Going to the dentist doesn’t top most people’s list of favorite things, and for some it is downright terrifying. It’s estimated that 9 to 15 percent of Americans skip or avoid the dentist due to fear. Keenly aware of this anxiety, some dentists are using novel techniques to help patients overcome their fears.
Academy of General Dentistry member Tony Menendez, DDS, MAGD takes an unusual – and furry – approach to helping his patients battle dental anxiety by introducing them to his faithful dog Cassi.
1.For more than 15 years, Dr. Menendez has employed furry “assistants” who help boost spirits and calm nerves. Dr. Menendez’s therapy dogs are trained to gently rest their head in patients’ laps, or softly nudge their hands, requesting to be comforted, which offers a welcome distraction during oral procedures.
“The dog’s presence in the treatment room reduces anxiety and stress in everyone they meet,” said Dr. Menendez. “How can anyone fear dental treatment when they have a wonderfully calm four-legged assistant nuzzling their lap, requesting their head to be caressed and distracting them from their surroundings?”
Though most of his patients went out of their way to greet his canine assistant (no pun intended), Dr. Menendez always checks to make sure new visitors are comfortable with dogs. If they’re not, Cassi will happily curl up and out of the way.
Although not all dentists use therapy animals to calm anxious patients, Dr. Menendez offers suggestions of what to look for in an oral care provider:
2. Open communication. Finding a dentist who welcomes feedback and an open dialogue can make all the difference when it comes to a nervous patient. By walking through a procedure, a dentist can help the patient understand what to expect and what is expected of them. Not knowing is often scarier that the reality. Allowing adequate time to talk and answer all of the patient’s questions and allowing the patient to make an educated well informed decision is so important. But it goes both ways. “Dentists are not mind readers,” says Dr. Menendez, so patients should speak up. Tell your dentist how you feel and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
3. Comfortable physical surroundings. Cramped or dark spaces can make patients feel uneasy. Find a dentist’s office with an open concept where nothing happens “behind closed doors.” Dr. Menendez has an open sterilization bay that allows patients to observe the proper handling of the instruments. Seeking out an environment of transparency will make patients feel more at ease.
4. Pleasant sounds. Knowing that the sound of drills doesn’t exactly put a person at ease, Dr. Menendez avoids standard turbine drills in favor of electric for a quieter environment. Patients are also encouraged to listen to the music of their choice during procedures to tune out background noise.
AGD member Tony Menendez, DDS, MAGD is based in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a visiting faculty member in the University of Florida’s Florida Academy of General Dentistry’s Mastertrack program, a past President of the Florida AGD and serves as the regional director for the Academy.