How to tell patients that dental care is a need (not a want)

2019 09 24 21 39 2685 Anderson James 400

We hear about a looming recession and see inflation and other economic indicators that say 2023 may be a less-than-perfect year for many. Even with these challenges, we are strong in that, as dentists, the need for our services never wanes, no matter what the economic forces dictate. However, need and want are two different motivators for patients.

Dr. James V. Anderson.Dr. James V. Anderson.

Patients need preventive and restorative care -- they even like it. But when money is tight, patients would rather spend their money elsewhere. A fractured tooth that doesn't hurt may be a necessity to repair in good economic times, but when times are tough, patients may live with it until there is a crisis.

Below are four tips to use when communicating with patients who are hesitant about accepting the treatment plan you are proposing.

1. Stress that delaying treatment may be painful.

Fear of extreme pain can be a strong motivator for patients to prioritize care. Most people don't want large amounts of calculus, biofilm, and bleeding, or a blackened, decayed crevasse in their mouth. The fear of fracturing a tooth such that it requires a root canal or extraction is often enough of a motivator to complete treatment.

Yet waiting for the onset of pain is not conducive to the patient. When there is severe pain, there is often a major dental problem that could have been prevented with earlier care. It's sometimes helpful to remind patients of that fact before the pain happens.

2. Show patients the problem.

If a patient has a fractured tooth, it is much easier to show them a crown than trying to explain the fracture and hoping the patient understands the seriousness of the situation. "Show, don't tell" is even more important for patients with periodontal disease, which is often a silent process and marked by tooth mobility, pain, and bad breath in advanced stages.

Patients should see the disease to be able to own it. Some intraoral cameras are now reasonably priced and can be plugged into a USB port and are ready to go. Showing the patient the fractures, separations, decay, or the amount of calculus present is a big selling point.

Purulent debris mixed with blood is scary and doesn't smell good. This evidence can shock many patients, but it may be necessary for some. It's harder for patients to not be alarmed when they can see the problem for themselves.

3. Periodontal disease is not just a "deep cleaning."

Recently, I overheard a woman tell a friend that her dentist was a "rip-off" because she needed $1,500 worth of "deep cleaning." She did not schedule the appointment for treatment. I see this as a failure to communicate.

The layman's term "deep cleaning" should never be used to describe the presence of periodontal disease. Once a patient has been diagnosed with periodontal disease, preventive cleaning is not an option, and it's important to emphasize the seriousness of the condition. Dentists should stress the link between periodontal disease and heart and brain disease, as well as many other health issues.

Some patients believe it is inevitable that they will lose their teeth because their parents or grandparents had dentures. It is up to you to motivate them to accept a better alternative.

4. Follow up with those who delay care.

Some patients truly want treatment but turn it down because their finances force them to wait. Check back with these patients to show concern, and make sure they get care as soon as they are able to.

As for those who don't want the proposed treatment, they will return when they feel they need it. Still, make sure they receive recall reminders and follow-ups.

Dr. James V. Anderson is a practicing dentist in Syracuse, UT, and is the CEO and founder of eAssist Dental Solutions. He can be reached via email.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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