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The top 10 mistakes that dentists make unknowingly

In the past twenty years, I have worked with thousands of dentists across the globe on their practice success. In that time, I have seen many patterns emerge, especially in the way dentists think and behave that damages their success. Here are the top 10 mistakes I’ve seen dentists unknowingly make…

The top 10 mistakes that dentists make unknowingly

1. Not valuing communication skills

When dentists finish clinical school, the last thing they want to do is talk to people. They just want to focus on making teeth look better, and mouths healthier. The lack of value placed on communication skills is a big reason why dentists fail to grow their business.

All the clinical skills in the world don’t help unless the patient says yes to the treatment. A focus on improving your communication skills will go a long way towards making the patient see things from your perspective and move towards optimal treatment.

Most people do not feel in control while in a dental practice. This is because it is not a normal occurrence for them to go into a medical room, lie on a bed, put a bib on, and have someone put their hands in their mouth. For dentists, this process is normal. It happens 10-20 times a day, but for your patients it might happen twice a year, usually much less.

Take the time to explain your role and what you will be doing with the patient. Let them know that whatever options you give them, as long as they understand the pros and cons of each, you will support their decision. This gives them a sense of control, and removes the sense that you are lecturing or trying to sell them.

Giving them a sense of control, what will happen, how it will happen, and checking if the process works for them – asking permission – will do a great deal to make the person feel better about being in your practice.

3. Not having a clear focus of what to communicate

Many dentists have no plan in mind when they are talking to patients. They are simply being guided by what they think the patient wants. This is a mistake, as most patients have no idea what is happening in their mouth, and cannot diagnose themselves correctly.

One of the things we’ve learned is that the clearer you are about where you are heading with the patient, the more you are able to communicate it to your patients. Having a clear strategic plan in mind before you start talking with a patient is a powerful way to influence the outcome.

4. Seeing the patient as ‘at fault’

Thinking that the patient is the cause of all the problems in your practice is a common trap some dentists fall into. “If only I was in a different area”. “If only I had chosen a different specialty.” This type of thinking is looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

When you take responsibility for how your patients react, you can start thinking about the communications you are delivering to them. You can start to consider the experience the patient has, and how it might be improved.

5. Seeing the team as ‘at fault’

Thinking that your team is the reason you aren’t succeeding is another mistake. “If only I had a different person at the front.” “If only my hygienists would tell patients they need treatment.” These types of comments show that you, as a leader, need to train and empower your team to succeed.

Your team is not the reason your practice isn’t succeeding. You are responsible for everything that happens in your practice, whether you realise it or not. Work on your leadership skills, focus on growing the skills of your team alongside your own, and you will see a dramatic improvement.

6. Not getting a clear decision from the patient

Believe it or not, most patients have no idea what to do next once they have received their diagnosis. They may nod their head and agree with what you are saying, but very often they are feeling overwhelmed and unsure what to do next.

One of the characteristics of successful dentists is they always have the patient leave with a clear in-principle commitment. They ensure that they are getting this agreement from the patient, rather than abdicating the decision making to a team member.

Even if the patient needs time to explore finances, talk to a family member, or just needs time to make an informed decision, getting an in-principle agreement about the problem and potential solution helps patients move towards treatment.

By giving a patient clear next step, whether it will be a hygiene appointment, a follow up call, or an appointment to review the treatment plan with a family member, they will gain a sense of direction and momentum.

7. Making the patient feel like a set of teeth

It is easy as a dentist to fall into the diagnosis trap of not acknowledging the person attached to the set of teeth. Often, all a dentist wants the patient to do is to lie back and be quiet so they can start an examination. This is a huge mistake, as a lack of connection and trust with their dentist is a huge reason why people don’t agree to move forward with treatment.

Take the time to get to know the person first, and get a sense of what they are coming in for. Ask about their past dental history, and what they might already know about dental conditions. Taking a few minutes asking questions and getting to know the person before hand will be a huge trust builder and make them feel much better about staying with your practice.

8. Educating them in the way you were educated

When dentists go through dental school, they learn in a very instructive, technical way. Unfortunately when it comes to explaining conditions to patients, dentists end up using the same method of instruction.

Whenever you explain a condition or a treatment option to a patient, it is likely something you understand very clearly. However for the patient, they are likely to misunderstand some part or all of what you are describing. The more you explain conditions and options in plain English, the better they will be understood. Writing down the options, with clear costs and explaining the process clearly is a big help to the patient. Many people understand more when it is written down, and will appreciate you taking the time to do so.

9. Too much focus on the solution

One of the traps of sales people is that they fall in love with their product. They see their solution as the master key to any problem. Sometimes dentists also fall into this trap when they only discuss solutions with patients.

For a person to want to do dental treatment, they must first understand why they need it. This means they need to know and understand the problems that are present in their mouth. Take the time to first focus on explaining the problems in a way the person understands, and they will be much more likely to ask for and even agree to your solution.

10. Being a ‘Dentist’

It is easy to fall into a role and think you should behave a certain way. Not being human with people is a trap some dentists fall into from time to time. Behaving officiously or using too much technical language can destroy a connection with the patient who is in your dental chair.

Remember that it is ok to be a human being first. You can use personal stories, humour, and be genuine with the people you interact with. If this isn’t something that comes naturally to you, then you might need to practise a little. The more human you are the more patients will enjoy visiting your practice and refer their friends and family.

These are just 10 of the mistakes I’ve noticed, and not every dentist makes the same mistakes. If you can identify with any of these, then perhaps you can pick one to work on. Ask your team for feedback and see where they think you can improve.

Remember that the more you focus on improving yourself, the more your practice will improve as a result!

Join the Prime Practice team at their next Primespeak Seminar to learn the communication skills to get your patients to accept optimal treatment presented ethically by you. 


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