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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Classic Cosby Teaches Dentists a Lesson

Great communicators are all around us.  What is it that makes someone really connect with their audience?  In other words what is it that makes someone engaging?

As a blogger, I have consistently tried to find the key to creating compelling content.  That is the “buzzword” that is used by the writing gurus—create compelling content.  Create relevant content.

So I watch TED,  to study great presenters.  When I read other blogs I always look for the factors that keep me glued to the page.  For fun I study great improvisational stars like Wayne Brady and Jerry Seinfeld.

Last week I was watching some YouTube videos of Bill Cosby.  I grew up watching Cosby.  Young people these days don’t appreciate what a great comedian he was…and still is.  He has so many “classic routines.”  The one readers of this blog might be interested in is “The Dentist.”

Take a look:YouTube Preview Image

While watching I realized that Cosby’s skit was a great story.  It contained all of the components of story...exposition (how people generally feel about dentists), rising action (each particular incident or possible turning point), crisis and resolution.  Of course he added much of the laughs…but as dentists we don’t really need to be comedians…just storytellers.

Our patients come to us with their own individual set of circumstances…our story reveals how and why patients come to us.  We expose their struggles with the common obstacles to completing treatment…money, fear, time, trust and sense of urgency.  We explain whta they did to overcome those obstacles, and finally we show our completed cases.  These stories engage.

Cosby didn’t make that story up.  He borrowed it from his own experiences with the dentist…it was very authentic…engaging and compelling.  That is why he has connected with so many people through the years.  He delivers his messages in the form of story, something that business leader Annette Simmons says is the best way to engage an audience.

As dentists we need to become master storytellers.  Tell stories from your own practice.  Engage your patients with great stories…use photography to tell your story.

My favorite Bill Cosby story is The Chicken Heart that Ate New York…enjoy:

YouTube Preview Image

What’s your favorite story?




Most Effective Way to Educate Patients


Explaining treatment to a patient can be one of the more difficult tasks for a dentist. Finding the right words at the right time in the right circumstance can be unnerving, and it can mean the difference between your patient saying “yes” or “no” to treatment.

We have witnessed an untold number of methods and technologies that attempt to help doctors and their staff educate and persuade patients to accept treatment. Those of us who have purchased marketing brochures, DVD’s, intra-oral cameras and digital radiographs know that visual illustrations and graphics sometimes fall short.

We must enter the mind through an emotional gateway: through metaphor and storytelling.

There is no greater feeling when you use the right words, at the right time. Your patient goes from having that MEGO expression (Mine Eyes Glaze Over) to a look of understanding and acceptance.

One morning last week I was about to do a crown for a patient when he stopped me mid-injection and said, “Hey Doc, all I see is a little hole in this tooth…it doesn’t look all that bad.”

“Uh oh,” I thought. In an instant I explained to him that the little hole was just the entrance to a much larger hole…like the entrance to a cave. Hence the word “cavity.”

Instantly his eyes focused. He saw a reference in his mind. The cavity now had context. He said, “Okay, I get it. Let’s go.”

And so, words saved the day.

Actually “word pictures” saved the day.

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clark once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” What we dentists seem to forget is that dentistry is advanced technology to most people.

We suffer from the Curse of Knowledge.

In another recent case a patient came in with three hopeless teeth. Way beyond repair. Abscessed and broken down o the gum line. He kept asking me if I could save them. What was obvious to me and my staff had him bewildered. He thought dentists could save anything…that’s what we do, right?

His problem originated when an oral surgeon extracted a few teeth years ago and a dental assistant told him that the teeth could be saved. Nothing like throwing your boss under the bus.

This left doubt and mistrust in the patient’s mind.

I asked him what he did for a living and he said he worked in construction.

I needed a metaphor…quickly.

I painted a picture with words of a wooden fence that came down in a storm. The fence posts were split apart at ground level. I asked how he would fix the fence…he just looked at me and understood that these teeth had to come out.

The power of metaphor.

Dentists, especially the successful ones have been using storytelling and metaphor since way before technology tried to make our lives easier. Stories and metaphor enable us to achieve a deeper emotional connection.

Instant clarification.

Can you think of any great metaphors that have helped you explain treatment to your patients?
Here are three more…
1. The TMJ as a camp trunk…with hinges and locks
2. The TMJ as a door (works well, too)
3. Balancing the tires on your car as a metaphor for equilibration