Nurse and patient at the front desk speaking

So Many Patients, So Little Time: How to Build Dentist-Patient Relationships

Oct 8, 2018

Author: Jamie Collins, RDH

Dentist-patient relationships should extend beyond tooth talk and the weather. Getting to know your patients on a personal level is an important part of providing personalized care. Taking time to build relationships and add personal touches can be rewarded with return visits and referrals that will help your practice thrive.

Remembering Appointment Preferences

Your chart can be your greatest ally in remembering details about your patients. Many patients struggle with fear, pain or confidence at the dentist. Documenting each person's concerns and barriers in their chart, and acknowledging limitations at the beginning of each visit, will earn your patients' trust that you have their best care in mind. Whether you note their preference for strawberry-flavored prophy paste or their areas of hypersensitivity, remembering their needs strengthens your relationship and care.

You can take your notes in a paper chart or use a pop-up reminder in a digital system to remind you of individualized procedures at each visit. For most patients, your acknowledgment of past concerns will show that you listened and cared enough to remember.

Learning Patients' Motivations

It's easy to ask about your patients' oral care priorities, but you can go one step further by learning what motivates them to make a change. Do they care most about keeping their teeth healthy as they age? Looking their best? Maintaining whole mouth and whole body health? You can keep their priorities in mind while you offer your recommendations.

Busy parents with young children, for example, might be looking for better ways to teach youngsters about brushing. Parents might also want a quick way to whiten their own teeth at home that fits their schedule. Listening to your patients' desires can often lead to larger conversations about treatment options for both necessary and elective treatment.

Adding a Personal Touch to Dentist-Patient Relationships

Having a dental professional working in your mouth is an up-close experience, and it can be overwhelming. Patients might choose where to go for care based largely on how comfortable the dental staff makes them feel. As dental professionals, we should listen more than we talk to learn about our patients' lives and families.

Remembering each and every patient who sits in the dental chair seems impossible. There are always patients who you will remember no matter what, but for others there are things you can do to help remember the details. Rather than talking only about the weather or oral health, find a balance between professional and personal questions for your patients. Keep tabs within your chart notes about upcoming weddings, vacations or the births of grandchildren. For children, you can write down their pets' names or their favorite music or sports.

As you're forging personal bonds with your patients, be careful to avoid certain topics. Sometimes the line between friendly conversation and perceived intrusion is blurry. Keep an eye on your patients' nonverbal cues to ensure that you're asking about personal anecdotes they're comfortable sharing with you. For patients who are more private or reserved, perceived intrusion can occur more readily, so it's important to know this and to consider asking fewer questions of these patients.

Most digital systems also have the capability to take photos to upload into the chart. You can invite patients to email a photo of themselves, or take one of their smiling face with your intraoral camera. (Some have a "portrait" mode.) Make sure though that you and your office don't use the photo for any other purpose, unless you have written permission from the patient to do so.

Finding Common Ground

Finding common interests and having the ability to talk about a multitude of subjects can help you learn as much from your patients as they do from you. Set reminders in your charts to ask at future visits about a special event, a job or a hobby. With a little extra effort, dentist-patient relationships can be one of the most rewarding parts of your career.

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