I have been in private practice for just seven months. While I’ve learned countless tips for diagnosing and treating teeth, the more valuable lesson I’ve learned is the power of good communication with patients. This really hit home for me last week when I met and examined a new patient.
My new patient was no stranger to the dental chair, as he had a mouth full of crowns and amalgams. He was having a particular issue with a lower molar, so I sat him up, showed him x-rays, explained to him what was wrong, and gave him options for the treatment of the tooth. As he left the room that day, he looked me in the eye and said “Thank you so much. This is the first time a dentist has ever explained anything to me.”
I was shocked! I assumed that a patient with so many crowns would have at least been given a basic explanation for why the crowns were needed. It only took five minutes of my time, but I gained the trust and confidence of the patient.
I tend to give patients a very simple explanation of their dental health and treatment needs, but then leave the option for a more detailed description. Some patients want to know every detail, while others would rather not talk about teeth! I have had great success with some simple questions. “Did I explain that well? Is there anything else I can show or tell you to help you understand the situation?”
At the treatment visit, I often begin with a question that I learned from my senior dentist (who just so happens to be my father): “Good to see you this morning! What are we doing today?” When the patient answers with the correct treatment, my father typically responds with “Great. I am glad we are on the same page.” These questions are helpful because they require the patient to take ownership of the treatment. It confirms that the patient understands the need for treatment.
What communication tips have worked well for you? Do you have any advice to give some of us newer dentists? Leave a comment below with any pointers you have with regards to explaining findings and treatments to your patient.
Elizabeth Cranford, DMD