Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2018 04 Vanilla Ice Cream 1

2 trips for vanilla ice cream, and what this dentist learned from them

April 20, 2018
How did two trips to get treats with his children lead Dr. Ankar Gupta to improve his dental patient relations? He learned a little something about the element of surprise, and getting to know his patients better.

This article originally appeared in the Principles of Practice Management e-newsletter. Subscribe to this informative twice monthly practice management ENL here.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting my daughter’s school as a guest speaker. My 30-minute presentation about sugar bugs ended with a bunch of really disgusting photos of severe tooth and gum disease that delighted the entire class. As I packed up my stuff to leave, the teacher said, “We only have 90 minutes left in the day, so if you want to you can take your daughter with you now.”

A surprise early day off from school! On a day when I would normally be at work and my daughter would be at school, the two of us got to spend an hour together at a bagel place, and she was thrilled. When we got home, she told my son, who’s two years younger, and he started to sulk. Clearly we had infringed upon some unwritten sibling fairness rule. Feeling guilty, I prepared to visit his classroom to essentially repeat the magic my daughter and I had shared, only this time with my son.

As the day approached, he began negotiating with me. “Not the bagel place. Let’s go for ice cream instead. The ice cream place is right by Target. Could we stop in there so I can get a fidget spinner?” The day came and went. I visited his classroom. He was allowed to leave school early, and we went to the ice cream place and Target. Unfortunately it completely lacked the magic that was so prevalent with my daughter’s outing.

How this made me view my practice

With this anecdote fresh in my mind, I overheard a conversation between my office manager and a patient who was considering a very expensive treatment plan. As a rule in my office, when a person undergoes a large treatment plan, we give them either a Sonicare toothbrush or a WaterPik as a gift at the culmination of their treatment.

Lauren, my office manager, was explaining the ins and outs of the proposed treatment plan, and I heard her mention, “As a bonus, when you finish your treatment, we give you a Sonicare or a WaterPik.” I’m sure I’ve heard her tell patients that in the past, but this time it upset me and made me think of the disappointing scenario between my son and me.

Why? Because we appreciate unexpected good exponentially more than we appreciate expected good. When Lauren explained the treatment plan to our patient, her emphasis should have been on doing everything in her power to make the needed dental treatment fit into the patient’s schedule and budget. That’s it. Then, after the patient has actually finished the treatment, when the person is feeling appreciative and emotional (hopefully) because the long, expensive, painful dental work has finally come to a beautiful end, we’ll surprise the person with icing on the cake.

We have dabbled with this numerous times through the years, and here is what we’ve found receives the most positive responses:

• One of our patients shared that he hadn’t eaten steak for years because of his loose dentures. After we finished making him some implant-retained denture teeth, he walked out of the office with a $100 gift card to a high-end steak restaurant.

• One patient was constantly working on projects at home, so we got him a Lowe’s gift card.

• Another patient was driven to have esthetic work done because he had two great granddaughters, and he didn’t like taking his picture with them because his smile was too unsightly. At the culmination of treatment, we got him in touch with another one of our patients who’s a professional photographer, and let them both know that we’d pay for a one-hour session.

• Another of our patients was not in a good place financially. She was a single mom of two, and had lost a front tooth due to trauma. It was obvious that replacing that tooth would require significant resources from her. In the process of completing the dental work, I mentioned that I took my kids to a large local indoor play place, and she seemed very interested in doing the same for her kids. When I told her how much it had cost, it was clear that she wouldn’t be able to do that for a while. The culmination of her treatment included a gift card to the play place.

I’m highlighting a few of our most emotional and unique situations over the years, and I admit that these examples are singularly rare and awesome. We often forget to do a little detective work beforehand, and only at the morning huddle do we realize that today is a final appointment for someone. When that happens, Amazon allows us to print out a gift card on the spot, as does Target, Starbucks, and many big chain restaurants such as Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

These, along with the Sonicare or Waterpik, might not be the personal gifts compared to the customized and emotional examples I shared here, but patients are very appreciative just the same.

As this pertains to life, I’ve noticed that through the years, when interacting with my wife, kids, or parents, my tendency to promise stuff has decreased. I find that the tendency to promise allays guilt in the short term. (“Don’t worry, I’ll buy you a new one,” or, “Oops, I forgot! I’ll make sure to do it this weekend.”) The problem is, when I fail to fulfill that promise, it makes me look doubly bad.

On the other hand, if I don’t make a promise and wordlessly replace a broken object, or simply remember
to do a chore, I look more reliable and impressive. In our practices we can get the same result, but with a more appreciative audience. Keep that in mind the next time an opportunity to do a good deed comes along in your life and your practice.

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Ankur A. Gupta, DDS, opened his from-scratch practice in 2005 outside of Cleveland, Ohio. He realized after a few years that entrepreneurship did not come to him naturally. Beginning in 2009, he made a guinea pig out of his office, family, and self, and attempted any and all personal and professional experiments in self-improvement. More than a decade later, he enjoys excellent new patient numbers and case acceptance, a solution-oriented dental team, and most importantly, a meaningful and positive identity. He shares the failures and successes with dental and community groups, always ending his presentations with practical, step-by-step ways to be better. He invites readers to contact him with questions and comments at drgupta@northridgevillefamilydentistry. Visit

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