By Melanie Spire
All dental professionals have experienced this scenario at one time or another, or one like it. A new patient comes in for her new-patient exam. The dentist tells her she has two areas of decay, and that one needs a crown and one needs a filling. After her exam, the new patient is led to the front desk and told that the treatment coordinator will now talk with her. She says, “But I don’t have anything that needs to be done. The doctor said everything looks good.”
Sound familiar? Here are three simple steps that will help ensure your patients know why they need treatment, and that will help them understand their different options.
1. Take intraoral photos on every patient, and review the photos thoroughly with them.
It's true that a picture speaks a thousand words. Patients may not have evident symptoms, but they can clearly see a fracture on their tooth when it is clearly displayed in a photo. The hygienist can review this finding with a handheld mirror, and the dentist should review the photos with patients on the monitor screen, enlarging areas of concern.
2. Make sure the hygienist reviews their findings before the doctor comes in.
This will serve as reinforcement, and it will be at least the second opportunity for patients to hear about any areas of concern.
Research shows that people best remember what they hear when it is repeated between six to 20 times. The goal should be to repeat the necessary treatment at least three to four times in the treatment area. Then by the time patients come to the front, they’re aware that they need dental treatment.
3. Prioritize treatment for patients and offer options.
Share with patients whether your recommendation is urgent—needing immediate attention—versus important, meaning they should plan to give the area attention in the near future.
Make a clear plan based on what is urgent as well as what is important to a patient. For example, a patient may want veneers but needs a root canal. Schedule the root canal and complete the crown during the same appointment that the veneers are placed. If finances are a concern, still schedule the root canal and crown and offer the option of composite bondings for the time being, until the patient can save for veneers.
One of your main goals as a dental health provider must be to educate patients about why they need to see you on a regular basis, whether it is to keep their smile white or to restore their teeth to perfect health.
Editor's note: Originally posted in 2017; updated August 2022Melanie Spire has spent 20 years in the dental profession. She’s served as an expanded functions dental assistant, treatment coordinator, office manager, and practice consultant. She has a BS in education and a master’s in leadership and is the owner of Consulting for Dentists.