The top 10 things patients think when they are sitting in your dental chair

We recently went viral (no, not like a disease) with more than 23,000 viewers reading/sharing/tweeting the article, "Top 10 Things You Can Never Say to Your Dental Patient." Since I obviously hit a nerve (or was that your funny bone?), it makes sense to paint you the other side of the story. So … what, pray tell, does your dental patient think when he or she is sitting in your chair?

10. Can I grab a Keurig on the way out? (More important, can I serve myself without breaking anything?)

9. Will you ignore the onions I ate on my way over here? (I hope the assistant will give me mouthwash.)

8. Is your chair going to make me feel like I am falling backwards?

7. Are you going to ask me questions when you have your hands in my mouth and I can’t answer? (You are like a waitress who comes around only when my mouth is full to see if I need anything.)

6. Are you running behind and going to be in a rush and not listen to what I have to say?

5. If I pay cash, will you give me a discount?

4. Are you going to tell me (yet again) how to floss?

3. How long is this going to take? (I hate using my PTO time on your tardiness.)

2. Please don’t poke me with that sharp, pointy metal thing again. I don’t think I can take it.

And the #1 most important thing that your patient is thinking about… (Nowthe drum roll, please…)

1. How much of this is covered by my insurance? OK … where is the laughing gas? It looks like it’s time to pay my bill.

Why do you need to think about this? It’s simple … it’s all about patient care. Do you care about your patients? If so, part of that means caring about what they are thinking when they are sitting right in front of you. With my vast experience with dental hygienists, assistants, dentists, periodontists, TMJ experts, and oral surgeons (you can imagine my Christmas list!), I can tell you that these are the things running through your patients’ minds. And guess what? It isn’t very pretty.

(Bythe way, Keurig has to have a deal with dental practices, right? They seem to be in every office.)

Seriously folks, no one wants to be at a dental office (except for my younger brother and father, who always were enamored by the pretty assistant who took care of them). As patients, we come to your chair worried about pain, worried about the bill, and worried that you will talk down to us. We do the best we can with our hygiene. Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to get out of the bathroom at night to go to bed when there is such a long list of things I have to do with my teeth? My husband is asleep half the time, but we persevere!

You are doing more for your patients than just cleaning their teeth, tackling pain issues, and providing strategies to keep their teeth in their mouths. You are like a bartender, a social worker, or a jeweler. You are someone who needs to be trusted or your patients aren’t going to tell you the whole story. You need to be authentic. Be interested. Follow the Golden Rule and treat your patients the way YOU want to be treated. Keep that in mind the next time you are asking a question with your fingers in a patient’s mouth.

Hey, maybe your front office should teach Morse code with blinking or something like that?

If you have any thoughts or experiences with this issue, shoot me an email at or feel free to post your comments. I’ll talk to you next month.