Being in the business of dentistry for decades has taught me that motivating patients toward excellent health takes more than educating them about the benefits with an arsenal of diagnostic tools.
The work of dental assistants involves many necessary skills and knowledge about equipment, instruments, sterilization, and organization of the treatment room. Another skill that great dental assistants possess is the that of listening to and building rapport with patients. While working in the operatory on charting, radiographs, intraoral photos, impressions, and more, there’s time for conversations with patients as they tell assistants about their dental conditions, concerns, and fears. Patients often tell the dental assistant things that they would never tell the dentist, and they’re often more open to sharing emotions. Ensuring that patients feel comfortable during their visit is vital to dental assistants’ work.
Patients know that the dentist is busy and that the dental assistant is more available to answer questions, and quite frankly, much less intimidating. They may share the reasons why they haven’t been to a dentist in a long time. Some may say it’s because their parents never took them to the dentist, others their lack of time or fear of the dentist, and still others their lack of money to pay for care.
Listening is time well spent
Unfortunately, in today’s production-driven climate, listening time may be considered time wasted. But I believe that connecting to the human side of dentistry is never time wasted. Honing listening skills allows team members to learn valuable information about their patients that they would miss if they focused solely on the diagnosis and treatment of dental conditions. Listening to patients’ stories promotes the practice-patient relationship and builds the trust necessary for patients to say “yes” to care.
Patients’ experiences in the dental chair is an impactful part in their decision for more dentistry. The “why” of past behavior is indicative of whether they genuinely believe in dentistry, which is a step toward total health and well-being.
When a new patient is in the chair for the initial evaluation, existing conditions and restorations are recorded in the chart. Missing teeth are charted, and services are recommended to restore the bite to proper function and esthetics. To connect with the patient and use your listening skills, ask this simple question: “Why do you think you lost this tooth?”Be prepared to listen closely to the reason and offer a solution that will help the patient resolve never to lose another tooth.
How a patient changed me
Here’s a story of a patient who changed how I view the patient perspective. We were on call for a dentist and a patient called about a toothache. I was acting as the assistant and the front desk person on this day and I quickly ushered in the patient and called the referring practice for information. I was told the patient was a “surfer dude” who was not interested in keeping his teeth because he’d had two extracted and didn’t come in for recare appointments.
He presented himself in cut-offs and flip flops, unkempt hair, and looked like he’d just come from the beach. I took a periapical x-ray, and we talked about the tooth. I asked him why he had the other two teeth removed. He said he thought it was the easiest way to solve the problem and get back to work. I asked him what he did for a living, and he said he’d been a lifeguard for the city for 20 years.
The doctor and I spent time getting to know this patient, and we were eventually able to not only preserve his teeth from further loss, but also replace the missing teeth. We later welcomed his wife and child into the practice. The sad part was that when I called the referring office to ask if we could go ahead and treat the patient they said, “You can have him, he isn’t interested in keeping his teeth.”
Take the time to listen and ask “why” to connect with your patients and build a trusting relationship, and you will seldom have trouble keeping your schedule full.
DuCharme, B. (2020, January 21). Listening Is One of Dental Assistants’ mMost Important Skill. Retrieved February 05, 2021, from https://www.dentistryiq.com/dental-assisting/patient-relations/article/14075049/listening-is-one-of-dental-assistants-most-important-skills