'Wiggle words' that kill case acceptance

June 25, 2015
Are you getting the case acceptance that you want from your patients?

Michael Kesner, DDS

Are you getting the case acceptance that you want from your patients? Do you hear your patients saying, "I'll check my schedule and call you back," or "Let me talk with my spouse and I'll let you know . . ."?

In surveying our consulting clients when they first hired us, we found the average case acceptance rate to be only 23%. How would you like it to be 70% or 80%?

There are several keys to effective communication with your patients that will inspire them to want the dentistry they need. One of those keys is not saying some specific words and phrases that will kill your case acceptance rate.

It is crucial that you communicate with your patients in ways that convey the urgency and importance of the dentistry they need. When I listen to dentists do new-patient exams, I usually hear them use "wiggle words" that actually diminish the importance of the dentistry.

These are some of those words and phrases that kill your case acceptance rate.

"I recommend"

"Mrs. Jones, I recommend that you get a crown on that tooth." The implication here is that another dentist might recommend something different. This often leads patients to think that they should get a second opinion or just wait on getting the crown since it is only a "recommendation" and not really a necessity.

"Possibly," "Probably," "I think," and "Think about"

"Mrs. Jones, you possibly need a crown on that tooth." "Mrs. Jones, I think you might need a crown on that tooth." "Mrs. Jones, you should probably think about getting a crown on that tooth." All of these words totally diminish the need for the treatment. They imply that the dentistry is not really that important and is optional.

"Watch it"

"Mrs. Jones, I see a crack in your tooth. Let's just watch it for now." What are you going to watch it do? Is it going to miraculously heal itself, or is it going to get worse? Would it be better to fix it now or wait for a chunk of the tooth to break off and possibly need a root canal too?

"Small" and "Little"

"Mrs. Jones, you have a small crack in your tooth." "Mrs. Jones, you have a little cavity." This gives the impression that if it is small or little, there is no need to bother with doing anything right now. Why not just wait until it is a real problem and fix it then?


"Mrs. Jones, you should consider getting a crown on that tooth." This implies that she can also consider not getting a crown on that tooth. This leads patients to think that this procedure must not be very important since the dentist is only asking them to consider having it done.

"Might" and "Maybe"

"Mrs. Jones, we might be able to do a root canal and post on that tooth, or maybe an implant would be better." As you well know, there are a lot of clinical parameters to consider when treatment planning a case. Most patients don't understand this. They believe everything is "black and white," so you should communicate in a way that matches their belief.

If you "think out loud," the treatment plan you are considering in your mind can sound indecisive. This often leaves patients wondering if they should proceed with the treatment since you sound unsure of yourself.

Teaching dentistry

"Mrs. Jones, see those dark spots between your teeth on the radiograph? We call that interproximal caries. We restore this with a dental material called composite that is bonded chemically and mechanically to the tooth structure." Do you think Mrs. Jones really cares what you call the cavity between her teeth or how the filling material works? Do you think she will remember what you taught her five minutes later?

Don't you think this would make more sense? "You have some cavities between your teeth that need fillings." If you confuse your patients by trying to teach them dentistry, they will often make no decision. There is an old saying in sales: "Confused people don't buy."

You and your team communicating effectively with your patients will go a long way in increasing your case acceptance rate.

Michael Kesner, DDS, has a practice that ranks on the Inc. 5000 list as one of the fastest growing companies in America. He is the author of the book Multi-Million Dollar Dental Practice and the CEO of Quantum Leap Success in Dentistry. They teach more production, higher profits, and less stress. Contact him at [email protected].

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