Behavioural strategies and techniques have been used in dentistry for many years, and can be very successful in the management of the highly anxious patient.
At their simplest, they involve the tell-show-do technique, which involves verbal explanation of the procedure in easy-to-understand language (tell), followed by demonstrations of the sights, sounds, smells and tactile aspects of the procedure in a non-threatening way (show), followed by the actual procedure (do). Support and praising the patient’s achievements are vitally important.
More specialised behavioural modification includes teaching individuals relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques, as well as thought based techniques (e.g. encouraging patient to focus on a sunny day on the beach). A fairly well known behavioural technique is desensitisation, where a patient is taught relaxation skills, and the object of their anxiety is slowly introduced over a number of visits until the patient finds that their anxiety has reduced to a level where they are no longer fearful.
Interestingly, research shows that patients who successfully complete treatment with behaviour management claim that the main factors that helped make the treatment successful were provision of information, time taken, and the dentist understanding and listening to their concerns. Sounds familiar!