Dr. Nammy Patel, founder of Green Dentistry in San Francisco, California, discusses anxiety at the dentist. She is the author of the bestselling book, Age With Style, a guide to a youthful smile and healthy living.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Dr. Nammy Patel, founder of Green Dentistry in San Francisco, California, helping patients recognize the vital connection between dental health and whole body health and author of the bestselling book, Age With Style, a guide to a youthful smile and healthy living. Today our topic is anxiety at the dentist. Welcome Dr. Nammy.

Dr. Nammy Patel: Hi John. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate sharing all this information with you.

Why Do People Have Anxiety at the Dentist?

John: Sure. So, Dr Nammy, you probably get this all the time. People coming into your office and saying, “Oh, I’m so nervous to come to the dentist. Maybe I haven’t been in a long time.” Why do people have a lot of anxiety about visiting the dentist?

Dr. Nammy: You know, a lot of time, John, what I find is that patients feel guilty or shameful because they haven’t been to a dentist in a long time. And they feel a little embarrassed that time has gone by and life took a hold of them, whatever a burden that was, whether it was taking care of a family member or whether it was finances, whether it was a divorce, whatever it may be. And so we find a lot of patients coming in feeling really not so good. And the other thing is also the anticipation. It’s like, “Oh gosh, I know I haven’t been, I feel really bad. I’m scared that there’s going to be needles, there’s going to be drills and there’s going to be a big bill attached to it.” So it’s a lot of the past and also what to anticipate.

John: Right. And it’s one of those unfortunate things about us being human is that when we’re embarrassed like that and we haven’t been in a long time, we think, “Oh, now it’s going to be so bad that it’s going to be so costly and so painful.” That oddly enough, we just keep putting it off and those problems just get even worse.

Dr. Nammy: Yeah. And especially if there is a bad experience that they had as a child, which is really common because when you’re a child, you’re not in charge of what’s going on. It’s hard to express how you feel. And if there was ever a time you went to a dentist and you didn’t feel heard, you didn’t feel safe, you didn’t feel comfortable and something hurt, it’s really traumatic for somebody to not want to go back. And then time elapses and then it’s like, “Oh, I know I should have taken care of myself, but I just couldn’t get myself to.” And so, there’s a lot of emotional components that go along with it.

How Can Patients Relax?

John: Right. What are some of the ways that you help patients to relax, especially if they haven’t been for awhile?

Dr. Nammy: You know, our number one way that we really help our patients relax is to hear them. Sometimes, they’re needing a little bit of empathy. They’re just really needing to be heard about what occurred and what worked and what didn’t work. If it was a traumatic experience as a child, what was it that made you feel uncomfortable? Well, let’s make sure to avoid that. Let’s make sure that your needs are met. If it was that something hurt and they didn’t give you enough anesthesia, let’s make sure we give you more anesthesia and we will not start until you’re completely comfortable.

And so, just finding out the little details that one needs in order to feel comfortable and feel relaxed, we actually go through that method and we actually take the time to get the details of what is it that you need. Sometimes for the patients it’s the noise. So we have noise cancellation headphones. So okay, we can easily take care of this. Let’s make sure that you have these noise cancellation headphones and that way you’re able to just zone out and we’ll do what we need to do and do it as efficiently as possible.

John: So when you have a new patient come in, do you actually sit down with them and just have sort of a conversation to start with rather than immediately opening up their mouth and looking in?

Dr. Nammy: Absolutely. The first thing is … My question always is, “How can I serve you?” So, it’s really, “Well, I’m really here to help and what is it that you need for me in order to feel safe and comfortable and so that we get your teeth looking good, feeling good, lasting a long time and you’re pain free.” And sometimes it’s identifying the original trauma and sometimes it’s really about spending some time to journal. Sometimes it’s really having to use some techniques like neuro linguistics reprogramming where we can go back to our child selves and we can grow up feeling safe. And it takes a number of techniques to be able to really kind of get away from that original trauma and get into our present time in space.

John: Do you have people sit in the dentist chair right away when they come in or do you sit down and have a conversation somewhere else?

Dr. Nammy: No, absolutely not. We do not have them sit in a dental chair. The first place that our patients go … We usually have the patients come in. You get to see who we are. We actually give you the tour of the practice, getting to know what we do, what procedures, who are we? Because again, I believe in earning the right, so we earn the right to work with each other. And so, you get to see our core values. Is this the kind of person you want to be working with? And also we’re looking at you. We’re looking at are you a good fit for us? Because we want to work with patients who are happy and satisfied. Also, who want to be educated and empowered and who want a lifelong relationship and who want to really take care of themselves. So we look at that as well.

So during the interview process, we give you the whole tour of the practice and we get to know you. What are your values, what’s important for you? And we ask those for you as well. We’ll sit down in the consultation room after and we’ll go through what are the things that you need in order to feel safe? What are important things for you? Whether it’s a billing question, whether it’s your insurance or whatever it is. So, all of that stuff is hashed out and ironed away. Then we sit in the dental chair, then we look at …

We take photos of the mouth and that way we can show you exactly what we see and it really educates and empowers you to be like, “Oh my gosh, okay, that makes sense.” And really get the information and the facts behind what is recommended and why. Because everything we do in our practice is really results-based and facts-based. So it’s no longer about feelings when it comes to treatment and we actually show the patients, “Hey, this is what bleeding looks like. This is what gum disease looks like.” There’s videos, there’s a lot of education that goes along with what’s needed and why. And the why is really important because once you get to understand the why, it’ll help you prevent further dental work in the future as well.

John: Okay. And once people do feel comfortable and they do sit down in the chair and you are going to be doing some sort of procedures or treatments, what types of procedures and treatments are available that can help to further lower anxiety in patients?

Dr. Nammy: We have so many things. First of all, it comes with efficiency. I have worked on 15,000 mouths 15 years now so I’m pretty efficient at what I do. And it’s the skillset of a provider that is number one because things that can take another practitioner two hours, I can probably finish in 20 minutes, and do it with absolute efficiency. And things again that are really high quality, long lasting and comfortable.

The other thing is that we have technology and tools to be able to do that. Again, high-tech lasers, lots of high-tech lasers, no needles. Being able to make the patient feel numb without using needles is really great. And a lot of procedures we can do that are done in about an hour, 30, 45 minutes, long lasting, easy, quick and just makes you feel good when you’re done because it makes you feel good that you took care of yourself.

John: Right. All right. Well, that’s really great information. Dr. Nammy thanks again for speaking with me today.

Dr. Nammy: My pleasure.

John: And for more information about Green Dentistry, visit the website @sfgreendentist.com or call 415-578-9347.