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Why Does My Patient Hate Me? Building and Resetting Patient Relationships

Sep 01, 2017

Author: Jessica Raymond-Allbritten, CRDH, BASDH

Why Does My Patient Hate Me?

Have you ever asked yourself, "Why does my patient hate me?" If you have, you may have wondered what went wrong during an appointment and what could have been done differently. A dental hygiene career has its highs and lows when it comes to patient relationships. Many patients recognize your great work and leave their appointments feeling great; but, there is always that one patient who gives the impression that they just do not like you.

Once a relationship has gone south, here are some things dental hygienists can do to try to get the relationship back on the right track.

Patient Experience

Building a relationship begins from the second the patient calls the office to make an appointment, and the whole dental team needs to work together to create a positive experience every time the patient visits. Creating a patient experience that is memorable to the patient is important for team success.

First impressions are critical. Always begin with a positive, energetic greeting on the phone when you call a patient or a patient calls you. When introducing yourself to patients, greet them with a hand shake and ask them about their day and their interests. Ask patients what they want out of their visit. What did they like about their previous dental hygienist or dental office? Knowing these things helps build a rapport and create a positive experience.

When you have important dental health information to share with patients, always have them sitting upright in the chair. That way, you have their focus when you are about to say is key to their oral and systemic health. Do not do much talking while using the ultrasonic - for several reasons. Firstly, patients will not be able to hear you properly because of the noise from the suction or ultrasonic. Next, patients may be tense while they are being treated and the discomfort may be a distraction. You can briefly mention things while hand scaling, but go into more detail at the end of the appointment when all the procedures are over. The patient may be more willing to comply with recommendations if they value and hear what you say.

Humility, Judgment and Communication

Being humble, calm, courteous and professional can help make the patient more comfortable with you. It is important to never belittle other staff members or the previous dental hygienist. Being in the dental office may feel intimidating and talking negatively about the office staff may put a sour taste in the patient's mouth.

Many patients who come into the office have neglected their oral health and are embarrassed about it. These patients are often closed off and hard to approach without creating turmoil. Tell patients there is nothing they can do to change the past but they are here now, and if they are ready to make a change, a dental hygienist is here to help without judgment. Learning on how to navigate negative objections is also important in gaining patients' trust and getting them to like you. Instead of telling a patient what to do, use words such as "recommend," "evaluate" and "consider."

Resetting a Patient Relationship

Once you have gotten off on the wrong foot with a patient, it can be difficult to repair the relationship. Starting over in regard to finding out what the patient wants in dental care is helpful. Then use motivational interviewing to try to get the patient back on track with their oral health. Colgate Oral Health Network's continuing education course about motivational interviewing may help you hone your skills. Finding common ground can be also helpful in developing rapport with patients.


  • Communicate and find out what the patient wants and likes, and then use this information to create a positive environment.
  • Use motivational interviewing when you need to reset a patient relationship.
  • Make patients feel and know that they are the center of attention.

Why It's Important

Sometimes dental hygienists may ask themselves, "Why does my patient hate me?" If you are given a second chance to reset a patient relationship, you can learn from what went wrong in the appointment, and strengthen new and existing relationships.

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