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Help your patients to open up about their smile

Man with teeth that need dental work

A person’s smile is really important, and dentists know this better than anyone else. Often it’s hard for patients to talk about the insecurities they have with their smile, which makes it harder for dentists to offer the help they so desperately want to give. If this is a struggle you are seeing in your practice, here are 3 different ways you could help your patients open up.

Try paperwork

A simple way to address these issues with new patients is being able to refer to something they wrote in the registration paperwork. By adding a section specifically asking their opinion about their smile, this creates a great opener to talk about any issues in the appointment. The section can be an open-ended question or even a system for patients to rate on a scale how their smile is and where they want it to be. Now you can follow up with simple questions like,

“ I see you said on your paperwork that you have stains you can’t get rid of. Have you heard of options A or B?”

“ You currently rated your smile as a 3 but want it to be a 7. Why do you think your smile is a three?”

While there is the potential patients will skip the section, it has the opportunity to create an opening for the people that did take the time to fill it out.

Use the hygienist

Given that the hygienist is with the patient for a longer period of time, there are a lot more opportunities available to them. Empower your hygienists to make these observations and use the time to start talking to the patient about concerns or options so that you can address and follow up on the conversation during your consultation. This allows patients more time to digest information making the situations feel less abrasive. Questions like,

“If you had a wish to change something about your teeth, what would you want to do?”

“I’m noticing some staining in area A of your teeth, have you tried or considered any whitening options?”

“Did you know that we can actually replace your metal fillings with a filling that looks like natural teeth?”

Instead of telling them what they should be doing, use questions that help the patient feel like their opinion matters to help in discussing these areas. As hygienists tactfully approach these conversations, it adds another way for patients to feel cared about.

Listen, Suggest and Educate

Part of helping patients open up is showing them you and your staff are good listeners. Although these same principles are used in the second suggestion, it’s important that in all conversations with your patients they feel heard and safe. A lot of trust is built when someone knows they are heard which leads to feeling understood. Find times when your tools are not in your patient's mouth to ask questions, actively listen and show interest in their concerns. The way you listen will vary from patient to patient given their individual communication style. This should help establish mutual respect creating a more open and constructive environment when it's time to suggest ideas or treatments for them to consider. Help them see the benefits and put them at ease by educating them about procedures. You know your patients the best and will be able to find the opportunities to have those conversations. 

You're Already There

Dentists work hard on developing good relationships with patients and part of that is in the quality work they provide. The biggest thing to remember is that your patients already trust your expertise and experience. Sometimes the first step is being confident in yourself to offer suggestions for change. All a lot of patients need is to just hear the suggestions, so don’t hesitate.


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