Dentist With Older Patient

Tuesday Tip: Don't make assumptions about patients due to their age

June 24, 2014
Dentistry offers plenty of services to help patients age gracefully

We often talk about a tendency for many dentists to “diagnose by the pocketbook,” or rather, to estimate how likely a person is to accept treatment based on perceived ability to pay. For the purposes of this Tip, let’s call it “diagnosis by preconception.” None of our clients intend to shortchange a patient or the practice based on their guess about how much money someone has, but the tendency to let actions be guided by these estimations can be very insidious. An important step toward eliminating it is to develop a structure that allows you to disregard the estimation altogether. This way, even if your perception leads you to judge a patient unlikely to accept, 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 to older patients. When I’ve probed my clients for the “self-talk” that occurs in association with presenting treatment to an older patient, the response has been a variation of, “The patient is quite old and may not want to spend a lot of money on his or her teeth.” Yes, many of you have had a patient tell you this. 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 telling you to ignore the self-talk, why not restructure it?

Here is the result of conversations with one of my clients. The counterproductive self-talk was replaced by the following, and evolved into a way to discuss treatment 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 aging by keeping your teeth functional and reliable as you get older. That means…” and explain some dental procedures that may benefit the patient.

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

Two keys to make positive acknowledgements count for your dental team
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You know what I mean?

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