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Four barriers that prevent patients from choosing optimum treatment

Updated: Jun 29

Four barriers that prevent patients from choosing optimum treatment

When dentists offer treatment options, they do so with the patient’s optimum oral health in mind. It seems logical that a person should choose the best option as determined by their health professional. Even though there is a cost differential, it should make sense if it is the more ideal long-term choice. 

Yet this is often not the case.

What many dentists assume is ‘essential’ treatment (because they would do anything to save their teeth), is really ‘elective’ treatment.

Additionally, when it comes to elective treatment, it is not uncommon for patients to say that they need to think about it, check their finances, look at their schedule, or speak to their partner. They may decide to choose a sub-optimal option or they may choose to do nothing at all.

Why does this happen?

There are many reasons why patients don’t choose the optimum option. Here are four that some dentists find challenging to handle:

1) Negative previous experiences

Most patients will be able to tell you about a previous dental experience that was not particularly enjoyable. Perhaps they experienced physical discomfort, or they may have felt like they were pushed into treatment they did not think they needed.

Something happened which caused them to feel antagonistic not just towards ‘that’ dentist, but ALL dentists. It is not uncommon for dentists to avoid any conversation about a patient’s previous bad experience with another dentist. However, unless you uncover that past experience by allowing the patient to talk about it and then managing it with care, patients will transfer their past experience into their present experience with you. Naturally, this will impact how the patient listens to you and how open they are to any treatment options you offer.

2) Dr. Google

It is not uncommon for patients to think they know what they need, because they have done their research online before seeing you. The gap between what they think they need and what you think they need can be huge, and the bigger the gap, the harder it will be for the patient to accept optimum treatment, especially if it does not align with their research.

It can be tempting for some dentists to dismiss a patient’s self-diagnosis, and yet doing so can also have the unintended effect of polarising the patient’s opinions. Education delivered strategically, combined with an openness to listen to the patient’s understanding and perspective is key in these situations.

3) Common Beliefs

There are many beliefs about oral health that patients hold to be ‘true’ and that get in the way of them choosing optimum treatment.

It can be tempting for some dentists to dismiss certain patient beliefs, leaving the patient feel ‘unheard’; or to try to convince the patient that their belief is incorrect, making them feel ‘wrong’. But doing so can actually cause a patient to hold onto those beliefs even more firmly and diminish the trust. Turning those beliefs around requires a degree of self-management, empathy, and good listening skills.

4) Sales Perception

Whilst it is rarely the intention of dentists to create sales pressure, even the perception of sales can feel like pressure. Being ‘told’ they ‘need’ treatment can trigger a resistance reflex that is deeply embedded in many patients. It is not the information, but rather the process that creates pressure.

This commonly occurs when patients lack ownership of their oral health problems. In the absence of awareness about the damaging results of the existing conditions, any treatment options especially elective and expensive ones, have the potential of sounding like a sales pitch. 

Fortunately, there are ways to overcome this, and a lot of it has to do with setting up the conversation in the correct way from the beginning. By first identifying and understanding why patients might perceive sales pressure, this will then enable you to effectively navigate your communication approach with your patients.

Primespeak provides a new concept in patient communication, founded in both psychology and the nuances of actual patient behaviour. It incorporates a whole new way of thinking about how you communicate with patients in an ethical way, and increases treatment acceptance at the same time.


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