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Hand Over Mouth

You said WHAT to your patient?

March 13, 2023
Did you say something in front of patients that you shouldn't have? If you've stepped in it a time or two, you're not alone. Here's proof.
Meg Kaiser, Associate Editor

The horror in your patient’s eyes says it all. You accidentally uttered words you should never say in front of unsuspecting patients. You may have just sent them on the fast track to another dental practice, taking any hopes of future business and new referrals with them.

The second you said what you were thinking out loud you knew you’d messed up. Not only did you see surprise in the patient’s eyes, but in other team members’ eyes as well. This has happened to the best of dental professionals.

Hopefully, everyone learns a lesson from the slip-ups and they don't do it again. When DentistryIQ asked the pros, “What should dental professionals never say in front of patients?” the responses were interesting and revealing.

So, in an effort to help you keep your patients from fleeing to the competition, here are some of the responses. Let's start with the No. 1 answer from dental professionals in all office positions. 


Oh no! or Oh s**t!

Oh my...I've never seen that before.

Are you sure that's the right tooth?

Let’s start over.

Is it supposed to bleed like that? or, Why is there so much bleeding? or, Do you usually bleed this much?

One pro confessed, I said I actually like it when patients' gums bleed during flossing because then maybe they'll finally realize they aren't caring for their teeth properly.

This shouldn't be hurting you.

Is this sterilized?

Yes, our fees are really up there, or Yes, this is expensive.

With what the dentist pays me, I could never afford a crown.

How much money do you make? or What kind of car do you drive? (or anything related to a patient’s income).

You might also enjoy: 5 things dentists wish patients knew about caring for their teeth

What are we doing for you today? (Shouldn't you know this before the appointment begins?)

The dental work your previous dentist did in your mouth is terrible.

We are understaffed today. Sorry for the wait.

We’re out of nitrous oxide. (Ouch!)

We can't finish the procedure. (Well then. Is the patient just supposed to sit there with the procedure half finished?)

I wouldn't get work done here.

I don’t know why you aren't getting numb, and I have another surgery right after you. (Like that’s the patient’s problem?)

This will hurt me more than it hurts you. (Huh?)

Yes, the anesthesia costs more, but I don't like working on a moving target.

My hands are either in someone's mouth or scooping cat litter. (Do your patients really want to know that you volunteer at an animal shelter on your days off?)

Of course you need your teeth cleaned. Your mouth is like a cesspool.

One wise DDS advised never to discuss politics, sex, or religion, which are always touchy subjects.

Another said, “I think a common bad habit dentists fall victim to is reprimanding team members in front of patients. It's awkward for everyone involved.”

Covid brought out the not-so-great in some people. One hygienist told a patient she wasn't upset to hear her ex passed away because she would no longer have to pay him alimony. (Um, sorry, what was that?)

Hopefully you haven't found yourself in any of these awkward situations. But if you have, just remember. You aren't alone.

Originally published in 2015 and updated regularly.