Build patient relationships

Sept. 1, 2008
THERE IS ONE COMMON SCENARIO that happens in every single dental office. The dentist presents a treatment plan to a patient ...

by Louis Malcmacher, DDS, MAGD

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: patient relationships, connecting with people, personal connections.

THERE IS ONE COMMON SCENARIO that happens in every single dental office. The dentist presents a treatment plan to a patient — something as simple as a tooth-colored restoration or an endo, post, core, and crown — and the patient goes home to think about it. Later the patient calls the dentist and says, "My hairdresser thinks a root canal is a bad idea and I would rather just take out the tooth."

The dentist thinks what an idiot this patient must be. "Here I went to dental school for four years, have many hours of advanced continuing education, treat patients every single day, and instead of believing me, the patient is listening to her hairdresser?" the dentist thinks. "How in the world could she compare my treatment recommendation to a conversation she had with a low dental IQ cosmetologist?"

This scene repeats itself many times over in a dental career, and I'll tell you exactly why. There is an aura of believability that we as dental professionals sometimes don't project. Think about it — the patient came to your office, met your entire staff, and you as the dentist did the examination and made a recommendation. It was all very clinical and confident, but was it believable? That connection is absolutely essential to forming a relationship where the patient will trust you and your team more than the hairdresser.

I often say this in my lectures and I know that it disturbs some dentists. Your patients have absolutely no way to judge your clinical skills. They really don't know if you are a better clinical dentist than the dentist down the street. They really don't know what all of the diplomas on your wall mean. Truth be told, many dental offices have all the same wall hangings of all the same continuing education courses that the dentists have taken. People assume that most dentists know what they're doing, so how in the world does your office differ from everyone else's?

Provide a personal connection

I think it's funny when a dentist tells me that his staff talks to patients too much and they waste too much time in the office in conversations about what seems to be nothing. I point out to them that this can be the basis for building a great patient relationship, which can then lead to a loyal, long-lasting patient.

The other important ingredient that I believe adds value to a patient appointment is to call attention to some of the unique things you do in your office. The most valuable words that I love to hear patients say are, "Nobody has ever done that for me before."

A couple of examples — patients come in and I tell them that I use a Waterlase MD laser so that they won't need a shot before their restorative treatment. For other patients with periodontal abscesses, I clean out the pocket and place Arestin by OraPharma. In both cases if I say nothing to patients, they will not know that something special occurred. But if I point out that I'm using patient-friendly technologies to make their visit easier, I am different from every other dentist out there and I am unique and uniquely believable.

Learn the valuable art of connecting with people. It takes only a few moments to be friendly and believable. Then, instead of choosing whom to believe, your patients will start referring their cosmetologists to you!

Dr. Louis Malcmacher is a practicing general dentist in Bay Village, Ohio, and an internationally known lecturer, author, and dental consultant known for his comprehensive and entertaining style. An evaluator for Clinical Research Associates, Dr. Malcmacher is a consultant to the Council on Dental Practice of the ADA. For close to three decades, Dr. Malcmacher has inspired his audiences and consulting clients to truly enjoy doing dentistry by providing the knowledge necessary for excellent clinical and practice management. His group dental practice has maintained a 45% overhead since 1988. You can contact him at (440) 892-1810 or e-mail [email protected]. You can also see his lecture schedule at, where you can find information about building the best dental team ever, and sign up for Dr. Malcmacher's affordable monthly consulting programs, audio CDs, and free monthly e-newsletter.

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