Fear of the dentist is a very real thing. In fact, dental phobia prevents between 9–20% of Americans from visiting the dentist. And, because oral health plays an important role in a person’s well-being, and overall wellness can influence workplace productivity, imagine the potential impact if 20% or even 10% of your workforce ignored dental care due to fear.
While those stats might sound scary, we’ve got good news. There are plenty of ways to help ease your enrollees’ fear, and we’ve rounded up some of the top tips to share.
1. Share experiences
With so many people having the same fear, people shouldn’t feel stigmatized. Encourage enrollees to ask others how they overcame their fear and to share positive experiences with each other. Think of it like enrollees building up an armor of positivity to protect them when they walk into a dentist’s office.
2. Talk to the dentist
Most dentists can sense a patient’s fear, and they want to help. According to Dr. Leigh Westee, a Delta Dental consultant who treated patients for 21 years: “It’s better when patients are upfront about their fears, because we can make a plan to help them relax before things even get started. We really don’t enjoy the reputation of being scary.”
She suggests asking the dentist to walk the patient through every step, and to have a cue in case any discomfort is felt, such as raising a hand.
3. Bring distractions and friends
Dr. Westee also recommends patients bring something or someone to help them relax. Headphones and music are a good option because not only can a favorite song lift spirits, it can also tune out the sounds of dental tools.
Another helpful idea is to bring a close friend or family member who is confident about visiting the dentist, and can be a strong calming force. Oftentimes, they can even sit with patients during a dental exam or procedure — but be sure enrollees ask the dental office first.
4. Start young and make it fun
Because many dental fears stem from a bad experience early on, Dr. Westee points out how important it is to create positive memories when children visit the dentist. She advises that parents never use dental visits as a punishment. More often than you’d think she heard things like “the dentist is going to give you a shot if you don’t settle down.”
Instead of that, encourage enrollees with children to make dental visits fun by building up the choices kids get to make — such as flavors of toothpaste and toothbrush colors.
5. Exercise before visits
Can a few miles on the treadmill before a dentist visit decrease fear? In addition to boosting overall wellness, moderate-intensity exercise prior to a dental visit may help decrease dental anxiety.
6. Seek help
When patients’ fear is so strong that they cannot bring themselves to an appointment, it can seriously impact their oral health. If this is the case for any of your employees, encourage them to seek help from a professional counselor right away. The longer a person waits to visit the dentist, the greater the chance more dental work will be needed.
To learn more about dental phobia and other industry news, subscribe to Word of Mouth, our newsletter for benefits decision makers, administrators or HR professionals.
Are you a broker, consultant or agent? Subscribe to Insider Update, our producer newsletter.