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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One Way to Motivate Patients





In a recent post I explained that one of the most important roles for a dentist is to be a motivator.  Motivation is a leadership skill that too many dentists confuse with education.  Sure education is important, but I know a lot of smart people who never get off the couch.  This blog is committed to making you a better presenter so I want to remind everyone to never lose sight of constantly and consistently motivating patients to “be better.”

Now that could mean a lot…I can write a book about that (actually I am completing that book right now—The Art of Case Presentation).  “We are always presenting,” and “Doctor, you are the message” are two of the topics I cover in the book.

The mouth you see in this blog post belongs to a new patient I saw last week.  What do you think he needs more than anything?  Like the smoker and the overweight person…he needs some motivation.  Obviously he knows the score…he just needs some really good emotional reasons to get moving.  And that is our job.  Or you could argue that our job is just to inform him or that our job is to just make it go away.

The problem with those last two job descriptions is that we tend to “educate” and inform by implying the word, should.  I know a lot of dentists who should all over their patients...I like the term, musterbate (they must do it, or else something bad will happen).  Did you ever should on a smoker?  How far did you get?

So I sat with my patient during our preclinical meeting and asked some questions.  Mostly the questions concerned the obvious orthodontic condition.  I asked the thirty five year old if he ever considered straightening his teeth…he said he was okay with the way they looked, so he saw no need.  I followed up that question with, “Can you think of any other reasons why braces would help you?”

He looked befuddled.  I gave him time to answer but he really had no clue.  So I told him (I educated him about periodontal disease and function and even the oral-systemic connection), but he appeared unmoved…interested, but unmoved.

Then I asked him about his parents.  How were their teeth?  He said his dad still had his teeth but his mom had lots of problems with her teeth.  I asked if she wore dentures, but he didn’t remember because she died early.  “From what,” I asked.

“Heart attack,” he said.  But he said it with emotion, and as if something clicked,  I saw the emotional gap closing.

That is the goal of presentation…to close the emotional gap.

I write about this a lot in my new book, but I wanted to share this story with you because it clearly illustrates the distinction between motivation vs. education.

Dentistry doesn’t do the public any great favors by overemphasizing cosmetics…we can actually devalue dentistry by focusing on things that are superficial for many people.

Science tells us that when we give examples of other people, our brains don’t get the connection.  The gap stays open because our brains see the other as a stranger.  Our job is to get so close that the patient actually visualizes what will happen to him in the future.  Difficult to do?  Yes, but we can do it with morphing software which will eventually be available, but we can also do it with surrogates like our parents.

When we close the emotional gap we also swing the cost-benefit ratio way in favor of the benefit side.

Leadership skills and presentation skills are what will make the most successful and effective dentists of the future…I have always contended that and that is why I have devoted this blog and to those ends.



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.