As a dentist, it can be difficult to talk to your patients in anything other than a directive way (“Turn this way please,” or “You’re going to feel some pressure”), or to ask the patient to raise a hand during a procedure if there’s pain. And considering that many patients end up in your waiting room not for routine visits, but for dental emergencies, any talk time is limited to questions about the emergency and a discussion about the solution.
It’s important to bond with your patients on more than a professional level so they develop trust in you and have less fear about their procedures.
When you greet your patients, spend some extra time to get to know them (if they’re new) or to catch up with them if you know them already.
An ideal time to do this is when you’re injecting Novocain and waiting for it to take effect. If you’re at a loss for words, bring up generic topics like upcoming holidays, the World Series, the Super Bowl, or new movies.
Even if the patient is not interested in these topics, they’re sure to at least open up a conversation about what’s new and interesting in their lives, which you can continue to talk about during their procedures. They can answer “yes” or “no” to your questions with a single finger for “yes” and two fingers for “no.” This interaction will also serve to distract them from the procedure if they’re fretful.
During the dental procedure, ask if your patient would like it if you explained the steps you are taking as they happen.
It can be overwhelming for patients to be helplessly prone on a dental chair with clamps, spacers and vacuum hoses in their mouths and blinding spotlights shining on their faces. Every few minutes, take the time to explain what you’re doing and what sensations they will feel.
Remind them that they can close their eyes and breathe deeply, which will help with anxiety or tension. Also remind your patients that you can stop the procedure at any time if they need to sit up to take a breather or to let you know they’re in any discomfort.
If you have a story, a movie review or a fond memory, share it.
Chances are, the patient is just counting down the seconds before the procedure is done, so anything you can do to speed that up, even mentally, will be a welcome distraction. If your dog slipped on ice and ended up with all four legs splayed out like Bambi, share it. If your daughter tried baking you a birthday cake and added salt instead of sugar, tell your patient about it. If you ended up with a flat tire on the way to work, commiserate.
Sharing universal experiences put you and your patients on a level playing field and takes you out of the doctor/patient relationship that can sometimes hinder attempts at becoming more personable, more human. And while you may not have time to spend 10 minutes with each of your patients before a procedure, you can surely do so during the procedure to get to know them, soothe their anxiety to ensure they know they’re in caring, trusted hands.
For more ways to build trust with your patients, you can offer financing options for dental patients.