The Conversation a Dentist Can Have with Fearful Patients

Here is another post, the last in a series, from our friend Jen Butler of Jen Butler Coaching.
It doesn’t matter if patients react from flight or fight mode.  Both types can be easy to work with and does not need to make for a stressful day at the office.
These steps will help you connect, defuse, and gain case acceptance.
  1. Empathy– “Mr. X, you seem uneasy/unnerved. In my experience those patients are often the ones that are the most uncomfortable coming to the dentist.  How are you doing with this?” Here’s where you are going to hear, “I don’t like the dentist.”  Hard to hear as a dental professional and also NOT TRUE. Realize when a patient says, “I hate the dentist,” they aren’t talking about you.  This isn’t personal so why are you having a personal reaction? They don’t know you so how can they not like you?!  They are reflecting back on past experiences with other dentists.  This is fantastic information for you to connect with and turn this patient into a real patient for life.
  2. Validation– “Mr. X, many patients like yourself share with me they don’t like going to the dentist.  I’ve learned over the years that it’s not the dentist they don’t like but the fear of having cavities, needing work, or experiencing pain that they are looking to avoid.  Would that be true for you?”  If yes, “I see.  That’s totally normal and we are here to work with you through this process.”  If no, “Then what about going to the dentist has you so uneasy/unnerved?”  Validation is the most powerful means of connecting with your patients.  It says you get them and you know how to meet their needs.  FYI- that’s priceless, tangible value for a consumer and they are willing to pay for that.
  3. Clarify–  Find out what the patient knows about their previous treatment and diagnoses.  Sometimes you’ll find the patient has thoughts that are not accurate which is feeding into their irrational fear.  You can help them understand and calm their nerves by using Empowering Questions.  Examples:  “What do you know about this treatment?” “What do you remember about the diagnoses?”  “When you recall the conversation, what words pop out most for you?”
  4. Fill in the gaps– When a patient recalls something with misinformation or not as you remember, don’t have an emotional reaction about it.  Chalk it up to basic functions of the brain.  It takes at least 3 times for anyone to retain new information accurately.  You are going to fill in the gaps for patients about treatment, payments, insurance, procedures, processes and systems.  It’s not them.  It’s not you.  It’s ALL OF US.  You can either have those three times be at three different appointments or all three times built into one appointment.  That choice is yours.
  5. Offer solutions minus the fear–  Patients want treatment, even the fearful.  No one innately wants to have bad oral health.  Help them accept treatment by asking this important question, “If we can do something that will [blank] AND it will be pain free, will you do it?”   The power in this question is the AND.  Don’t forget the AND.
  6. Offer a way out– Here is where you talk about the difference between pain and discomfort.  Not much in dentistry really hurts.  There is a lot in dentistry that is uncomfortable.  Laying with your mouth open, people poking at your gums, the notion of someone drilling into your teeth..don’t tell me that doesn’t sound uncomfortable.  It doesn’t cause pain.  Give your patients different words to think about as you proceed, questions to ask themselves during procedures, and a definite way out.  Consider saying, “As we move forward I want you to ask yourself, ‘Is this causing me pain or am I in discomfort?  If it hurts, we will stop and figure out why.  Nothing we are doing today should hurt.  If you are in discomfort we have lots of ways to make you feel more comfortable.  I just need to know the difference.  Regardless, there is always a way out.  You are in control of how fast we go and what we accomplish today.”
For more specific advice on your particular situation, email Jen or call her at (623) 776-6715