Establishing Patient Comfort and Making a Solid First Impression

Posted by THE NEXTDDS on Thu, Aug 17, 2017 @ 10:49 AM

doctor-patient-communicatio.jpgDental treatment makes many patients anxious. If a dentist is friendly, communicative, and ultimately makes the patient comfortable in the chair, he or she might be a retained patient for years to come. Therefore, it is imperative to make a solid first impression with each new patient. Patients who are happy with a dentist’s services and how they are provided care can influence referrals and drive the productivity and growth of the practice.

Making patients comfortable is an important skill for a new dentist to master. Draft a script for new patient phone calls, i.e., to set expectations for his or her office visit, and then implement this system for each potential patient in your practice. It may be advantageous to tailor your message according to the type of patient on which you’re calling. Different types of patients walk into your office every day. He or she may be a new patient, a referred patient seeking the right practice, or an existing patient who is experienced with the practice staff and culture. Gaining the trust of these different types of dental consumers is the difference between a potential patient being retained, or leaving for another practice.

Courtesy of Dr. Cody Mugleston, practice owner in Henderson, NV, and UNLV School of Dentistry, ’11, a recent THE NEXTDDS virtual training event discusses topics such as the importance of mentorship, how to develop leadership skills, and building relationships with your patients. Below are several key points outlined in the presentation.

Focus on Patients, Strive for Personal Connections

A patient-centric practice is all about building confidence and developing the diagnostic and chairside skills to do what’s best for each patient. Know patients’ names and dress the part. Introduce yourself to new patients and welcome them into the practice personally. Ask questions and actively listen. Sometimes, patients just need to vent their frustrations, and a dentist’s shoulder is there to cry on. Giving patients extra time to share their thoughts could translate into more referrals. Patients will become more aware of your emotional intelligence and capacity for understanding.

Get to know patients on a personal level. In his patient charts, Dr. Cody Mugleston makes personal notes about each patient: how many children they have, what they do for a living, where they live, how they heard about the practice, and what their hobbies are. As other members of his team interact with the patient, more notes are added, and conversations become more natural and friendly. Engaging in this way and being more attentive towards the patient can improve his or her trust with the dentist and staff and establish deeper relationships.

Establishing Clear Communication

Male-dentist-shaking-hands-with-patient-resize.jpgA patient-centered practice differentiates between wants and needs, encourages patient questions about the diagnosis, and works to address patient fears, concerns, cost, and follow-through. Patients can become apprehensive upon first arriving at a practice. They may be anxious about treatment and not open up about their deeper oral health issues, instead merely sharing what they think needs to be said. Some dentists work at this level, and never get past this basic connection.

Probing beyond this initial hesitation means patients can begin to communicate effectively on their concerns and expectations for their care. Beyond this, the doctor-patient relationship goes into a stage of desires and deeper subconscious feelings (e.g., improving way of life, having an aesthetic smile, etc.). The key is to allow patients to open up and be comfortable to reach this level of the relationship, and meet them at their deepest concerns. What are they most worried about, or hope to change during treatment? Is the chief complaint localized to a specific tooth, or does it involve a more comprehensive approach like an occlusal issue? If the end goal of treatment is positively established and met with a warm rapport, the money, time, and effort will be less of a concern for the patient.

The new patient examination and consultation are incredibly important in this area, and allow both dentist and patient to collaborate on a desired outcome. In Dr. Mugleston’s experience, patients are more likely to accept treatment when they are invested in the proposed outcome. It is also valuable to communicate regularly with the patient to ensure treatment is proceeding according to plan and to confirm his or her satisfaction with the services provided by the practice.


Planning to lead a patient-centric practice means dentists, associates, lab technicians, and office staff need to communicate together and focus on achieving the utmost service to patients. Keeping a patient’s trust is an extension of this focus. When patients trust their professionals, especially for those that might have a clear dental phobia, they can have a positive overall experience and may even develop a personal loyalty to their practice of choice. As future dentists, dental students should not lose sight of what makes the practice grow and flourish—the patient’s perspective.


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Tags: communicating with patients, patient communication, first time visit, first patient experiences

Your D1 Survival Guide: Part 2—How to Stay Motivated and First Patient Experiences

Posted by Abby Halpern on Sat, Feb 27, 2016 @ 03:00 PM

IMG_5100.jpgStarting dental school can be challenging for some first-year students, as you are faced with new terminology and a wealth information right out of the gate. As a D2 at the Dental College of Georgia, I’ve had some of those experiences, but with a little perseverance and helpful hints from more experienced students, I was able to get my footing. In this series, I’m going to tackle a few important issues and share some insight to help YOU through the process, too. 

In Part 1, we covered note taking and adjusting to dental school; in Part 2 we’re going to build on that foundation with some new topics below.

Q: "AM I EVER GOING TO GET OUT OF HERE ALIVE?" Or maybe that's just me. Less dramatically, "How can I keep this up for four years?"

Well, this question is a toughie, mostly because I am no expert as a D2. It's something that all dental students continue to ask themselves throughout dental school right until graduation. I’m sure you’ve heard “work-life balance” mentioned a time or two, and that same mantra rings true here as well. For me, the key to staying motivated is doing things outside of the academic environment—including activities unrelated to dentistry. When you have the chance to step back, put the exhausting days and nights into perspective, you are able to reinvigorate yourself.

I’ve become involved in the American Student Dental Association, both at the national and local levels. While I’m biased about how inspiring this organization is, I think the important part is to be involved in any organization while in dental school. When I have the opportunity to travel and problem-solve with dental students from all over the country or to become aware of legislation affecting dentistry, the bigger picture reappears. I’m no longer as consumed by that microbiology exam; it no longer seems like such an insurmountable feat.

Dentistry becomes bigger than all the “what-ifs,” “can-I-dos,” and “will-I-succeeds.” Allowing yourself to serve others, whether it’s your peers, future colleagues, or larger community, reminds you of why you came to dental school in the first place. It's part of what sharing my experiences here at THE NEXTDDS means to me as well. That initial excitement you felt when you answered that phone call accepting you into dental school—that excitement all rushes back.

It's also imperative to stay close to people who aren’t so dentally inclined. Once you begin dental school, you’ll realize just how much you “talk shop.” You may even be at an end-of-semester party and still discussing with your classmates that ridiculously difficult occlusion exam you had three weeks ago. We are a really weird breed!

I think in order to stay motivated, it’s necessary to have things, or rather people that distract you from it all (in a good way). I’ve been so lucky to stay very close with an amazing group of friends from undergrad, none of whom want to discuss dentistry (aside from the occasional toothbrush recommendation). This is a great thing! Catching up with these friends gives me the opportunity to put things into perspective. Everyone else’s world continues to turn regardless of the fact that I’ve been sucked into the black hole that we call dental school, but it’s important to stay tethered to the rest of the world.

My family and boyfriend do the same; they allow me a mental reprieve from dental school so that when my focus returns, I have a bit more motivation because I want to make all those people supporting me proud. As I’ve said elsewhere, dental school is no doubt distracting and time-consuming, but the universal truth—one affirmed by all dental students I know—is that we need our people. The relationships we bring to dental school? Those are tested, and the ones that survive are fortified.

Q: What is your first patient interaction like and how does it feel?

The time frame for your first patient interaction depends upon your dental school. At the Dental College of Georgia, we start seeing patients very early—the fall semester of our second year.

If you’re anything like me, you will be pretty nervous before your first patient experience. I mean this is not just a classmate. You will want to do everything perfectly and for the patient to have full confidence in you (or as much as they can have for an unseasoned dental student). At the same time, you are so busy with everything else happening during the semester that there’s only so much stressing out you can do.

You set up your operatory, brief your assistant, and then it’s time to get the patient from the waiting room. Once you bring him or her back and you’ve built some rapport, it’s time to get to the dentistry. The best way I can describe my experience is that my body kind of took over, and the whole situation felt extremely comfortable. I look back on it now and think about how much more in control I felt as compared to how I thought I would feel.

My takeaway, and one I’m glad to share with you, was that my professors and school would not put me in a situation to treat a patient if they did not believe I would be prepared. Trust in this, prepare as best you can, and be confident in the fact that you have made it to this exciting point in the dental curriculum where everything becomes real. Oh…and maybe don’t admit to your patient that this is your first time!


Thank you for reading! I hope this helped give you an idea of what dental school is really like. In Part 3 of the series, we will cover two or three new topics to help you keep that momentum as you prepare for your second year of dental school. Stay tuned, and I welcome any questions you have!

Tags: dental school clinics, clinic, motivation, first patient experiences

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