBT or even hypnotherapy, but one factor can have a positive impact from the moment a patient arrives: a practice with relaxation ‘designed-in’ to the interior itself.

Through the Eyes (and Senses) of an Anxious Patient

Although dental anxiety may be caused by very many things, such as previous experience or picking up on a family member’s fear or fear of dental equipment, every patient has one thing in common: the experience they are met with when they open the door of a practice.
Stepping into the shoes, then, of an anxious patient, the positive actions a practice can take to help are possible both at the initial design of a practice and later by way of refurbishment or minor environmental changes:

Reception and waiting room: Does the patient’s sensory experience of arriving at a practice recall other positive environments, like a favourite high-end shop or hotel or modern apartment, or immediately begin to trigger subconscious nerves associated with their perception of past dental surgery experiences

Aside from, of course, a calm welcome from the reception team, soft and natural light can work alongside soothing décor and images, distracting reading material, reassuringly non-medical furniture and a well-chosen colour scheme to contribute towards a better experience.

Because detail matters and humans use all their senses by nature, homely ornamental items with a luxurious air can create positive associations.

In the waiting room, the scents and sounds of the surgery should be kept at bay while music or TV can provide both positive subconscious effects and a welcome conscious distraction.

The surgery environment: Again, seeing a surgery through the eyes of an anxious patient can help to take a closer look at the colour (is the overall colour scheme medical or remind the patient of non-medical settings?), the style of furniture (again, moving away from harsh items recalling a medical environment) and the location of dental tools (with ‘out of sight, out of mind’ being the rule for as long as is practically possible).

The choice of lighting can contribute to the overall patient experience, and mood, while the use of music could be even more important at this stage as the relaxing and distracting effect is believed to “reduce the activity of the neuroendocrine and sympathetic nervous systems”.

The overall effect, similar to the decisions around design and décor in the reception and waiting room, is the creation of a calm environment with fewer sensory triggers and more positive associations.

Next Steps for a Better Patient Environment

Why invest in managing the environment experience by anxious patients?

It’s simple: because the challenges created for the patient (and the surgery team) by dental anxiety can be turned into positive outcomes for the practice itself. His includes more frequent attendance by the patient and a less time-consuming visit to the premises for the team on-site.

If you own an existing dental practice, a specialist refurbishment can use design, décor, smarter lighting, colour and much more to create a better visit for anxious patients.

For growing practices, expansions or additional premises can use expert consultation to design-in the best possible layout and design choices from the ground up.

Global Dental, an established UK dental environments, F&M and supplies company, can – uniquely – offer management of the entire consultation, design, project management and finish of a new business or refit project.

What makes Global Dental different? A focus on personal attention – from face-to-face consultations with our Managing Director to personally overseeing every detail of a project – and a specialism in helping ambitious dental businesses to grow through smarter design, equipment and services.

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