May 1, 2000
People make decisions based on emotion, not education. Dentists must learn to reach patients on an emotional level.

People make decisions based on emotion, not education. Dentists must learn to reach patients on an emotional level.

William Blatchford, DDS

Creating value for optional dental treatment usually is the missing link between excellent technical skills and accomplished beautiful smiles in your practice. Many dentists rationalize that their practice is different and just doesn`t have that many potential cosmetic patients. I disagree!

Learning to place the patient in an emotional frame of mind creates great value. It is the emotion that creates value, not education. Emotion is the key.

Most of us make decisions permanently, instantly, and emotionally. The pattern is the same whether we are making decisions about purchasing a home, jet skis, a vacation, or even about relationships.

The analytical dentist wants to deny ever making an emotional decision, choosing to believe that he or she makes all decisions logically. This steadfast denial of emotions continues to keep most dentists in the old arena of trying to educate the patient. They do this by drawing tooth pictures on the bracket covers, demonstrating models, and showing enthusiasm for the process of treatment, rather than the end result.

Education is the way most dentists approach "sales." But attempting to create value by educating the patient about the process of cosmetic dentistry will not cut it in today`s sophisticated marketplace.

Because all decisions are made permanently, instantly, and emotionally, dentists and staff can master skills in guiding the cosmetic patient to think emotionally. We call this "Blatchford`s Verbal Cosmetics." We are asking questions that cannot be answered by "yes" or "no," but which instead create the opportunity for the patient to share values, standards, and opinions.

Some examples of verbal cosmetic questions would be:

"What would you like your smile to look like?"

"How would that make you feel?"

"What would others think of your new smile?"

"How would that help you in your job?"

Patients are not nearly as interested in the dental process as we think. Patients will think positively about optional cosmetic treatment when asked questions that bring out their value system, not ours. This really is patient-driven case presentation. Whatever response the patient makes to our questions is what we use to further develop their own value system.

Ask questions

Start the relationship with new or existing patients by seeking their permission to ask questions. Try something like: "You may have noticed some different things here from other dental offices. We like to think of our patients as part of our dental family. We want to find out what you want, rather than us telling you what we think you need. I`d like to be your partner in discovering what is important to you. Would it be alright if I ask you some questions?" The words, partner and family, are emotional words.

The patient drives the conversation when you start by asking what I term "future-focus questions." For example, you might say: "Think with me now to about 20 years into the future. How would you like your dental health to be?"

At this point, we want the patient to be dreaming a long way into the future, so that the barriers of today do not exist. Whatever the patient`s answer is to this question, have him or her elaborate by asking more questions, such as "Tell me more about that" or "How would that make you feel?" or "What advantages do you see for you to keep your teeth?" The goal is to ask questions that will allow the patient to share his or her value system with you ... to tell you what`s important to him or her.

Utilizing pictures

Before-and-after pictures can be an emotional connection. At a clothing store, even if you are just browsing through the suit section, a smart sales associate will create an opportunity for you to "try this one on for size." It just happens to be the cashmere blend in the most attractive style and color. Once the customer has tried on that suit "just for size," is there usually any other suit? The same is true for before-and- after pictures.

Have an album ready so that when the patient responds, "I definitely want to keep my teeth, and I would like them to look younger ... like they did when I was in high school." You then can bring in the photo album to show a possible "after" picture. Then say, "Does this look like something you would like?"

Planting emotional seeds

Now we are in the emotional arena. The patient wants that smile, just as the department store shopper wants that new suit. The patient may not buy it today, but he or she will be thinking about it. You have planted "emotional seeds."

"Just imagine what that smile would look like on you!" you might say. That`s a good way to start patients thinking about the possibilities, sharing with you their opinions and their values. The opportunities for emotional questions and responses are endless!

Involve your staff

Learning to ask questions is the most effective way to start patients sharing their opinions, values, and standards. It requires skill-building on the part of the doctor and the staff. Begin the process with the end in mind. What needs does the patient have that you want to uncover? How will you phrase your questions to start patients thinking about what is important to them about their oral health? When they do answer the question, what will you do or say in response?

Verbal cosmetics require writing a script. What questions can you ask that will have a definite impact on the patient? What words can you use to have your patient be thinking emotionally? Practice your script by role-playing with staff members and videotaping yourself. Watch the videotapes and make a mental note of how to improve. Then practice, practice, practice!

For more information about this article, contact the author at (800) 578-9155. A biography of the author appears on page 8.

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