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A recent post on Business News Daily asked 50 different entrepreneurs for their favorite motivational songs. The depth and variety of both the tunes and the individual reasonings demonstrated the effect that music can have on the human psyche … and underscored the dramatic role music could and should be playing in the dental office.

We’ve long known that music could produce a measurable anxiety-reducing response; we’ve also seen how the process of waiting for treatment can routinely create stress and anxiety in many individuals. In the last few years, studies have begun to address how these things could work together to create a more positive experience for patients.

“Music triggers the release of the brain chemical dopamine, a process which is strongly associated with other rewarding and motivating stimuli,” explained Robert Zatorre — a researcher of emotion and music at McGill University — in a 2013 article. He also pointed out that many scientists believe music’s ability to make a person feel good may be innately connected to its ability to combat pain and anxiety.

While this has obvious ramifications to patients during a procedure, one group of researchers chose to examine what could be accomplished in medical waiting areas. They set out to determine how music might temper pre-treatment anxiety in an otherwise healthy patient waiting for a dental treatment.

Controlling Anxiety, Not Just Pain

In a controlled clinical trial, nearly 100 volunteers were assessed (in terms of overall state, subjective stress, and mood) while waiting for a scheduled dental appointment. The subjects were assigned at random to either a waiting room with music or one with only silence. What the researchers found were significantly decreased anxiety levels in the group with music when the two groups were compared.

This suggests that, in addition to music’s believed ability to interfere with pain signals, there is the potential to use music to alleviate anxiety — and arguably, promote overall health — before any pain signals exist: patients listening to music have been shown to experience lowered blood pressure, decreased muscle tension, and other positive responses.

“If you’re thinking about something else, then you’re not thinking about your pain, and you feel less pain,” says University of Utah psychologist David Bradshaw. Research is starting to support the idea that this relief extends beyond physical or neurological pain to include areas such as anticipatory anxiety.

Music to Benefit Everyone in Your Practice

Practitioners who believe that music can substantially increase the productivity, energy level and job satisfaction (of both staff and patients) have more options than ever, when it comes to providing music. Customized “soundtracks” are now available which are specifically designed to evoke a soothing atmosphere for patients before and during a procedure … while offering a non-repetitive mix for employees to enjoy. Companies like Surgical Serenity Solutions Inc. have even begun to tout headphone sets that come preloaded with a patent-based music playlist engineered to synchronize respiratory and cardiac functions to the individual patient’s resting heart rate.

No matter how the delivery is handled, music has been shown to supply at least limited amounts of relief to patients with dental anxiety. In addition, this gesture itself can go a long way toward strengthening patient-provider relationships, which in turn is key to developing a sustainable business.