Guidelines for Speaking with Patients about Dentistry

June 12, 2023

Guidelines for Speaking with Patients about Dentistry

Approaching the Patient

Develop Rapport

  • Tune the world out and give your total attention to this patient.
  • Put them at ease, call them by their name. If you aren’t sure whether to use their first name, be conservative and use their last name.
  • When you transfer the patient to another team member, be sure to use their name; introduce them.
  • Get them talking about themselves; people like to be listened to.
  • Hold eye contact. Listen to how they feel.  This makes a stronger impact on people and you will more clearly hear what they want.

The Interview

  • Remember that you are not in the tooth business; you are in the people business.
  • Learn the dominant needs of people; this is the main purpose of the interview stage.
  • What is it that they want? To feel better, feel important, look better, etc.

Many dental professionals say that a patient’s wants are:  endo, ortho, crowns, etc.  This is not so.  We need to know what the patient’s wants are from the patient’s perspective.

Some of these wants are:

  • To look better.
  • To be able to afford the treatment.
  • To trust the doctor and team.
  • To feel better.
  • To prevent future problems.
  • To use up a health benefit.
  • To make the best decision.
  • For their children to have better teeth than they do.
  • For the team to follow up and check on them.


You will need some specific information from the patient:

      • Why they came to you.
      • Previous dental history.
      • Where does it hurt and for how long?
      • The type of work or profession they are in.
      • The importance of personal image to them.
      • How they like their teeth.
      • Why they have put off treatment.
      • How important is their long-term dental health?
      • What their expectations are.


      To get this information, ask some or all of the following questions:

      • If you could change the appearance of your teeth, what would you change?
      • How would you describe the general condition of your teeth?
      • What kind of image do you want to convey to others?
      • What would it be worth to you to keep your teeth the rest of your life?
      • If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently about your dental health?
      • How do you feel about your past dental treatment?
      • How important for you is it to eliminate future problems?
      • What are some other concerns that you might have?
      • Why did you choose to come to our office at this time?
      • How long have you been thinking about getting this treatment done?


      Some offices are too busy and have time to only look into the mouth and tell the patient what they need to have done.

      Asking questions works well because:

      • People will accept it when it is their idea, not yours.
      • Patients are more apt to believe what they tell you than what you tell them.

      Ask questions that get patients to tell you how they want to feel about themselves, how they want to look to others, and whether they want to prevent future problems or save money in the long run.

      To do:

      1. When you ask your patients questions, they will like you more because it implicitly tells them that you care about them.
      2. Demonstrate to the patient what they need:
        1. Patients are not interested in what you are going to do; instead, they are more interested in what the results will be.
        2. Do not talk about procedures as a way of showing what will be done. Use only “before” and “after” pictures.
      1. Avoid talking about the fee initially:
        • When you give a ballpark figure, they will focus on the lowest fee you quoted.
        • All fee questions are premature until the patient has admitted their needs and you have decided what treatment plan is best for them. Not until they say “Yes, this is what I need; what does it cost?” do you mention the fee.
        • Only mention the fee after the patient knows the value. Look into the patient’s eyes and make what you say sound like it is ten times the value and then relate it to the need that they have expressed.  For example:

      “The fee for this crown will be $1,100, which may sound expensive until you realize that it will help you look better, prevent further deterioration of the tooth, and help you chew better.”

      A common principle to remember:  Patients accept dentistry when they perceive it to be consistent with their own values and self-esteem.

      It is normal for you to think in terms of procedures and for the patient to think of the end result.  There is a big difference.