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Savvy lingo: The power of simple, relatable speech in dentistry

July 28, 2023
Simple, consistent communication in dentistry can be the difference between retaining and losing patients, scheduling or delaying treatment.

A kind man with a perplexed look on his face approached me during the first break in the Savvy Lingo portion of my implant team training. This portion includes word pictures and treatment descriptions that are easy for everyone on the team to repeat and run with. I had shared that everyone on our team describes an implant as a man-made root, with a man-made tooth or teeth on top. I even dedicated a full chapter to this in my implant workbook. He said, “Although I appreciate what you are doing with the staff in the room, ‘a man-made root’ … it’s just too simple.” I replied to him the way I teach others to reply in these types of conversations—with curiosity and open arms. “Tell me more about that, sir.” And so, our conversation began.

Consistency dispels confusion

In my almost four decades in dentistry, I’ve learned when our team is consistent with our descriptions of procedures or treatment, less confusion and greater case acceptance tends to follow. This is in contrast with practices where those answering the phones say whatever they have overheard from a doctor or team member or perhaps learned as an assistant in another office. Then there may be an assistant who echoes what she has heard the doctor share (at the current practice or another) and a hygienist who repeats what she is most comfortable with, based on her clinical training or what she was told at the hygiene study club, etc. You get my point.

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Today, we are in an economy based on connection. Trust is not earned by a paper framed and hung on the wall—we must be different and so must our patient experience! I’m talking about being quick to connect and far from elitist doctor-speak. Think about your experience in most medical practices out there. You make an appointment, and then when you arrive, you have a receptionist ask what you’re there for. This question may then be repeated by the person weighing you and the person reviewing your medications.

You’re left feeling like these people don’t communicate and wondering how the care could possibly be any better!

There are left-brain types who will ask, “When you say ‘man-made,’ what exactly is it made of?” However, in most instances, when we use simpler, savvier words to describe treatments, patients take it in without a big disruption in the conversation or their thought process. Most people are fine with simple, confident answers, and the ones who need more information, according to DiSC Insights (blog), only account for 17% of the population. Those who need more information make up the “C” or compliant, accurate, and analytical types. As you probably guessed, a high percentage of dentists possess this style. Keep in mind that almost 80% of the population need and want fewer details.You really can’t go wrong by working through the patient-perceived tough treatments to have your own savvy lingo around the descriptions. It’s part of soft skills in health care and communication.

Imagine someone calls your office, concerned about an implant because they saw something (or several somethings) online that gave them anxiety. The sweet person on the phone wants to be accurate, so when asked what the call is regarding, she shares something she believes will make her sound smart. She says, it’s “a titanium rod that’s screwed into the bone.” This doesn’t exactly give me the warm fuzzies, how about you? By the way, that’s a quote from a real person who called my practice.

Now, imagine the office has regular team meetings and regularly spends time onboarding team members before they ever answer the phones. This new team member is surprised to find that he/she could learn so much so quickly about complex treatments. This person gets these same questions and uses more consistent, less complex answers. The patient schedules, and as they are having the conversation with the assistant before the doctor arrives, the assistant answers the “What exactly is an implant?” question with the same enthusiasm and information as the team member on the phone. This patient comes away feeling pretty confident with the team in this practice.

The telephone, by the way, is your most powerful marketing tool. How is yours working for you? It’s been my experience with patients in a practice serving a university full of engineers that it’s rare we have patients who insist on more details. Of course, we had one PhD engineer who emailed about a dozen questions on two occasions prior to full-arch implant-supported treatment. The inquiry went to my husband, Chuck, then I did my wordsmithing, and he gave the okay. On a couple of occasions, the PhD asked Chuck for a more complex answer. Turns out, he and my husband were both woodworkers, so many of the answers involved a comparison he appreciated.

Tailor your words to each patient 

This can be the case if your team takes the time to learn about the person attached to the tooth. It will allow you (and your team) the opportunity to make the comparison to something the patient knows or really enjoys. I once asked a firefighter how far up he would go into a high-rise if the fire was near the bottom floor. He answered, only as far as the foundation was stable. I then said, “That makes sense, You can probably understand why Dr. Majors is hesitant to build your beautiful new smile until he knows the foundation is stable and healthy.” He agreed and never again asked about why his periodontal health (have-to dentistry) must be in order before we began his smile design (want-to dentistry). The soft skills matter, whether the care is needed or wanted. Taking time to know patients before they arrive gives the team and doctor greater acuity and empathy. This allows for greater connection and the results and patient experience we all strive for.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the July 2023 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.


1. Understand and utilize the predictable behaviors of your team. DISC Insights by PeopleKeys. https://blog.discinsights.com/understanding-different-types-of-employees-using-disc

About the Author

JoAn Majors, RDA, CSP, CVP

JoAn Majors, RDA, CSP, CVP, cofounded The Soft Skills Institute with her dentist husband. She’s published in 25 magazines and newsletters and has written five books. Her latest is Permission to Be Honest: Tough Talk on Soft Skills. JoAn is a certified speaking professional (CSP), she holds the team training faculty for Misch Implant Institute, is a 2022 Industry Denobi Award Winner, serves on the advisory board for Dental Entrepreneur Women (DeW), and is a member of AADOM/ASCA, ADIA, DSI, NSA, and NSA Austin. Contact her at [email protected].

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