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After visiting a dentist in the US, Dr. Dao wanted to become a dentist.

Prioritize dental patient experiences, and you’ll benefit, too

Feb. 7, 2024
Dentists are in the people business, and keeping patients happy should be top of mind. Doing so will naturally lead to a better business.

As a Vietnamese immigrant, I grew up without access to reliable dental care. When I moved to America, an amazing dental experience altered my career trajectory. I also learned that quality dental care can be life-changing.    

When I was growing up, I never thought I would become a dentist. After my grandmother passed away from complications related to dental surgery, I found it hard to trust anyone in the profession. It took being in the care of a gentle and compassionate general dentist for me to change my perspective and realize this was something I wanted to pursue.

Because of these life events, creating a positive patient experience has always been a top priority for me. Patient experience is a core value that most dentists agree is important, but it can be difficult to pinpoint what that means in real terms.

Patient experience is not something that can be figured out once and never thought about again. Since each patient has different wants and needs, experiences are fluid and must be updated regularly with new tools and strategies.

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Start with your staff

Before they even meet the dentist, patients form a lasting impression of the practice. It’s imperative for your patients to be greeted warmly by individuals who reflect your core values. When choosing your staff, look for people who are kind, organized, and can problem-solve independently, because you won’t always be available.

Your staff is the first and last point of contact patients will have, so make those interactions count! Our policy is that every incoming call receives a return call by the end of the day. Patients have told me that not having to wait long for a call-back makes a huge difference for their peace of mind.

Create a calm ambience

Office décor is another way to subtly communicate to patients that their experience will be as gentle as possible. My office has a light blue color theme with water motifs. Consider playing spalike music or installing soft lighting in the waiting room. I use scented candles to suggest a calming atmosphere, and I offer a massaging eye mask to relax patients who might feel anxious about their dental appointment.

Build in extra time between appointments

When setting your schedule, allocate more breaks than you think you’ll need. This ensures that patients get the time they deserve without feeling rushed, and you can be fully present with them instead of worrying about being late for your next appointment.

It can be tempting to pack your schedule every day, but I can say that giving myself extra time is one of the best things I do for my patients and my own mental health. This strategy not only helps with patient loyalty, but it also contributes to staff retention in the long term.

Be transparent and informative

Educating patients is valuable for maximizing treatment acceptance. Patients will feel less anxious when you address their concerns and answer their questions. This translates to a greater return on investment because patients are more likely to accept a more extensive treatment plan when they understand why it’s necessary.

Expand your horizons with technology

Many dentists around my age are stuck in their ways, refusing to improve their workflows with new technologies. Despite not being a very tech-savvy individual, I’m committed to updating my practice, and I find myself revitalized and excited to come to work each day. Things like switching from traditional impressions to digital scans with my iTero intraoral scanner have made the experience less invasive for patients and more seamless for me. Using biomimetic methods, I get more data points, more predictability, and more esthetic results.

Another piece of equipment I’ve invested in is the Glidewell.io in-office mill, which allows for same-day crowns and savings on lab costs, which I can then pass on to patients. When patients experience these financial benefits, plus the time saved by eliminating provisionals and extra appointments, they leave the office satisfied and likely to refer their friends and family.

Seek out continuing education

One of my professional mottos is “Never stop learning.” There are always new frontiers to explore in dentistry, whether it’s implant education, whitening services, in-office 3D printing, dentures, clear aligners, and others. Patients want a dentist who is well-rounded and can do more than the basics. Staying up-to-date also means you won’t have to refer out to other dentists as often, which keeps your patients in your care. To master new clinical skills, I regularly attend continuing education programs, including in-person workshops, symposia, online webinars, and on-demand courses.

In 2023, I was thrilled to be accepted into the Guiding Leaders program at Glidewell. Guiding Leaders empowered me in many of the nonclinical aspects of dentistry, such as personal branding, negotiating, case photography, developing an online presence, and public speaking. The program also gave me access to a network of like-minded women dentists and subject matter experts. All these learning experiences have elevated my practice and benefited my patients.

Find what works for you

There are so many ways to lean into creativity when it comes to crafting a positive patient experience. I have talked about what works for me, but there are many other ways to prioritize the patient experience in your practice. As a dentist, it’s rewarding to make patients happy. It’s also one of the most effective ways to ensure the lasting success of your business.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the February 2024 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

Specializing in cosmetic dentistry and clear aligner therapy, K.T. Dao, DDS, brings more than three decades of expertise to her boutique dental practice. She holds active memberships in the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), the American Orthodontic Society (AOS), and others. She is also an alumnus of Guiding Leaders. With more than 500 units of continuing education to date, Dr. Dao remains dedicated to positioning herself at the forefront of her field. Contact her at [email protected].

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