Top 3 Communication Mistakes to Avoid With Your Patients


Top 3 Communication Mistakes to Avoid When Talking With Patients

Written By:  Tracy Civick

What do all successful dentists have in common?  They have all mastered the art of communication.  Dentists spend an average of 70% of their time communicating with patients and the number one communication method is listening.  Do you spend enough time listening to your patients?

It used to be believed that a dentist’s job was to make a correct diagnosis, focusing only on the symptom and trying to eliminate it by bringing the patient back to optimal oral health. He/She had to decide which treatment was best without even asking the patient’s opinion because the doctor “knew best.”

Generally, what he/she Practice Management Tipsreally had to do was keep the patient’s oral health up to par.  The doctor didn’t have to communicate with the patient, present a treatment plan, ask him/her how they were feeling or what they were thinking about the whole procedure. The dentist had the first and last word.

In today’s consumer world, patients are more educated and have choices.  They chose your practice; they chose you to be their dentist.  This means you’re already halfway there because trust is the most important component of any good relationship.

And trust is not something that we buy or demand from others but it is something that we gain.  If we want others to trust us, we need to respect them first. A dentist who is a good communicator respects their patients.

Communication Mistakes to Avoid When Talking With Patients

Below are the 3 communication mistakes that most dentists make.  If you are an offender of these behaviors, you are not alone.  However, you do need to improve your communication skills immediately if you want your patient base to maintain loyalty and refer to friends and family. 

  1. Don’t Interrupt / Actively LISTEN.

A good communicator listens to the patient. You don’t interrupt them but actively, emphatically tries to understand what the patient is talking about. The dentist asks open-ended questions and tries to learn not only about the patient’s dental concerns but also about the patient as an individual.

As we mentioned above, trust is the number one reason why a patient is loyal to a specific dentist.  Do your patients trust you or the dentist completely?  Do they feel as if you know their motivations, fears, and concerns when it comes to dental treatment?  If not, this is a huge missed opportunity.

When a new patient visits your practice, the dentist should greet them and invite them to the conference room to get to know each other.  This is a 10-minute conversation where you uncover past dental experiences, how they feel about being at your office today, and about them as a person.  This is not a time to talk about actual dental needs. 

That will be taken care of in the comprehensive exam.  Use this “getting to know you” time for a personal connection.  I always coach my practices to schedule a new patient for 30 minutes on the doctor’s side for the initial conversation, x-rays, and comprehensive exam.  Then on the hygiene side for one hour.  Dentists should always see new patients first.

  1. Stop speaking in Dental Language / Use simple, short explanations.

Dentists have a tendency to talk too technical with patients.  I’ve seen it time and time again where a patient’s eyes glaze over when they hear, “interproximal decay” or “core build up”.  Regardless of where you graduated dental school or how many CEs you’ve taken, the patient only cares that you will take care of them. 

Simply put, patients don’t need to know how smart the dentist may be or that he/she graduated top of the class.  A patient never tells their friends about the quality of material used to fabricate their crown, or about the fancy cone beam machine used to take their x-rays. 

Patients will tell their friends about how warm and cozy the office feels, or how nice the staff is, and how understanding the dentist was with their treatment. So, when it comes to explaining dental treatment, don’t use it as a time to show off your knowledge.  Don’t speak in anything higher than a 3rd-grade level when explaining dental treatment. 

Patients don’t care about the “why” behind it or the “how” you will do it.  Just look them in the eye, empathize, and let them know that you will take care of them.

  1. Don’t make money assumptions / Present ALL treatment options.

Have your kids ever been embarrassed because you walked into the donut shop in pajamas?  Have you taken advantage of not grooming 100% while on vacation?  Maybe you’ve just had a day that you don’t feel well and don’t look your best.  Do any of these things portray your financial state? No.

So why would you assume what a patient’s financial state is when they show up looking like they just rolled out of bed?  Or, maybe you assumed that the patient is on a tight budget because they asked about cost?  Or, and this is the worst, do you know how to spot a habitual negotiator?  These folks will try to bring the cost of treatment down whether the fee is $100 or $10,000.  It’s just in their genetic DNA. 

Doctors should always explain all treatment options to the patient.  When the patient asks about cost, the doctor should say, “Mrs. Jones, I honestly don’t get involved with the financial aspect of your treatment.  Mary, our treatment coordinator, will join us in a minute to present the cost of each option.”

Don’t make assumptions about what the patient can afford.  If All-On-Four is an option for treatment but you don’t recommend it because you don’t think they can afford it, you could be missing out on a huge opportunity. Always present options to the patient and allow them to make the decision. You’ll be surprised at what happens! 

Communication is a precious commodity in the dental world. When you can avoid these fundamental blunders, it will benefit you, your patients, your leadership, your effectiveness, your success, and your practice.

View our dental practice video tips that provide dental offices with key information that can help your practice’s growth. Subscribe to our Front Office Coach channel on YouTube to be alerted when new video tips get published. To learn more about training your dental front office team, contact me today at or 214-755-0955.  For more information about our practice management training solutions, visit

About the Author…

Tracy Civick is a nationally recognized speaker, coach, and author who focuses on motivating dental front office teams to grow practice revenue and get a better handle on the daily dental practice front office tasks.  Her memberships include The Academy of Dental Management Consultants and AADOM, Academy of Dental Office Managers.

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