The importance of creating and building a relationship with the dental patient


Picture yourself on a blind date. Your heart is pounding with excitement. You haven’t been on a date in years and you’ve never been on a blind date, but Amy, your best friend at work says this guy is terrific!

You are definitely out of your comfort zone, but then a funny thing happens. You see each other and you relax. He gives you flowers. You sit across from each other and talk and you discover that you both enjoy an active, healthy lifestyle.

You’re thinking, “This is promising.” Then Mr. Wonderful says, “I can’t help but think that you might benefit from a better exercise routine. Let me tell you about the great gym I belong to.”

What? Does he think I’m out of shape? Who is he to tell me I need a better exercise routine? I can’t believe he is so superficial and rude. How can I gracefully excuse myself and get out of here?

Can you imagine how you’d feel? You’d think back to see if you missed some of the warning signs. Amy liked him. She thought you’d be a good match. He was sweet on the phone, the restaurant was lovely, and he brought flowers. Still, you were blindsided. You’ll be polite and when he asks if he can call you, you’ll nod and say, “Of course,” knowing full well that you will not answer his call or ever talk with him again.

Mr. Wonderful is also wondering what went wrong. He’s thinking, “I tried to put my best foot forward. I even brought her flowers. It seemed to be going so well. Geez, I even cared enough to tell her all about the amazing gym I just discovered. This trainer has a 20-minute routine that gets me better results than anything I’ve ever done. I guess she wasn’t as interested in staying as healthy and active as I thought she was.”

Two different perspectives which one is accurate? The truth is that it doesn’t matter. Regardless of both people’s best intentions, the relationship never got off the ground.

What does this have to do with dentistry? Everything! Most people have had the experience of thinking they were connecting with a patient and then experienced a disconnect just like the dating snafu above. The initial phone call was terrific. They welcomed the patient warmly. They offered a beverage, a comfortable massage chair, aromatherapy candles, music selections, and warm blankets that created a spa-like experience. Everything was going well and you expected the patient would move forward only to find out the patient didn’t schedule a next appointment.

You’ve probably scratched your head and wondered what happened. Maybe your patient said “yes” while at the office, scheduled his or her visit, and then cancelled. Again, you’re left wondering what went wrong and why the patient has changed his or her mind. You were so sure that you understood what the patient wanted but, in reality, it’s possible that what you truly understood was what YOU wanted for the patient.

Relationships take different forms -- some personal, some social, some professional -- yet the relationship rules remain the same.

People choose other people they like and trust.

The best way to know what someone wants is to ask.

Don’t make assumptions or you may believe them to be true.

If you don’t like the answers you’re getting, ask better questions.

There’s never a second chance to make a great first impression.

If someone does not weigh in on a decision, they cannot truly buy into it.

Dr. Elliott: “I have definitely been there, thinking I’ve educated my patient to understanding the best solution only to have them surprise me. Here’s an example:

I just gave the perfect treatment presentation, or so I thought. I bonded with the patient, he laughed at all of my favorite jokes. I discussed his X-rays and intraoral photos. I showed him how we could straighten and whiten his teeth. Then came the dreaded question, “How much is all that going to cost? Besides, I don’t want a mouth full of braces at my age!”

I swallowed down the lump in my throat, “Well ... Brittany can answer that question for you up front. As far as your crooked front teeth, we could do some bonding that would work pretty well to make it less noticeable.”

I made a classic and fatal mistake. I gave the prescription before the diagnosis and I never asked my patient important questions that uncovered what he desired.”

In both the blind date example and Dr. Elliott’s example above, one party offered an opinion or advice that the receiving party was not yet asking for or prepared to hear. In both cases, a relationship that initially felt promising never got off the ground.

A better approach

After personally training more than 7,000 delegates in his two-day Ethical Sales Training program in the United Kingdom, Ashley Latter has come to the conclusion that the biggest communication mistake dentists make is they sell their products and services before finding out what the patient requires or wants.

“The majority of dentists think that the more they talk, the better chance they have of treatment acceptance,” says Latter.

After taking part in Latter’s program, Dr. Elliott has made some critical changes that are dramatically increasing her case acceptance. For example, when Dr. Elliott sees a patient with some anterior crowding who mentions an upcoming wedding, she doesn’t say, “We could fix those crooked teeth with braces and some whitening in time for your wedding. Let me show you how.” Instead, Dr. Elliott gets to know her patient and is now skilled at making the emotional connections between the patient’s current and desired situation. She uses a very simple, yet powerful process to help the patient lead the way to choosing the best solution for himself.

This patient shared that he often holds back on fully smiling or covers his mouth to hide his crooked teeth. With all the photos that will be taken on the big day, he is nervous. Once comfortable and feeling safe, he reveals his wish to be able to smile confidently and show just how truly happy he is. He’s afraid that with the wedding just six months away that he’s waited too long. Now that he’s ready, Dr. Elliott can present the perfect solution in Six Month Smiles Cosmetic Braces along with whitening.

Ethical sales training

Often the treatment presentation can look like a tennis match with the doctor and the patient batting the ball back and forth, with the doctor making a recommendation and the patient raising an objection over and over again.

The beauty of Latter’s approach to case presentation is that it puts you and your patient on the same side. The relationship between doctor and patient is supportive not adversarial.

There are many advantages to this ethical sales process including:

The patients start telling you the benefits of the treatment.

Treatment becomes their idea, in which case they are more likely to accept and you will get fewer objections to the cost of treatment

“I once heard a statement that has lived with me for many years. Prescription before diagnosis is malpractice,” said Latter. “If you do this, it’s malpractice. You risk offering the wrong solution.”

Dr. Elliott: “This program has taught me that just when I naturally jump in with solutions is when I need to step back and ask questions. This course has changed me and my practice like no other I’ve taken.”

Ashley Latter is internationally renowned for helping practices create more opportunities to deliver the dentistry their patients want. He writes an e-mail newsletter fortnightly (for those of us in the United States, that means twice a month) that is read by more than 12,000 dentists worldwide.

After all the cutting-edge education and sexy technology is in place, the magic still doesn’t happen until people connect. Communication-skills training is a game-changer that will make the difference for you, your team, and your patients. It can even help on that next blind date!

Editor's Note: Erin Elliott, DDS and Ginny Hegarty, SPHR teach the Ethical Sales and Communication program. To learn more, visit

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