Oral Health For Seniors

Tuesday Tip from Pride Institute: How to encourage seniors to receive dental treatment

Jan. 13, 2015
Dental teams should not make presumptions about whether or not senior citizens want dental treatment. A good conversation can help avoid misconceptions.

We often talk about dentists’ tendency to “diagnose by the pocketbook,” or estimate how likely someone is to accept treatment based on perceived ability to pay. For the purposes of today’s Tip, let’s call this “diagnosis by preconception.”

None of our client dentists intend to shortchange patients or the practice based on a guess about how much money someone has, but the tendency to let actions be guided by these estimates can be very insidious. A step toward eliminating it is to develop a conceptual structure that allows you to disregard the estimation altogether. That way, even if perception leads you to judge a patient unlikely to accept treatment, you can feel good about the conversation that may lead to acceptance. This is a bit vague, so let’s look at an example.

I’ve had numerous conversations about treatment presentation with older patients. When I’ve asked my clients about the “self-talk” that occurs in association with presenting treatment to an older patient, the response is a variation of the theme, “The patient is old and may not want to spend a lot of money on his or her teeth.”

Yes, many of you have had patients tell you that directly. But this self-talk will undermine your confidence that an older patient will accept treatment, which will directly impact your presentation tone and content. Rather than just telling you to ignore the self-talk, why not restructure it?

Here’s the result from conversations with one of my clients. The counterproductive self-talk was replaced by the following, and evolved into a treatment discussion with older patients. “I’ve seen my parents deal with getting older over the past 10 years. They’ve had challenges with their health and social lives. My dad told me ‘Son, you basically have to surrender much of what has been important to you throughout your life.’ (pause) One thing special about modern dentistry is that we can help you defy your age by keeping your teeth functional and reliable as you get older. That means…” etc.

This rework does two things – it helps you see a good reason older adults might want to accept treatment, and it’s a way of elevating the services you provide and mapping them onto the very real subjective experience of an aging adult. This is just one example of a thought process that can help you present treatment with confidence and the belief that your patients really do want to accept treatment.

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Tuesday Tips from Pride Institute are provided weekly on their Facebook page as well as in this column in DentistryIQ. To ensure you don’t miss any of Pride Institute’s proven methods to take your practice to the next level, visit prideinstitute.com, and like them on Facebook.