By Lucy Wyndham
A University of Westminster study found a decrease in stress levels after participants visited an art gallery at lunchtime. This was only seen in participants with relatively high levels of stress in the first place, but this is interesting food for thought in dentistry. Mild dental anxiety is almost universal, with some patients experiencing high levels of stress when visiting the dentist. Could just a little artwork in your practice really help to make things easier for nervous patients?
Creating a soothing space
Simply walking into a dental practice can raise stress levels in some patients, so it’s vital that your waiting room is a calming and tranquil space. While viewing art has been shown to decrease stress, it’s important that the art included in your waiting room is relaxing. Steer clear of modern art with harsh lines and bright colors. Opt instead for calming, natural scenes in soft or natural colors. Wall art can provide a distracting focal point while patients are waiting, but it’s vital to create a peaceful environment with calming energy. Just as your walls should be painted in soft, calming colors like sage, tan or pale yellows, the art you include should exude a similar energy. Spending time in nature reduces stress: in your waiting room, you can mimic some of this effect by including landscape paintings (as well as indoor plants) to help create a sense of calm in your patients.
A distraction for children
Soothing dental anxiety in children is particularly important, as this can make a difference to treating them successfully, and can help shape their feelings about visiting the dentist in the future. While most of this work must be done through reassurance, positive reinforcement and a good chairside manner, distraction is also a powerful tool. While the majority of artwork on your walls might aim to soothe patients of all ages, don’t neglect the power of the ceiling when it comes to children. A large magic eye or Where’s Waldo poster over the dental chair can give children an engaging and distracting focal point during treatment, which can help to keep them calm.
Remember, too, that much of a child’s anxiety occurs before treatment, and ensure that the waiting room is equipped with plenty of calming distractions. Toys, games and books are always a good idea, and many dental practices are now including digital options such as tablets loaded with interactive games. Coloring and drawing activities should also be included in your waiting room’s play area, however: a study published by Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health professions found that creating art can reduce cortisol levels by 75%. Providing coloring pages, drawing materials and simple drawing tutorials for children to focus on could make them significantly less stressed by the time they reach the dental chair. A child who has spent 15 minutes engaged in learning how to draw the features of a cat, for example, not only comes away with a new skill, but has also focused on creating art instead of worrying about their treatment. With the rise of adult coloring books as people become more aware of mindfulness and the role of art in stress reduction, you could include artistic distraction for adults too.
Soothing dental anxiety is a vital component of good practice. Creating a calming environment plays an important role in this for both adults and children, although both groups have different needs. Given the association between art and stress reduction, the inclusion of art in waiting and treatment rooms is a valuable consideration. For children, allowing them to actively engage in creative activity by providing art supplies in the waiting room is also valuable, and could make all the difference to successful treatment.