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Ep. #304 : The 2 Kinds of Dental Patients and Why It’s Important to You as a Dentist with Dr. Gary DeWood

the best practices show podcast May 24, 2021


There are patients who believe they're healthy, and there are patients who believe they have significant issues. And today’s guest, Dr. Gary DeWood, explains how these mindsets develop and how it affects how you interact with them. Kirk Behrendt and Dr. DeWood talk about the importance of words and how it can change the way patients understand and value the services you provide in your practice. Words matter! For tips on attracting the right type of patients, listen to Episode 304 of The Best Practices Show!

Main Takeaways:

  • Dentists need to change their mindset and culture.
  • Many dental patients think they're healthy, and dentists perpetuate that belief.
  • Don't use “dental” and “insurance” in the same sentence. Say “benefit plans” or “benefits”.
  • Value your hygienists and show it! Instead of “cleaning,” call it “hygiene therapy”.
  • Ask patients what dental health means to them.


  • “People coming to the dentist is like people going to a Broadway show. They get there, they're not exactly sure what's going to happen. Sometimes, it can be unpleasant, or even unwanted. But whatever happens is going to create an experience. And if that experience is one that exceeds their expectations, it’s going to be remembered and valued.” (05:28—05:57)
  • “If you ask the appropriate questions, some patients will decide that you are not the place for them to come. And that's important too, because one of the worst things that can happen is when that doesn't happen and they show up, and their expectations are not met because we were never really on the same page. And unfortunately, they go out and they tell other people about those things.” (07:07—07:28)
  • “Patients who believe they're healthy think they're coming for the reason that we have trained the public to come to a dentist. And I will tell you that this isn't my question, this was Lisa’s question, a friend. She would ask people, ‘What significant dental issues are you dealing with right now?’ And most patients said, ‘I don't really have any issues. I just need to get my teeth cleaned.’” (08:07—08:30)
  • “[Patients who] believe they're healthy, if they have an issue, it ain’t significant. And almost always, they already believe they know the answer. People who claim a significant issue are different. They're usually looking for answers. And so, that differentiation made it possible to have some idea who was coming.” (08:58—09:18)
  • “If you want to change the mindset around dental benefit plans in your practice, there are two things you can do. First of all, answer this question: what minds have to change first? Ours. If we believe that dental benefit plans suck, we tell people that through our mindset. Because believe me, whatever you believe is being transmitted, no matter how you think you talk, I promise you it’s being transmitted. And the only thing that happens then is that you and the patient wind up in a little muddy hole whining about how terrible it is. Tell me how that benefits anybody.” (15:20—16:08)
  • “I remember people walking in and plunking down, when they had to bring all the paperwork — you know, you had to sign all the forms ahead of time and they had to bring all this stuff — and they'd throw it down on the counter and they would go, ‘I have this, but it sucks.’ And you want to go, ‘Yeah, they all suck.’ Don't do that! Please don't do that.” (16:15—16:32)
  • “I believe one way to change culture, which is part of mindset, it’s mindset now translated to action. So, here’s my recommendation: stop saying the words “dental” and “insurance” in the same sentence. In fact, stop saying those two words together in your practice, without exception. Say “benefit plans” and “dental benefits,” or “benefits”. People will start asking you things. Words are important. You want to change your mindset? Start talking about things differently.” (16:41—17:10)
  • “I think most dental patients think they're healthy. And what's interesting to me is that lots of dentists perpetuate that by not telling people everything they see or what's possible.” (19:21—19:34)
  • “I think that almost all dentists are doing the very best to help their patients see everything that they know. And unfortunately, a lot of dentists are practicing their first year of dentistry, even though they’ve been out there for 20 years. And things are different. Things change all the time. I was thinking about my initial exams, years ago. I mean, I didn't look at how people breathe. The joke that I say to our groups here at Spear, I say, ‘I've been looking up people’s noses for years. But now, I do it with intent.’” (19:39—20:11)
  • “I learned that I am absolutely, totally, 100% a salesperson. So is everybody on my team, without exception. The number-one thing you sell is yourself. The second thing is, in our situation, health. And the patients’ understanding of health will drive that.” (20:48—21:10)
  • “My job is not to sell you the dentistry that I think you need. My job is to sell you on your current situation so you can look at me and say, ‘What should I do?’” (21:49—21:59)
  • “You have tons and tons of fee-for-service patients right now. They just happen to be enrolled in a PPO. But that's not the box they think they're in. We think they're in that box because that's how we view that group of people; they don't.” (28:56—29:16)
  • “I was taught my job was to give everybody a list of what was wrong with them and then tell them I was going to fix it. And if they didn't say yes to that, it was just because I hadn’t educated them enough. And I'm going to tell you, I learned early on education is grossly overrated, folks. The education that's necessary is not that stuff, because it’s all too logical. It’s all logic stuff. We have to become better involved emotionally, on an emotional level with the people in our chair.” (34:29—34:56)
  • “One of the things that I'm encouraging people to do right now is, if new patients are coming in through hygiene, I'm encouraging the hygienist that I get to spend some time with that they should introduce themselves as, ‘Welcome to Dr. Gary and Cheryl DeWood’s practice. I'm happy to be able to welcome you for your new patient visit,’ and especially because it’s a healthy new patient visit, ‘My name is Robin. I'm the periodontal co-therapist who works with Dr. DeWood.’ Say something that's a value statement about who you are and what you do — because you don't clean teeth.’” (39:22—39:56)
  • “You want to change your mindset about something? Let's change how we talk about it. We stopped using the word “cleaning” in my practice. We don't have those. We have hygiene therapy visits.” (39:59—40:08)
  • “This is what we would say when people would say “cleanings”. You don't want to correct people, but what I would say when people would say, ‘Yeah, I need to get that appointment to get my teeth cleaned,’ I would say, ‘You know, cleaning is what you're doing every day at home. You do a good job. Way to go. When you come for hygiene therapy, everything you accomplish in cleaning will be done. But there is way more than that happening.’ Why don't we say that on an ongoing basis to everybody who we get to have a chance to talk to so that they can hear that there's something different?” (40:10—40:37)
  • “I found ways to invest in myself. And for me, that was continuing education. I learned how to look at patients differently, and that paid off. And I got that advice from somebody, my preceptor in dental school . . . I said, ‘Do you have any advice to give us as we depart?’ And he said, ‘Yeah. Sometime in the next three to five years, you're going to feel like buying new furniture for the living room. Go take some really good CE instead.’” (44:24—45:04)


  • Dr. DeWood’s background. (03:22—04:26)
  • Why this is an important dialogue in dentistry. (05:18—07:57)
  • The two types of patients. (08:07—11:01)
  • Where is the future in this? (11:31—16:32)
  • Change the mindset and culture. (16:33—17:10)
  • Ask patients what dental health means to them. (17:30—21:59)
  • Dentistry is 51% healthcare and 49% business. (22:20—26:20)
  • How to move to more fee-for-service. (27:12—34:56)
  • Dentists devalue hygiene. (36:11—41:55)
  • Why Spear Education is valuable. (42:48—48:08)
  • Spear workshops and Dr. DeWood’s contact information. (48:18—50:14)

Reach Out to Dr. DeWood:

Dr. DeWood’s email: [email protected] 

Dr. DeWood’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/drdewood

Dr. DeWood’s Twitter: @garydewood https://twitter.com/garydewood?lang=en

Spear Education website: https://www.speareducation.com/

Further Reading:

Mayo Clinic article: https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-doubling-the-size-of-its-phoenix-campus-to-meet-patient-demand

Dr. Gary DeWood Bio:

Dr. DeWood is the Executive Vice President of Spear Education. As one of the founding members of Spear, he directed Curriculum and Clinical Education for nearly a decade prior to joining in the launch of Spear Practice Solutions. Today, he splits time between teaching and consulting.

Dr. DeWood serves as an instructor in multiple Spear Workshops, including Facially Generated Treatment Planning, Occlusion in Clinical Practice, Advanced Occlusion, Sleep Medicine in the Dental Practice, and a special focus workshop on temporomandibular disorder. He also maintains a limited private practice on the Spear Campus in Scottsdale, Arizona, and lectures nationally and internationally on practice management, treatment planning, case management, case acceptance, TMD diagnosis, appliance therapy, occlusion, and esthetics.

Prior to his contributions at Spear, Dr. DeWood maintained a private restorative general practice with his wife and fellow Spear Resident Faculty member, Dr. Cheryl DeWood, in Pemberville, Ohio, before dedicating most of his time to teaching full time. With 40 years in general dentistry, he provides a unique perspective to the application of the dental principles taught at Spear. He has spent years focused on diagnosing and treating functional occlusal problems and TMD, and as part of that focus completed the craniofacial pain mini-residency at the University of Florida College of Dentistry in the early 1990s.

Dr. DeWood served as clinical director at The Pankey Institute from 2003 to 2008. He has held appointments as associate professor at the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry and assistant professor at the University of Toledo College of Medicine. He earned his D.D.S. from Case Western Reserve University in 1980 and an M.S. degree in biomedical sciences from the University of Toledo College of Medicine in 2004.

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