8 ways to build rapport with patients

May 23, 2019

Check out these top tips for new dental hygienists. You’ve graduated and gotten licensed, and now you’re ready to put on your scrubs and start your first job as a dental hygienist. For seven to nine hours a day, you’ll be interacting with patients and helping them to improve or maintain their oral health.

You’ve graduated and gotten licensed, and now you’re ready to put on your scrubs and start your first job as a dental hygienist. For seven to nine hours a day, you’ll be interacting with patients and helping them to improve or maintain their oral health. Even if you have the technical side of the work down pat, building rapport with people you’ve never been around before can be tough, especially since so many patients are apprehensive about going to the dentist. Here are eight tips to help new dental hygienists build relationships with their patients.

Introduce yourself

The key to getting any relationship off on the right foot is a good introduction. Even though your patient probably already knows your name and that you’re a dental hygienist, still introduce yourself and explain who you are and that you’ll be taking care of him or her today. Shake the patient’s hand and ask how he or she is doing and if he or she has anything specific he or she would like you to look at during the appointment.

Related reading: Why dental professionals need to get rid of 'deep cleaning' lingo

Try to stay upbeat

We all have different emotions throughout the day, and sometimes it can be hard to stay positive, especially if it’s early in the morning or if you’re having a bad day. However, try to stay upbeat as much as possible when interacting with patients. If you’re worried or anxious about something, even if it’s totally unrelated to work, patients will pick up on it and that can exacerbate any dental anxiety they already have. If you need to confide in someone or blow off steam, do it with a trusted coworker rather than a patient.

Ask about their interests

Obviously, patients can’t talk once you’re working. But while you’re walking them back to the chair, it’s nice to ask them a few innocuous questions about themselves, such as what they do for a living and whether or not they have plans for the weekend. Just a few questions show that you’re interested in them as people and can help to create rapport before you start poking around in their mouth. When appropriate, it’s also polite to follow the norm of reciprocity and share a little bit about yourself so that it’s not a one-way conversation. You don’t want to overshare, but a few fun facts can help the patient feel more at ease.

Explain what you’re doing

Even if your patient is a regular and knows the drill (pun intended), it’s still courteous to tell him or her what you’re about to do before you do it. Patients can’t see what’s going on in their mouth, and a sudden or unexpected movement might startle them, which is never a good thing when you have tools and fingers near teeth. Explaining what you do as you go through the appointment is also a great way to educate patients about their bodies and oral health.

Answer the patient’s questions

Leave time at the end of the appointment to answer any questions the patient might have and proactively ask him or her if there’s anything he or she would like to know. Sometimes patients do ask silly questions, but try to keep judgmental thoughts to yourself, as you don’t want to discourage open communication by making them feel embarrassed. If patients say they don’t know if they have questions or they don’t have anything to ask, confirm that they understand their treatment plan and any special actions they should be taking at home for their oral health.

Offer practical tips

Few patients have perfect dental health, so there are probably a couple of things each patient can improve on at home. When recommending changes, offer concrete suggestions whenever possible. So, rather than just advising that they start using mouthwash, explain how and when to use it and recommend specific brands that will address their oral health concerns. While it’s fine to recommend products that your practice sells, just know that can turn some patients off or make them resistant to the underlying suggestion, so you’ll need to do it with a light touch.

Trending article: The devil wears a patient bib

Withhold judgment as much as you can

Nearly 60 percent of patients experience dental anxiety, and that concern can cause them to put off dental appointments or neglect their oral health. Many patients are already aware if they have issues with their teeth or mouth, and they’re likely embarrassed about it. Plus, knowledge that seems obvious to you as a dental hygienist may not be as clear to patients who haven’t gone to school to study dental health. As much as you can, try to withhold judgment and have compassion for your patients, especially those with dental anxiety.

Remember who they are

You might see anywhere between eight and 16 patients a day, depending on how much time your practice allots for a standard cleaning and check-up. Given five days each week and 50ish work weeks in the year, that’s hundreds of patients per year. Remembering all of these patients off the top of your head is near impossible, but making a few notes in their patient file can help to jog your memory so that you’re not flying blind in each appointment. It’s also a good idea to make a note of any dental concerns the patient had at his or her last appointment so that you can follow up on it the next time you see him or her.

If you’re nervous about working with patients, remember that they’re probably just as anxious as you (though for different reasons). Take a deep breath, relax and believe that the appointment will go well. Even if you don’t make friends with every patient, it’s not the end of the world. Now, don those exam gloves and go start your new job with confidence!