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"Trouble" at the dental office: Managing patient drama

Aug. 2, 2021
Gross noises, unwanted talk about politics, even patients under the influence—over the years, the Troubleshooter team has heard it all. And we’ve rounded up some sound advice for dealing with many types of dental patient dilemmas.

Has your office gone a single day without some sort of patient dilemma? Through the years DentistryIQ has addressed dozens of concerns about challenging patient situations—from those that give the staff that “oh no, Mrs X is scheduled today” feeling to the ones that make it legitimately difficult to work.

Here we’ve rounded up and updated some of the most popular Troubleshooters about patient drama. As always, if you have a dilemma an expert can help with, send your question to [email protected]. To view more Troubleshooters, visit DentistryIQ.com and search "Troubleshooter." Check out other roundups on office drama and human resources quandaries.

Most patients don’t love x-rays. But still.

This hygienist is concerned that her dentist-boss’s refusal to confront patients who won’t allow x-rays is putting everyone in the office at risk. Is he?

Dentist won’t confront patients who refuse x-rays

Which patient comes first?

It’s an ongoing problem in many offices: a patient is at the front desk checking out and the phone is ringing off the hook. Not every office has the luxury of multiple front office staff, so who’s the priority? The experts who answered offered different takes on this one.

Who gets priority: Caller or visitor?

“Can these patients expect painless cleanings?”

Following complaints that her care is “rough,” this longtime hygienist says she’s beside herself and doesn’t know what to do. Dianne Watterson cautions her to avoid becoming a “blood and guts” hygienist.

Hygienist upset at claims of painful cleanings

Avoiding touchy topics

In today’s political climate, this dental professional frets when some patients insist on talking politics in the operatory no matter how hard she tries to redirect them. Here are some strategies for moving past topics you’d rather not discuss with patients.

How can RDH avoid uncomfortable conversations?

An unfortunate influence

Feeling it wouldn’t be right to treat a patient who was under the influence, this dental professional dismissed him without explanation. She wanted the dentist to make the decision but said he was vague and dismissive—and it led to her being in some hot water.

Handling dental patients who are under the influence

Those pesky appointments

Another all-too-common issue: patients who don’t confirm they’re actually coming in for their appointments. This office member wants to know if there’s anything to be done other than hope the no-replys don’t become no-shows.

What to do about patients who don’t confirm their appointments

Do teens have “dental rights”?

The author of this Troubleshooter was uncomfortable when a mother requested to have her daughter’s teeth whitened and the 15-year-old herself didn’t express any desire to have white teeth. See what Chris Salierno, former editor of Dental Economics, has to say about this sticky issue.

What are a 15-year-old’s “dental rights”?

“It sounds like they're hacking up hairballs”

Can anything be done about patients who make disgusting noises at the cuspidor? This dental team member doesn’t want to be rude, but she’s getting desperate for a solution. Is there one?

How to handle disgusting patient noises at the cuspidor