The top 10 things you can think but never say to a dental patient


Image of a person with a closed zipper over their lips.

With a tip of the hat to David Letterman and his upcoming retirement, it’s time to roll out a Top 10 list of things that might go through your head on a daily basis, but should never come out of your mouth.

10. You really should use some mouthwash. It is killing me to work on you.

9. I am cutting corners with your treatment today so that I can get out of here on time because I am going on vacation.

8. Once again, you are late and I am sick and tired of it!

7. I don’t believe you are really using dental floss. Do you even know what dental floss is?

6. You are one of the most obnoxious people I have ever met!

5. If you buy the electronic toothbrush, I will meet my quota and get a bonus.

4. You are fogging up my mirror again. Can’t you just hold your breath when the mirror is in your mouth?

3. How many times do I have to go over this with you? Canceling your appointment less than an hour before the scheduled time is rude and unacceptable!

2. You are such a big baby! You must be a hypochondriac. Get over it!

And the #1 most important thing to never say to your patient is (where is that drum roll when I need it?) Just pay your bill and stop asking so many questions.

Why do I share this list with you? Because you are human and there are times when you feel anger, resentment, and frustration towards your patients (we aren’t even going to talk about your feelings about your colleagues in this article). But we aren’t ever “allowed” to share our true feelings with the patients, right? We have to use kind, gentle words without offending the patients because, let’s face it, we want their business, right? Hey, we can be honest here. You read these articles, in part, because sometimes it isn’t politically safe in a dental practice to share your real feelings. Your business could be hurting quickly if there’s a perception you are rude to your customers.

But when do you get to put your foot down? When do you get to “dump” that difficult patient? Getting honest and thinking about your feelings is important to patient care. Don’t get me wrong, I am not proposing that we suddenly shoot our mouths off and say what is really on our minds. Instead, think about if the thoughts you have about your patients make you passive aggressive. I am not asking you to tell anyone about those feelings. I am just asking you to think about it. When you don’t like Mr. Jones, do you treat him differently when he’s in the chair? Do you have less patience for him than you do with other patients? If so, what are you going to do about it? My suggestion is to let it go (I know that sounds flippant or like a Disney song, but it is the truth). You don’t have to love your patients. Heck, you don’t even have to like your patients. You just have to provide the best professional care you can muster. Why? Because, despite being human, you are the professional and there are expectations that go along with that.

You can’t just bury these thoughts. You must deal with them. Sure, some things you can tackle head on and some you don’t. Jobs are tough to come by, so you learn to grow up and play the politics of survival. That is why the best piece of advice I can give you is to just let it go.

If you have any thoughts or experiences with this issue, shoot me an email at I’ll talk to you again soon.

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