How Rethinking Your Practice Atmosphere Can Decrease Patient Apprehension and Anxiety

Patient anxiety is something dentists deal with on a daily basis. It’s true that many patients are soothed by a reassuring dentist or sedation dentistry. However, for those with higher levels of anxiety, the mere sight of a waiting room could cause panic attacks.

At its worst, patient anxiety could erupt into belligerence, angry outbursts or a refusal to comply. Even doctors who seldom become flustered by uncooperative patients can have a hard time calming patients down when severe anxiety leads to a panic attack or anger.

While empathy and sedation dentistry are useful in most cases, it’s also important to think about what kind of atmosphere you are presenting to patients.

Does Your Reception Area Feel Like a Waiting Room?

We’ve all been in those dispiriting waiting rooms where the flickering neon lights reflect off white tile floors. You’re sitting in a chair that looks like it was purchased at a discount from a mediocre hotel’s conference room.

The problem with this type of area is that it feels too much like a waiting room. And even if your reception area isn’t quite as dreary as the example listed above, I’m willing to bet there are some steps you can take right away to make it more comfortable and welcoming.

Soothing Colors: A weekend spent applying some new paint to the walls can help make your patients feel more comfortable and at-ease. Light shades of blue and peach or pink pastels can make a room feel warm and uplifting. Shades of beige are also considered soothing if you’d rather go with something more traditional.

Lighting: Don’t rely on bright overhead lights to provide all the lighting. The ceiling lighting should be subdued, and ideally adjustable. Use lamps on the end tables to provide a soft, natural light throughout the reception area.

Furniture: Some nice comfortable chairs with real cushions and soft armrests are a great addition to any reception area. I’ve seen dental studios offer a mix of furniture and even add a sofa or loveseat to the mix. Wooden end tables and coffee tables can help make a room feel much more comfortable.

Decorating: Having some art on the walls is an excellent way to make a reception area feel more calming. Lamps and a beautiful thick rug all promote comfort and relaxation and can help set your patients at ease.

Embracing the Dental Spa Philosophy: Is it for Every Office?

Today, many dental practices are embracing the spa philosophy. This can do more than offering a relaxing environment for patients, but can help you attract new ones. A recent study showed that around five percent of dental offices surveyed by the American Dental Association use the term “spa” to describe their dental practice.

It’s understandable that certain types of dental offices might not feel comfortable taking on that designation. For instance, a practice taking in a lot of emergencies with a high volume of patients may want to present a more clinical appearance.

However, family dentists and cosmetic dentists can implement spa-like features to help relax patients without turning the office into a four-star resort. Small additions have been shown to reduce patient anxiety substantially.

  • Aromatherapy
  • Heated booties and neck rolls
  • Heated and scented towels
  • Soothing Eye Masks

With a little redecorating in the reception area and a few simple additions like those mentioned above, your practice can feel more welcoming and soothing.

Some dental offices take the spa philosophy even further, and some even hire in-house massage therapists or offer skin treatments. However, these practices often serve the cosmetic dentistry needs of patients with a higher net worth. For most practices, this is not a reasonable expense to take on.


Creating an anxiety-reducing atmosphere doesn’t have to be an excessively expensive endeavor, and it can be phased in over time. Of course, this is not a replacement for attentive caring, and excellent communication skills, but a useful compliment.


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