10 things every dental professional needs to know

March 19, 2019

It can make a tremendous difference in the patient experience when you aren’t just listening but really hearing what patients need and want.

Reading minds is not a skill I do well. I do practice it, but not with much success. What about you? Have you wondered what your patients are thinking? What do they think of you and the care they’re getting? Here are 10 tips to help dental professionals better understand their patients.

1. Patients aren’t naïve. Please don’t talk to me as if I’m a child or a fragile patient. If I seem frustrated, find out why without being condescending. You’re the professional and you can do things to alleviate this stress.

2. There are problems in the practice that patients witness. Your staff has come and gone in the time that I’ve been seeing you. Some of it is natural attrition, but my observation is that there are issues when you staff retention is a serious problem.

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3. Don’t stereotype me because of how I look or dress. Just because I’m a fashionista doesn’t mean that I have unlimited amounts of money to spend on dental procedures. I shop resale and consignment and am very good at stretching my dollars. Even when you don’t say anything, check your body language. Looking me up and down or rolling your eyes behind my back is juvenile. You may be very surprised at how you come across and what we pick up on.

4. I’m not deaf. When you talk about another patient in my presence, I’m very uncomfortable. It makes me wonder what you’re saying about me in front of other patients after I leave the office.

5. I’m not your friend. It’s amazing how much gossip about employees has been shared with me since I’m a “regular.” If I ask about an employee on leave, please don’t share inappropriately.

6. Respect my time as I respect yours. If the dentist or hygienist is running late, please call me. I hate wasting my PTO sitting in your office.

7. Keep me informed of estimates for pricey procedures as soon as possible. Money doesn’t grow on trees. I have to plan for those expensive visits.

8. Don’t use my chest as a place for you to throw your dental instruments while doing a cleaning. So many dental professionals do this and it drives me up the wall. You were never trained to put your tools on my chest in school. When I tell you not to do so, why do I have to repeat this request at every visit?

9. Ask me questions when I’m able to answer. Why do you want to take the chance that I’ll accidentally bite you with your hands in my mouth? I don’t think you really care what answer I give to your question.

10. Realize that I have gum disease even though I floss and clean my teeth religiously. It gets old having the same conversation each visit about my dental hygiene habits. I do all those things and yet I have gum disease.

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I challenge you to think about whether or not you’re really listening to your patients. There are many reasons why patients don’t speak up. I loathed my TMJ specialist thinking he was abusive to his staff with me sitting in the chair between them. He would bring these women to tears; it was awful.

When you have a complicated problem such as TMJ and have been receiving treatment over several years, it’s hard to pick up and go find another specialist. Not many practices want to step in when you’re in the middle of treatment with another doctor. Sometimes you have to bide your time until the treatment is over. Other times you can confront the person. Different situations warrant different tactics.

Listening isn’t just something you do with your ears; it’s a full-body activity. What does your gut tell you? What are you seeing? What are you hearing? How are you interpreting the patient’s body language? How does what a patient is saying make you feel? Listen, ask questions, observe patients’ nonverbals and don’t be so rushed. These are skills that can be worked on.

It can make a tremendous difference in the patient experience when you aren’t just listening but really hearing what patients need and want.

Send an email to diana2@discussdirectives.com and share your thoughts about this article. Have you seen any of these issues in your practice?