Ending Dental Anxiety: How Fidget Toys Help Keep Patients Calm
Does seeing fearful patients give you anxiety? It’s not unusual for a nervous patient to put the entire office on edge. Unfortunately, dental anxiety is a common problem. More than 15% of the US population struggles with some form of dental anxiety. That means you’re likely to see a distressed patient weekly or even daily. There’s no cause for alarm though, we now understand more about dental anxiety than ever before and have become increasingly more confident in treating it.
There’s a lot of information currently circulating about dental anxiety and we know it can be difficult to track. So SmileMakers is here to consolidate all the facts and offer a few ideas on how you can better prepare your practice to accommodate anxious patients.
Why is anxiety common in young patients?
Dental anxiety is not a new concept. There are plenty of animals, objects, or situations that cause fear in people, and dentistry is no exception. What’s unusual is that it’s much more common in children. One study found that around 70% of all children have some form of dental anxiety and one of every five kids has severe anxiety. This level is much higher than in adults and indicates that pediatric anxiety is a problem all dental professionals will face.
Often with children, their dental anxiety is a result of a more instinctual fear. Children have had fewer experiences than adults, and as a result, have more situations in which they are uncomfortable. Their dental anxiety can stem from many prevalent phobias, but the most common are:
- Xenophobia - Fear of the unknown and strangers. Most kids do not know how to respond when meeting strangers and do not trust them. If they have never met your staff before and do not trust them, that exacerbates this fear. A new office and unfamiliar equipment heighten their concerns.
- Algophobia - It’s harder for children to handle pain. Often dentists are associated with pain due to extractions or other necessary dental procedures. Mouths are very intimate and sensitive, so children are even more afraid of oral pain.
- Aichmophobia - The fear of knives, drills and sharp objects. Most children know instinctively that sharp knives or needles lead to pain, and when they see those in a dental office it can evoke panic or apprehension.
- Agoraphobia - In this instance, agoraphobia pertains to the fear of helplessness or loss of control. Often when a child visits the dentist, it is not their choice and they do not want to be there. This is combined with them being instructed by an unfamiliar authority figure to cause a deep and real anxiety.
It is important to note that there is no single cure for dental anxiety. Because the patient’s apprehension can stem from many different phobias, there is no solution that covers them all. Often the best way to help the patient is to spend time with them until they are familiar and comfortable. If the child is comfortable in your practice and trusts your staff, they are less likely to become anxious upon visiting your practice.
But there are instances where familiarity is not enough, and the child needs more for them to forget their fears. Often they need a sign of trust or something to get their mind off the impending procedure. For these situations, SmileMakers has several ideas to help you help your patients.
A Change of Scenery
Ever stop to think about why we decorate our homes? Or about how drab and dreary places and stark white walls can trigger negative emotions? As humans, we crave comfortable spaces. Now, imagine being an anxious child walking into your practice for the first time. How do you feel? If your office is drab, gloomy, or has a sterile look, an already anxious child will become almost inconsolable and uncooperative in that environment.
An office that is inviting with child-friendly decorations and waiting room toys will help soothe anxious patients, stimulate their imaginations, and give their minds something to do besides worry. Decorating can be expensive, but with the affordable products on the market today, it doesn’t have to be. For instance, SmileMakers offers a line of fun and pediatric friendly wall murals that are customizable to the size and shape of your walls for less than the cost of wallpaper! If you don’t feel you can do an entire wall, put up a few fun wall clings or posters. Anything you can do to create a warm environment will go a long way in calming anxious nerves.
How Toys and Rewards Help
For moderate and high levels of pediatric dental anxiety, a gift or toy is a simple way of winning the trust of the child. In their mind, toys show that you care and that you are their friend. Rewarding the child after a successful procedure will also help alleviate their anxiety before return visits. Positive reinforcement is memorable. They won’t forget that it was your practice where they received a gift.
Even more importantly, there are fidget toys created specifically for anxiety and other behavioral challenges. Fidget spinners and stress balls are a welcome distraction for children that would otherwise be focused on their fears.
Research from UC Santa Cruz has shown that simple devices like fidget spinners, stress balls, and puzzle cubes can keep active children from panicking and make them more responsive to simple requests. As the toy draws their attention, they are less concerned with their surroundings or treatment.
At Smilemakers we offer affordable fidget toys that alleviate stress and can help nervous or fearful patients remain calm. Our toys are designed to keep their focus and make your job easier in the process.
Top 3 Actionable Methods to Relieve Anxiety.
- Tell-show-do: This is a common technique created decades ago to help with treating difficult patients. It’s taught in most colleges and remains popular today. Patients are put at ease through full immersion in the procedure with three easy steps. In the ‘tell’ phase, the patient is told all the details of their treatment step-by-step. After that, they will familiarize themselves with the equipment in the ‘show’ phase. Finally, in the ‘do’ phase, the treatment commences with the dentist following the explained procedure exactly.
- Safe words & Signaling: This method allows the patient to feel in control and in communication with the staff throughout the entire procedure. Hand signals or word cues are given specific meaning so the patient can indicate their wishes immediately. Small gestures can indicate discomfort, worry, or the need for a break. By having a more active role, the patient won’t be as concerned that something could go wrong.
- Guided Relaxation: While normally only recommended for mature patients, relaxation techniques can effectively negate anxiety. This works through the link of physical tension with emotional stress. When the patient is relaxed physically and mentally, it is much harder for them to be anxious. By removing muscle tension and creating a rhythm for breathing, the patient is far less likely to experience the symptoms of dental anxiety.
In need of fidget toys to help anxious patients?
As there are different sources of dental anxiety, SmileMakers offers many different types of stress-relieving items for your patients. Check our fidget toys for a variety of choices that can help your patients today!
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