As with all healthcare professionals, knowing your patients is crucial to an open and successful relationship, but what does “knowing” really mean? Many dentists think that it is enough to see what is on the medical history form, physical examination of the mouth, teeth & gums together with the quick question “any problems?”
Do we know what is really important to the patient? Do we know what is happening in a patient’s life which may suggest it is time to discuss and consider non-essential treatment such as whitening or straightening?
Do we know that this patient is very conscious of the appearance of their teeth but is too embarrassed to even talk about it with their own dentist?
Has your patient had a bad experience with dental treatment in their earlier days and now sees a visit as just a necessary evil?
Over the last few weeks we have seen more evidence that many dental patients are looking for help, guidance and action on improving the overall health of their mouth, teeth gums and just as importantly, improving their smile.
A recent survey of 2,000 patients by BUPA revealed that:
81% worry about how their teeth look in photographs
63% are looking for cleaner and whiter teeth
47% admit they don’t know how to clean their teeth properly
42% admit teeth are something they would like to improve
Apply these percentages to your own practice patient numbers and we may start to see how important it is to spend some quality time with patients and ask open, probing questions such as:
- “How confident are you with showing your teeth when smiling”,
- “What is the one thing you would like to change about your smile?”
- “What are your thoughts on people who whiten their teeth?”
- “What special events or celebrations do you have coming up this year?”
- “What are your thoughts on . . . ?”
“Smile Checklists” and other prompts such as posters and video clips will help to trigger patient questions and discussions on treatments such as orthodontics, implants, whitening and crown restorations.
The documentary “The Truth About Your Teeth” currently airing on BBC1 prime-time television clearly shows that many people care about their teeth but are often unaware of what help is available and fearful of suggesting any work on their teeth other than essential maintenance and repair.
Too often we make subliminal judgements about a patient’s interest and ability to fund non-essential dental treatment as was well demonstrated by “Angie” in the Truth About Your Teeth.
Angie was offered a perfectly acceptable NHS treatment for years of dental neglect caused by personal experience, embarrassment and a fear of dentists but after discussions and time it became clear that she was willing and able to undertake substantial private implant work. There was, quite rightly, no element of pressure – this was what the patient wanted.
Identify all available options for each patient and and make sure that the benefits of each are clearly explained and understood. Always respect your patient’s ability to assess the value and affordability for themselves, supported by your recommendations.
The key messages are that we need to get to know our patients much better, understand what is important to them, build trust and understand what value patients attach to the benefits of non-essential or alternative treatment options. This all comes down to excellent patient communication as much as excellent clinical work.