Dealing with nervous patients

Effectively dealing with nervous patients needs to be a part of the practice ethos; a genuine focus on everyone at the practice putting patients first.  When you work in dentistry and are very comfortable in a dental practice environment, it can be difficult to put yourself in the mindset of patients, and in particular, in the mindset of a nervous patient.


Key attributes to consider: 


Both the environment and the aura of the practice should be calm, relaxed, welcoming and friendly. Everything from the decor to the manner in which the staff interacts with one another, all contribute to the ambience a patient picks up on.

There is nothing worse for a nervous patient than walking into a visually cluttered, noisy practice – this will instantly heighten their feelings of anxiety.



Being empathetic is the ability to put oneself in someone else’s position; to see, feel and hear things from their perspective.


By making a concerted effort which each and every patient (particularly those you know to have expressed any sort of anxiety or fear with regards to the dentist) to help them feel as comfortable and as comforted as possible.



A trusting relationship takes effort and time to establish. It may be that a nervous patient takes up a lot of time and effort initially, but, if you manage to deal with the patient effectively you will be rewarded not only by their loyalty but also that patient being an advocate of your practice and recommending you to their friends and family. 


Tip: It is useful on any new patient forms to ask the patient how they would rate their own anxiety level regarding the dentist; a scale will enable you to gauge where the patient is at.


Ability to listen

Don’t make assumptions. Each patient is different so take the time to talk with your patient and ascertain what it is in particular that makes them nervous about the dentist and how they wish to be treated. Some patients want to know all of the details – knowing in detail everything that will happen can make them feel more in control of the situation.  For others, there is a definite line, where too much detail makes them feel worse.  Tailor your approach to each individual’s preferences.


Tip: For nervous patients, having the dentist go out to the waiting room to collect them allows a short (but valuable) amount time for the dentist to start making them feel at ease before they arrive in the treatment room.

 During the examination/treatment

Give the patient some control – a signal they can use whilst in the chair (such as a hand raise) so that they can indicate that they want you to stop at any time. This can be a huge deal for anxious patients who have an issue with relinquishing control.


Offer distractions – consider offering music or calming sounds, aromatherapy, heated pillows – tools that work on the various senses.  Having relaxing visual stimuli on the ceiling and walls of the treatment room is also a good idea to help distract patients.


Useful resources: