For the first 16 years of my dental career, I wore a shirt and tie to work with a white jacket over the top. That ended when COVID entered our world and changed how we practice dentistry. While I am slowly getting used to wearing pajama-like scrubs at work every day, I recently was thinking about why I initially chose to wear a shirt and tie. As a young fresh graduate, I worried about my ability to sell dentistry. I assumed I needed to “look” the part and portray a level of professionalism if older patients were to accept me as an expert.
That was only the first of many misconceptions I have learned regarding presenting treatment to patients. I believe looking professional and positively presenting yourself helps improve a patient’s perception of you and your skills. However, I have learned over the years that there is simply so much more to true success in gaining acceptance to my treatment plans.
Like most new dentists, treatment presentations early in my career involved telling patients what they needed and what might happen if they didn’t accept the treatment. I used fear daily to gain compliance. It worked to some degree, but a bit of reluctance was always attached to the patient’s acceptance. It took a considerable amount of emotional energy to educate the patients and then hope they were impressed enough to accept my care. That changed when I realized I needed to talk less and show more. But show what, exactly? There are three things I encourage you to show your patients. Doing so will transform your practice.
1: Show your patients pictures!
The #1 way to increase case acceptance is by using pictures. Nearly 50% of our brain is involved in visual processing, and although we use all five senses, 70% of sensory reports are in the eyes. Our sense of sight is so efficient that we can grasp a visual scene in less than 1/10 of a second. Remember the last time you spent 10 minutes trying to explain the fractured and leaking amalgam that needed a crown? That confused and untrusting face of your patient changed within a second of seeing an intraoral picture of that same tooth. In less than a second, they instantly saw what you were trying to describe and understood why a crown was necessary.
There are dozens of ways to utilize the power of pictures in your practice. Here are just a few:
Intra-oral cameras – Every operatory needs one and pictures should be taken on nearly every patient. Take pictures of disease and health, of teeth that need work, and of teeth that were recently restored. Show your patients what calculus looks like, what a fracture line looks like, and how soda causes enamel demineralization. Show the bleeding, inflamed gum tissue, and then show nice coral pink tissue to demonstrate what health looks like. Sometimes seeing IS believing. Make your patient a participant in the process. We are in the technology age of dentistry, and an amazing array of technological advancements exist for dentists to consider right now. Yet, the most significant financial ROI of any piece of equipment you could buy comes from an intraoral camera. If you don’t have one, buy one. If you aren’t using yours, start.
Extra-oral photography – Take a comprehensive series of extra-oral pictures on all new patients and all patients at least once every five years. There are fantastic SLR cameras out there to get the very best quality pictures imaginable. There also are great point-and-shoot cameras explicitly designed for the dental team to use. These photos help the patient participate in evaluating their smile appearance, the color of teeth, occlusal plane cants, gingival asymmetries, gummy smiles, etc. These photos help educate patients on recession, abfractions, loss of papillae, and other conditions that are best viewed in full arch view rather than an intraoral view.
Okay, so once you have an intraoral camera and a camera for extraoral photos, what are the best practices to leverage these tools?
Consultation Room Screen – A consultation room probably can challenge the intraoral camera as the best practice builder in your office. Even if you don’t have a consultation room and present treatment in the operatory, the one requirement is a big screen. Spend the majority of your presentation pointing at a screen. Give the patient a tour of their mouth, pointing out what you are seeing, and be ready for the questions to follow. When the patient is curious and asking questions, that is the clue that you are succeeding in presenting treatment.
Printed Pictures – Send each new set of photos home with your patients. They will look at them, which will help them start to think about their treatment and what they want for their mouth. Pictures build curiosity, and curiosity leads to participation in the process of identifying problems and solutions to those problems.
Before and After Photos – Build value for your clinical skills and help your patients gain pride in choosing your care by providing them before and after photos. These photos can also be used on your website for both education and marketing purposes.
2: Show your patients what health looks like.
Use visuals to paint a picture of what the patient’s dentition can look like and what is possible through your care. Use before and after photos of other patients in your practice that had similar conditions and underwent treatment. Use patient education software to guide the patient through the process you are recommending and allow the patient to “see” their progress through treatment by showing off your work as you go.
3: Lastly, show your patients you are listening.
In addition to the consultation room and intraoral camera, the very best practice builder is to show your patients you care what they think. Every new patient and every existing patient should be interviewed, preferably in the consultation room, and asked what their goals are for their mouth and what is most important for them to receive from their dentist. Then, actually listen, document, and always refer back to their goals to make sure you accomplish them and show them you are listening. Most dental patients have never been asked what they hope to achieve through their dental care. Blow them away by asking, and then make sure you deliver. You will have a patient for life that refers all their friends and family.
Are you seeking to have your dentistry valued as more than a commodity by your patients? These three simple steps will help you stop talking and start showing.
Next week, in part 2, I will present advanced communication techniques revolving around the neuroscience of asking your patients great questions.
Dr. Barrett Straub is the Director of Education and ACT Dental. He also practices general and sedation dentistry in Port Washington, WI. He has worked hard to develop his practice into a top-performing fee-for-service practice that focuses on improving the lives of patients through dentistry.