I used to fall asleep at the dentist. Very few people are this relaxed and I understand that I’m an outlier. You may have a fitful night of sleep anticipating your dental appointment. Or feel a bit on edge as you drive to the dental office.
Dentists are accustomed to treating anxious patients and possess many strategies to ensure a comfortable visit. Many are skilled at reading non-verbal cues and adjust their behavior accordingly. But have you considered what you might do to contribute to a successful relationship with your dentist? Dentists may not admit it, but some patient behaviors aggravate the burnout that many healthcare professionals face.
Everybody understands that work schedules are occasionally beyond our control. Sometimes children get sick or an old battery prevents a car from starting. We all have that rare emergency. But if you habitually cancel appointments at the last minute, it’s understandable that your dentist may become annoyed.
Some offices have cancellation fees, but these commonly generate ill will between the patient and the dentist. Besides, the nominal cancellation fee doesn’t cover the lost income of the missed appointment. At a minimum, offer to pay the dentist for his time. It’s difficult to schedule a last-minute patient to take your place. Not only does a self-employed dentist lose money as he sits idle, but his employees still expect to be paid. If your dentist is an associate or employee, chances are his compensation is based upon his productivity.
Lastly, your dentist may try harder for you if he knows you value his time as much as your own.
There’s no excuse for not showing up for an appointment. Maybe you simply forgot. Contact the office, apologize, and offer to pay for the dentist’s time. An unacknowledged broken appointment, though, sends a message that you have no regard for your dentist’s time.
Being late puts everyone in an awkward situation. It may force your dentist into rushing through the procedure and possibly compromising the result. Most dentists are perfectionists and, rather than rushing, they’ll run late for the next patient. Not only is this unfair, but it may also jeopardize that patient’s relationship with the dentist.
There may be insufficient time to complete the procedure and you’ll be asked to reschedule. This irritates all parties and results in wasted time and resources.
I once had a patient whom I adored, but he was habitually an hour or more late. We began telling him his appointment was an hour earlier than it actually was. He knew it – and we knew it. But the strategy worked. Once, he even thanked us for helping him stay on time.
Cell Phone Use
Many medical offices prohibit the use of cell phones. In a dental setting where patients have their mouths open and are unable to talk, cell phones can be useful for listening to music, a podcast, or a book while undergoing dental treatment. However, this proximity doesn’t mean you should answer every phone call during a procedure. Virtually all can wait until after the appointment.
If you are expecting an important call, let the dentist know beforehand. And then keep the conversation brief.
Ignoring Treatment Recommendations
Treatment recommendations generally fall into three categories: necessary and of immediate concern, necessary and of future concern, and discretionary. A chipped front tooth may bother your dentist, but if the missing portion is small and the tooth hasn’t sustained any nerve damage, then it becomes a cosmetic issue. You may decide you like that chipped tooth.
But when it comes to medically necessary treatment, listen to your dentist regardless of whether you feel any sensitivity or pain. Ask questions, in particular, what will happen if you don’t do anything. If you suspect your dentist is trying to scare you into agreeing to treatment, then there’s no trust in the relationship and perhaps he’s not the right dentist for you.
There may be a financial reason for declining treatment. Discuss this issue with the dentist and staff. Many offices offer third-party financing, such as Care Credit, or their own payment arrangements. Treatment can usually be staged over time to increase affordability.
Patients sometimes wonder why a treatment recommendation isn’t discussed at every checkup. Perhaps your dentist has forgotten, or worse yet, maybe the problem wasn’t legitimate in the first place. More likely, after telling you numerous times, the dentist has concluded you’re not interested and is reluctant to pressure you.
Leaving The Practice
It is always painful for a dentist when a long-standing patient decides to seek treatment elsewhere. There may be an inciting incident that “breaks the camel’s back” and causes the patient to switch dentists. Often the patient has had misgivings prior to this point. A perceptive dentist will have noticed and addressed the concerns before the relationship became irreconcilable.
But sometimes, from the dentist’s perspective, it may feel like a betrayal. She has successfully treated the patient for many years and they’ve even become friends. She is taken aback that the patient is suddenly gone without explanation. Had the patient and dentist communicated more openly, she may have sensed the brewing dissatisfaction and had an opportunity to correct the situation.
Excessive Fee Negotiations
While it’s customary in some cultures and countries to negotiates prices, this behavior is rare in a U.S. healthcare setting. Some dentists do offer a small discount for paying in advance.
Dentistry occurs in such close quarters that smells become magnified, even through masks. Avoid perfumes or colognes and be mindful of body odor. Stay away from foods that give off strong smells, such as fish, garlic, or alcohol.
A Win-Win Outcome
A collaborative and cooperative relationship doesn’t happen by accident. Both dentist and patient need to be respectful, courteous, and most of all, communicate with each other to ensure success.
Teresa Yang, DDS, has practiced dentistry in the Los Angeles area for more than thirty years. She started and developed two practices from scratch, which is unique in today’s insurance-driven world.
She has taught clinical dentistry and patient management at UCLA School of Dentistry, has written extensively on dental topics, and is a member of the Forbes Health Advisory Panel. Dr. Yang’s philosophy has always been to put the patient’s interest first: “A person is more than a mouth and a set of teeth.”
She is the author of Nothing But the Tooth/An Insider’s Guide to Dental Health (Rowman & Littlefield, August 23, 2023). Learn more at teresayangdds.com.