Case presentation: The importance of the words we use

Dec. 15, 2010
Tija Hunter, EFDA, explains how important the choice of words we use are in treatment case acceptance.

By Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA

Why is it that when discussing treatment, both the patient and clinician pay too much attention to what the insurance maximum is for the year? I always thought the biggest concern should be patients’ health and well-being.

Speaking of which, why is it that neither patients nor clinicians equate patients’ oral health with their overall health? I’ve never seen any kind of wall that blocks what’s going on in a patient’s mouth with what happens in the rest of his or her body.

Researchers have found that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease than those who do not have periodontal disease. Do we put enough emphasis on this when it comes to treatment planning? Or are we thinking about that ever-present “insurance maximum”?

People with diabetes are more likely to have periodontal disease than people without diabetes, probably because diabetics are more susceptible to contracting infections. People who don't have their diabetes under control are especially at risk. Are we doing enough to educate patients about the importance of taking care of their overall health and how their oral health plays a huge part in that?

When you go to your physician and hear you need to have a blood test, some sort of X-ray, an MRI, or any kind of test, does your doctor check to see if you have enough insurance remaining for the year to do that? Most people are of the mindset that if the doctor recommends something, they had better do it. So why is dentistry so different? Why is it that our oral health doesn’t rank up there with our overall health?

I think it’s the mindset of the dental professional. I believe we have unintentionally and subconsciously steered our patients to let their yearly maximum insurance benefits dictate the treatment we render. Why do we feel bad if we go over their insurance max for the year?

It’s all in how we speak to our patients. We tend to choose our words carefully to convey our message. I cringe when I hear someone say:

  • “Would you like to make an appointment for that now or just give us a call later?” (We all know they won’t give us a call later.)
  • “Did you want to make an appointment for your six-month cleaning, or can we just send you a card?” (or two, or three, maybe four).
  • “Did you want to go ahead and make a payment today?” (or shall we call you in two months and hound you like a dog to get the money?)
  • “If you need to cancel that appointment, please call and give us 24-hour notice.” (or one hour like you normally do)

Words are powerful, even in the dentist’s chair. CLICK HERE to read more.

When we speak in those terms and give our patients “choices,” then we basically tell them it’s OK to NOT pay their bill today, and NOT make an appointment for impending treatment. We set them up for failure while they’re still in our office, without even realizing it. Treatment should not be a choice. We need to set the expectation and stay focused on the importance of the treatment plan and how it affects our patients’ overall health. If we believe in the treatment we have presented to them, then they will too.

We need an attitude adjustment; we’re the professionals. We are treating the patients, our patients. We are treating their overall health by taking care of their oral health. No yearly insurance max or judgment on whether or not they can afford treatment should enter into the equation. We need to look past our own fears of presenting treatment to help them understand. We need to spend quality time educating our patients on why the treatment we suggest is so important, and how their insurance is there only to offset the cost of dental treatment, not dictate what treatment is right for them.

When we become passionate about the treatment we render, then patients will too. The best way to stay passionate about our profession is to stay educated! We must be the best we can be and give the best to each and every patient in our chairs. Get motivated to change the world around you, one tooth at a time!

Author bio
Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, is an expanded functions dental assistant/office manager in O'Fallon, Mo. She is a part-time assisting instructor for Advanced Dental Careers, member of the ADAA, and an independent dental consultant specializing in team building, assistant training, and office organization. She can be reached at [email protected].