Do You Scare Your Patients?



Many years ago, as a young dentist, at a study club meeting I heard a dentist say he gets patients to accept treatment by “gloomin and doomin em.”  That never sat well with me…I just knew it was wrong.

Still, I think, many dentists gloom and doom their patients.  Not intentionally as was prescribed, but more out of habit or even frustration.  One of the things dentists need to do is to stay optimistic.  Not only for their own survival but also for their patient’s ability to make healthy choices.

There is so much negativity around dentistry.  It costs too much, it hurts, it takes so long…we all know what patients tell us.  Not real good for morale.  So when the dentists adds doom and gloom to the mix, that only makes it worse.

Leaders close emotional gaps.  In the case of dentistry our job is to bring patients from where they are to where they could be.  That’s the gap. 

Not the intellectual gap but the emotional gap.

Too many dentists are like Jack Webb, the police sergeant on the old TV show, Dragnet.  They just give patients the facts.  Webb’s character, Sergeant Friday  was famous for saying, “Just the facts mam, just the facts.”

Well, dentists aren’t cops and we don’t enforce the law.  I like author, E.M. Forster’s classic lesson on story:   “The king died, and then the queen died vs. The king died and then the queen died…from grief.”

See the difference between that and “Just the facts mam?”

Abe Maslow told us that people are motivated by fulfilling needs.  Four of those needs are self-interest, self-actualization, belonging and hope for a positive future.

The job of a dentist is to close that emotional gap by painting pictures of positive, hopeful futures.  Our role is to motivate and lead…or else our role is that of a tooth mechanic or a repairman.

The entire profession needs to see the dentist’s role as one of leadership.  Only then will the profession shed the negativity associated with dentistry.

Is there any time I use gloom and doom?

Not really…but sometimes I use “shock” to get someone’s attention…but that’s another story.


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The One Skill That Leads to Success





I continually get into arguments with dentists and lab technicians about our role with patients and with other dentists.  There just seems to be so much complaining clients who just don’t do what we want or expect them to do.

Last week, on two separate occasions I was discussing this issue with a dentist and a technician.  I asked them what they did when they faced this very frustrating situation.

Both replied in exactly the same way (which, by the way, I have heard over and over again, whenever the subject arises).  They both said, “I educate them.”

As if this education process somehow leads to more compliance.  Well, it usually doesn’t.  But it does absolve the dentists and technician because at least they feel they did the proper thing…the right thing…the moral and correct thing.

It just doesn’t work.  And that is more frustrating.

I suggested to both, like I always do, that instead of trying to educate their clients it might be good idea to motivate them.  The technician said it was just semantics.

Well, it’s not…there is a big distinction between education and motivation, and a good motivator can save a lot of time and be much more effective.

The late Thomas Leonard, founder of Coach University, was very emphatic about making distinctions of words.  You might say it was the basis of his coaching style.

Making the distinction between educating your patients and motivating them will change the way you approach all of your patients.  When you take on the role of motivator, it will not make your job easier…just different.  You will notice that there is an art to motivating people…moving them from what is to what could be.

The business of dentistry is all about changing people, not unlike gyms and diet centers.

Sure, some education is necessary, but to truly be effective we need to motivate.  Do I have to mention flossing?

Motivating patients is an “art.”  That is why I named my books The Art of Examination and The Art of Case Presentation.  If we don’t get our clients to act when they must…we have failed them.  Tough job, yes, and probably the one role we have that we haven’t been trained to do, and the one role when mastered can lead to more success than any other.



How to Make a Permanent Change



In my last post, If Al Roker was a Dentist, I received quite a few comments.  One comment by Doug got me to think about change.  I mean serious permanent change. 

I coach dentists and help them to apply permanent changes in their life and practices.  Not an easy task.  So let me tell you about a New Years resolution I made this year. 

I make a lot of resolutions.  I am pretty good at keeping them too.  It takes discipline and attention to process and faith that your efforts will bear fruit.

Archive interview with R.D. Laing during episode 1

The Controversial renegade 60’s psychologist R.D. Laing

This year I attempted to change a behavior that I thought was getting in my way...making inflammatory comments.  Whenever I set a resolution I create a monitor to track my progress.  I use an app on my iPad and iPhone that allows me to record my daily progress.  You can do this for weight control as well as your daily production.  It keeps you focused and is absolutely required if you want to change a habit or create a new one.

Things were going along very well.  I made a few remarks to some people and got into a few arguments, but one thing it did was brought my awareness to another level.  In time things slowed down so I was able to catch myself.  I became what some call “a noticer.”

I was beginning to experience what I often speak about when I refer to Covey’s first habit…Be Proactive.  I was finding the gap between stimulus and response.  I was living the R.D. Laing quote:

“The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice.  And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.”

Then a funny thing happened.  Someone directed an inflammatory comment at me.  I was in this slowed down state so it stopped me in my tracks, and instead of reacting (I was in the gap between stimulus and response), I realized that the person who made the comment was making a value judgement about me…and I didn’t like it.

It brought me back to the patient I discussed in the Al Roker post.    I realized that the source of the comments were nothing more than expressions of value judgements.  Judgements that might be as inflammatory as —you’re not good enough.

Can you think of a better way to upset someone?  As Doug mentioned in his comment this applies way beyond our practices…to our private lives.

Here’s the best part.

I am now six weeks into my resolution.  People are treating me better.  Conversations are more meaningful than ever before.  I feel attractive (not physically…those days are way behind me now).

I would like to know your opinions on this issue.  We all need to improve relationships…I may have stumbled upon a way to make this a permanent change.


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If Al Roker Was a Dentist

Al Roker

Al Roker



Every patient is an individual, but sometimes we can identify certain behaviors that are just classic in dentistry.  No one wants to hear bad news.  So when we examine our patients and we find something…anything, there is that moment when you could hear a pin drop.  We have to deliver the news…that’s our obligation, and honestly most dentists don’t really enjoy that part of the job.  The other morning I had just that situation.  I had to deliver the news…a couple of fillings and a new crown.

Then the negotiation begins.

Whether the reason is fear or cost, the reaction can be denial.

I don’t know where it came from but I just blurted out, “I’m just here to tell you the weather…if I tell you it’s going to rain and you don’t take your umbrella…well you’re going to get wet.”

She looked at me, smiled and got the message.

Later on during the day I thought about how many times I’ve blown that scenario.  When I did…things always turn bad.

I think the reason is that no one likes to be judged.  I know I don’t…and yet dentists are in a position to make judgements everyday…and sometimes those judgements get confused.

  Let’s not turn a bad tooth into a bad person.

The two biggest fears in life are not having enough and not being enough—and when not having enough turns into not being enough, that will destroy a relationship.

Dentists are guilty of this in our noble intent to motivate patients toward treatment.

Maybe we should take a tip from cheerful weatherman Al Roker…let’s just tell them the weather, and stay away from judgements.





What Dentistry Can Learn From Radiology

Photo by Joshua Polansky

Photo by Joshua Polansky




I am a lucky guy.  My son does my lab work in our in-office lab.  He gets to meet the patients that he is doing the work for.  He’s a lucky guy.  I have told him so, because most dental technicians work in a room all day totally isolated.  If you visit a dental lab you will see technicians sitting at a bench working on models, wearing loupes and listening to their iPods.

Dan Pink in his new book, To Sell is Human, describes the work of radiologists who also sit in dimly lit rooms all day, reading x-rays, CT scans and MRIs.  He says that this job can “dull these highly skilled doctor’s interest in their jobs.  And worse, if the work begins to feel impersonal and mechanical, it can diminish their actual performance.”

An Israeli radiologist, Yeonatan Turner wanted to know more about this so he conducted some research to see if he could “add some gusto” to the job.  As a resident, with the patient’s permission, he photographed about 300 patients coming in for CT scans.  Then he enlisted a group of radiologists for his experiment.

Then the radiologists read the scans, but when the scans came up on their computers, so did the photograph that Turner took.  After reading the scans they filled out a questionnaire.  According to Pink, “All of them reported feeling more empathy to the patients after seeing the photograph, and being more meticulous in the way they examined the scan.”

What happened next was really strange.  Three months later Turner took 81 of the photo-accompanied scans and let the same radiologists read them again…but this time without the photos attached.  This time 80% of “incidental findings” were not reported.  In other words, without the photos there seemed to be a disconnect and there was less scrutiny with the same radiographs.  What Turner determined was,

“Our study emphasizes approaching the patient as a human being and not as an anonymous case study.”

So what can dentists and dental technicians take away from this study?

We must remember to make all of our services as personal as possible.  The more personal we make our services the greater chance of doing a good job and we become better at motivating one another.

Maybe the key to getting better work from the dental lab is to send along a photo with every patient.  Hospitals are now doing it for Pap smears, blood tests and other diagnostics.

For a more complete discussion of Turners work I highly recommend Dan Pink’s new book…To Sell is Human.






The Real Reason Dental Patients Accept Your Treatment




1980 Popular Book by Roy Garns

If you are in private practice and you present treatment to your patients for a fee there is only one reason why they complete the transaction.  The fee you assign for your service is the value you place on the service.  How do you determine your fees?  How do you calculate the price of your dentistry? 

The final transaction will occur because each party, the dentist and the patient assigns a value to the service.  And that value is higher than what either party either party provides.

The value that is assigned is usually based on the anticipated future value of the service.  It’s kind of like buying a stock.  You pay a price based upon your future return of value.

For the dentist the value comes is monetary.  But for the patient the future value is always emotional.  That is the reason people accept our dentistry.  Those emotional reasons include the return on investment for self-esteem, self-preservation or any number of things your patient wants.

So what does this mean?

Your role is to close the emotional gap.  To understand what your patients want at an emotional level.

One of L.D. Pankey’s favorite books was The Magic Power of Emotional Appeal by Roy Garns.  This hard to find book is still a classic.

Understanding patient’s motivations, whether keeping their teeth, getting out of pain, or looking their best for social or business reasons is the key to acceptance.


So think of your examinations and presentations as an exchange of values.