7 Key Distinctions That Enhance the Patient Experience and Increase Case Acceptance

There are seven key distinctions that set the bar for consistently delivering an ideal new patient experience and increasing satisfaction, retention, and referrals. Making a “distinction” involves refining one’s thinking. Dentists are good at making clinical distinctions. For example, recognizing subtle aspects of occlusion that may alter restorative material decisions is a clinical distinction. However, making distinctions in patients’ behaviors that would alter how they are influenced to accept care is often overlooked. Here are the seven key distinctions that enhance patient experiences and improve treatment acceptance.

Excellence vs. Leadership
The most important distinction that drives the success of a practice is the one between excellence vs. leadership. Excellence is a dentist’s clinical ability and the delivery of successful clinical outcomes. However, patients often cannot perceive clinical excellence. Much of what we deliver with excellence is imperceptible to patients. Leadership, on the other hand, is immediately perceptible by patients. Leadership drives the practice culture, the team’s ability to work together, communication skills, and ultimately, the patient’s experience. Leadership signals the presence of excellence to patients. Leadership must be the constant companion of excellence and must start with the dentist and be embraced by the entire team. The greater the clinical complexity of care dentists seek to offer, the greater the demand for their leadership skills.

Educating vs. Understanding

Is patient education the “secret sauce” to treatment acceptance, or is there something else going on? Yes, there is, and you’ve proved it. How many times have you educated patients well and had them not accept care? Too many, I’d bet. Think of the new patient experience and treatment acceptance as a coin. One side of the coin is patient education. The other side is understanding patients. That’s the side we often miss.

Educating patients is about:
  • Revealing their dental conditions and their etiology
  • Treatment recommendations and options
  • Benefits, risks, and consequences of no treatment
  • Prevention

Education is mainly about consent issues and prevention.

Understanding patients is about:

  • Discovering the lifestyle hindering aspects of their conditions
  • Learning the lifestyle benefits patients seek
  • Accommodating patients’ life circumstances that affect their readiness
  • Building a personal connection with patients

Understanding patients is about influence and personal connection.

To patients, dental care is personal; they want it to be personal to you too.

To excel at the new patient and treatment presentation process, use both sides of the coin; education and understanding.

Inputs vs. Outcomes
Inputs are what we do; crowns, implants, endodontics. Outcomes are what patients experience as a result of our work; comfort, confidence, peace of mind. Traditional teaching about case presentation has taught us to talk to patients in terms of inputs. However, patients respond more to outcomes. That is why when we present complex care to a patient, we must focus on the outcomes of dental care. Think of it like this. Speak in term of outcomes when presenting care. Speak in terms of inputs during informed consent/prevention conversations.

Providers vs. Advocate
Dentists have two roles; provider and advocate. The provider is the clinician who delivers the dentistry. The advocate guides patients towards good health care decisions. Advocates present dentistry; providers do it. The big mistake many dentists make is they present care from their provider role. They do this by overexplaining the technical aspects of treatment procedures. Overexplaining and overeducating have the unintended side effects of patients feeling sales pressure.

The more patients sense your advocacy and having their best interests at heart, the more it will benefit your provider role. Trust is the outcome of provider and advocate roles blended together well.

Condition vs. Disability
A condition is a clinical finding that is outside of normal limits. A disability is what the patient is experiencing in his or her life due to a dental condition. Conditions are clinical; disabilities are psychological and emotional. Patients are more influenced when talking about relieving their disability and less on the technical steps of treating conditions. For patients with moderate to complex care needs, it’s important to discover their disabilities. Do this by being curious about how their condition influences their life. For example, Michelle doesn’t like the discoloration of the composites in her front teeth. This is her condition. To discover her disability, get curious about the lifestyle hindrance of her front teeth by asking, “Michelle, tell me about a time when the appearance of your front teeth bothered you?” Or ask, “Is this a problem for you more at work or at home?” Her response may be, “I deal with customers all day, and because I try not to smile, I think it affects my sales.” Michelle’s condition is the anterior composites. Her disability is it limits her sales. If the best treatment for Michelle’s condition is veneers, then present them as a way to improve her sales, and not by describing the technical steps of treating her conditions; tooth preparation, impressions, etc.

Simple vs. Complex Care
Simple care patients are those whose total care needs require fewer than three restorations with fees less than $3500. Complex care patients require much more. The importance of the distinction between simple vs. complex care patients is they respond differently during the new patient and treatment presentation process.

Simple care patients:

  • Have minor conditions with minor disabilities
  • Often are unaware of their conditions
  • Usually can fit minor care into their lives

Complex care patients:

  • Have lifestyle limiting conditions and significant disabilities
  • Are aware of their chronic conditions
  • Usually cannot fit complex care into their lives and often need time to accommodate complex care

Simple care patients usually respond well to patient education. Because they are often unaware of their conditions, educating them creates concern and motive to treat conditions. Complex care patients respond well to being understood. This means discovering their disability and related lifestyle benefits. It also means learning about how their life circumstances influence their readiness for care. Recognizing and accommodating the differences between simple vs. complex patients will enable you to adjust the focus of your new patient experience. Focus on patient education with simple care patients. Focus on understanding complex care patients.

Fees vs. Budgets
Fees are the dollar cost of dental care. The budget is the suitability of care relative to the patient’s financial resources. It’s a good practice when dealing with complex care patients to estimate the fee early in their new patient experience. This way, they can begin thinking about how complex care can fit into their budget. If care doesn’t fit within their budget, you can accommodate it by sequencing care to stay within their budget. It’s far better to know budget restrictions before you quote the fee. Plus, knowing and accommodating budgets diminishes the adverse effects of sticker shock.

Understanding and accommodating these seven key distinctions will enhance patient experiences and improve your treatment acceptance. As a result you’ll experience greater career fulfillment and the prosperity you’ve earned and deserve.

Trends are a familiar part of life and most are typically harmless. However, with the rise of social media apps such as TikTok and Twitter, there has also been a concerning rise in dangerous behaviors. While some trends are a fun way to express yourself and connect with other people, they can also lead to long-term health problems — and lately, some trends are specifically leading to damaging things like teeth and gums.

For oral health experts, trying to combat current dental trends circulating the internet, such as brushing with activated charcoal and DIY body modification, is no easy feat. However, it’s imperative that dental professionals stay up to date with current trends in order to better educate their patients to help keep them, and their teeth, healthy.

Missing The Big Picture

One of the trickiest parts of trends, particularly health-related ones, is they often aren’t backed by any sort of real evidence or support. This means that teens and adults scrolling social media might start following dental advice or trends that may actually be harmful. Furthermore, many can overlook the potential risks and fail to consider the overall effect certain trends will have on their body. A good example is apple cider vinegar.

Across several social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram, taking a shot of apple cider vinegar in the name of weight loss is a popular trend. There is limited evidence to support the claim that drinking apple cider vinegar every day will help you lose weight, but what is clear is that it can wear away the enamel on your teeth.

Due to its acidic nature, apple cider vinegar can lead to tooth sensitivity, contribute to decay, and even darken teeth if not properly rinsed off. This kind of important information is often missing from those promoting the weight loss trend though. While there are ways to make vinegar less damaging to your teeth, people rarely research a trend they’ve come across. This can make many trends, not just the apple cider vinegar one, really dangerous long-term.

Another damaging example is the trend of brushing with activated charcoal. This trend spread as a “life hack” for getting whiter teeth without the hassle of going to the dentist or using expensive whitening strips. Brushing with activated charcoal may help whiten teeth as it contains certain compounds that help remove toxins, but it’s also gritty and abrasive. This means regularly brushing with it wears away tooth enamel, making teeth actually appear more yellow. Trends may appear like the quick fix patients are looking for, but oftentimes, they’re merely temporary solutions or actually worsen the problem over time.

Taking Trends Too Far

Body modification isn’t anything new, but the trends circulating on TikTok have left many oral health professionals concerned. From vampire fangs to rhinestones, teens have been gluing accessories to their teeth to switch up their looks or try something new for Halloween. This is problematic for a number of reasons.

For one, super glue and nail adhesive are toxic and harmful to teeth and gums. It can potentially lead to gingival inflammation or the need to get a root canal treatment. Secondly, the products people use to remove the adhesive, such as nail polish remover, can also damage teeth. This isn’t the only teeth modification trend popular on social media either. Another harmful, yet popular trend is the filing of teeth.

Some teens, unhappy with their teeth shape, have recorded themselves filing down their teeth with nail files. As any oral health expert knows, teeth don’t regrow like our nails, and filing can cause permanent sensitivity and nerve damage. While it might seem silly to warn patients against performing body modification at home, there are a lot of different pressures teens face today that can really skew their judgment. Opening up the conversation with understanding can be what saves the next person from making a seriously dangerous and regrettable mistake.

A New Culprit

One trend that’s been around for centuries, unfortunately, is smoking. It takes a different form every so often, for example, vaping has currently taken over the nicotine market. Regardless of how people smoke, it’s never been great for oral health. Vaping is often touted as a healthier alternative to cigarettes, however, studies are suggesting that it can still trigger an inflammatory response within gum tissue, create excess bacteria in the mouth, and lead to mouth dryness.

Vaping is also a major concern as the latest smoking trend is often marketed to younger consumers like teens and young adults with flavors like cotton candy, sour apple candy, and lemonade. Vaping has made its way into content on platforms like TikTok and YouTube as well, making it more likely that impressionable audiences will start the harmful habit. Beyond oral health, vaping may result in serious injury as well. There have been several reports of vapes exploding or catching fire. While addiction is itself a problem, discussing the oral health aspect of vaping with patients may help deter some from starting or help others make the decision to quit.

As an oral health professional, there are many ways to educate patients on the potential dangers of popular trends. While it may not be possible to stop damaging trends from sweeping across social media platforms, it is possible to help patients, of all ages, make better decisions.