Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2015 01 Calm Angry Dental Patients 1

Handling angry patients in the dental office

Jan. 22, 2023
Most dental offices have had to handle angry patients. Some of these situations can get out of control, but they don't need to. This team member shares from her experiences of calming angry dental patients.

A few weeks ago, I had a patient come into my office with her child, completely belligerent and demanding treatment be performed on her child. After realizing that the problem was due to the child’s braces and there was nothing anybody in my office can do, the mother went off the deep end, going after my assistant and my manager, yelling, screaming, and cussing. Being the only one in the office who did not speak to her during this incident, I’m now the middleman between the angry patient, her daughter, and the office.

Stay calm 
One thing I’ve learned dealing with angry patients is to stay calm. Do not raise your voice or be sarcastic. Most problems can be handled accordingly and can be solved without yelling and unnecessary comments. Nobody wants to be spoken down to or spoken to in a nasty tone, so keep your voice at a normal volume, speak slowly but firmly, and get straight to the point. Certain things can escalate situations, such as hand movements, pacing, or even just talking the wrong way.

Be understanding
Everyone has bad days that can they may take out on others in the wrong way. Figuring out if a problem is really a problem, or if a person is just having a bad day and taking it out on you, can have a big impact on the outcome. Have empathy for a mad person and tell the person you understand and apologize for the problem at hand. Ease their frustration and know that their time is important, and assure them that next time things will be handled differently.

Present the facts
If the problem is office or financial related, show proof. If someone has an issue with a bill, simply show the patient what the charges are related to and how the number presented to them was determined. It seems that in most offices, financial problems are the biggest trigger that can set patients off. Being able to clearly explain treatment plans, finances, and different ways to handle such charges can save the staff and doctors a lot of fights.

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Bring in a third party
When you can no longer handle a situation or find yourself getting angry, it’s best to have a third party help you with the patient. Bringing in a fresh pair of ears and eyes can have a great impact on the resolution of a problem. It gives patients a chance to clearly explain their situation and what they want to come out of the problem.

Walk away
Becoming upset over an angry patient can only make a situation worse. Knowing when to walk away from a situation instead of making it into a bigger problem is key. We are all human and we all handle stress in different ways. Feeling yourself getting angrier will not help you or the patient; it will only cause more problems. For example, my assistant who dealt with the angry mother should have walked away from the situation when she realized the mother was giving her grief, and she should have spoken with her manager about taking over the situation.

Using these tips can help produce happy clients and staff. Having a good support team and having coworkers that can help provide another voice in a situation will reduce the stress level in the office. It can be very difficult to defuse a situation, but everyone should know ways to ease a problem and come to a conclusion that will satisfy both parties.

Originally published in 2015 and updated reguarly

Lauren Ann Zagardo is a Practice Administrator with more than 10 years of experience in the dental field. She has worked in several dental offices and is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree at SUNY Farmingdale University's dental hygiene program. She works at a private practice in Bayside, New York.