Dealing with the 'Human Being Connected to the Tooth'

January 28, 2017
Sarah Anwar

According to Chris Salierno, DDS, dentists need to be mindful that they’re treating a human, not just a tooth. This was his main message on the importance of communication in his continuing education session at the Yankee Dental Congress in Boston, Mass.

“There’s a human being connected to the tooth.”

That was the main takeaway from a session given by Chris Salierno, DDS, at the 2017 Yankee Dental Congress on Thursday, Jan. 26 in Boston, Mass.

In his continuing education session, titled “How Not to Fail Miserably at Private Practice,” Salierno said that no matter how good you are as a dentist, it won’t matter if the patient had a bad experience. It is important for not only you as the dentist to be welcoming, but for all staff to be warm, as well. According to Salierno, the patient’s experience starts with their first phone call to inquire about service.

He believes that each patient should be treated as though they were a celebrity. If a patient walks through your office doors and your front desk staff member is talking on the phone, the employee’s full attention should be brought to the patient at hand. They should kindly ask the person on the phone to hold for a moment while they welcome the patient, greeting them warmly and with enthusiasm. This sets the tone of the whole experience. After all, the best form of advertising is a patient who had a good experience, Salierno said.

One initiative that Salierno has been implementing in his practice is taking the time to speak with each patient outside of the dental chair. He has been providing a free half hour consultation that has allowed him to not only catch up on the patient’s dental health and care goals, but has also helped him forge a connection. Salierno has also been encouraging patients to bring a friend or family member along to the consultation. He said that this is a great way to show off your practice to a potential patient while letting the initial patient feel that they have a familiar person as a sounding board.

In dealing with patients who seem hesitant about a necessary procedure, Salierno recommended a four-step approach:

1. Thank

2. State objective

3. Argument

4. Summarize

Thanking the patient lets them know that you were listening and you’ve heard their concerns. Next, say what you will do and present your argument as to why you feel the procedure is important. Finally, summarize the situation. One thing he advised against is introducing hurdles that do not exist. For example, if a patient is concerned about the expense of a procedure, don’t reassure them that it will be painless.

He used the following example:

“It sounds like you’re concerned about expenses. But this is something we should tackle sooner rather than later. The procedure now may cost you $X. However, if you wait and let the problem fester, in the long run, it may end up costing $XX. Dealing with this problem now will save on cost and further damage to your dental health.”

Sometimes, though, patients can be difficult. As a result, Salierno is a firm believer in firing patients. However, he does it with subtlety and without allowing the situation to escalate. He suggests the following approach: “I want you to be happy, because you deserve it. I don’t think I’ll be able to make you happy, but I’d be glad to send your file to another dentist.”

No matter the situation, Salierno said to approach it with level-headedness so as to avoid negative reviews and problems down the road. Always remember that your patients are your employers, as well as your strongest marketing tool.

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