Tell your patients what you’re not doing

I’m sure you’re telling your patients what you’re doing for them. As a dentist, explaining what you’re doing is vital. But have you thought about the importance of explaining what you’re not doing for your patients?

We’ve all got patients with teeth that we are monitoring. It might be a fissure with a faint shadow clinically but it appears to be arrested caries. Or you might have a patient where you can see a slight interproximal radiolucency on the x-rays but it hasn’t changed for years and the tooth looks perfect clinically. There are loads of situations where the best thing that we can do for our patients is nothing but monitor and observe for any changes.

Have you considered how important it is to explain to your patients the teeth that you are watching? If we’re tired or in a rush, we might not always bother. This is a mistake. Explaining what you are not doing is extremely powerful.

Gaining trust

There are several huge benefits to explaining about the teeth that we aren’t treating. The first is all about trust. Even with patients that we have known for a long time, the dentist-patient relationship can be fragile. We must never take our patients for granted. One way of maintaining trust is through explaining what we’re not doing. Patients almost always prefer having no dental treatment over active treatment. Demonstrating that you’re not just about drilling and filling shows that you are careful, considerate and conservative.

Patients will value these qualities in you. Every time they come and you’re still monitoring this tooth or that filling, make sure you tell them. This reminds patients of your methods as a professional and builds on the value that you offer them.

Increased recall attendance

If your patient attends every six months and all you say is that everything is fine, they will quickly forget why they bother attending these recalls. Rather than expecting your patients to blindly follow your advice, it’s much better to give them a reason to come again.

There is a tooth on the bottom left which has some discolouration on the top. This tooth could require treatment in the future if this discolouration grows. If it was my tooth at the moment, I would leave it alone. I would recommend that we see you in six months because I would like to check that tooth again to make sure that nothing has changed.

‘Because’ is quite a powerful word. It gives patients a reason to attend their recalls and means that you can catch and treat any issues early, leading to simpler treatments with a better prognosis for your patients. Both you and your patients benefit. It’s also quite a handy way of setting recalls. If you cannot think of a good reason that your patient should come back in six months then they probably shouldn’t.

Patients are prepared

You may have been monitoring a tooth for several years and finally decide that treatment is now required. If your patient knows that this tooth has had a potential problem for a while, there is no great shock when you recommend treatment. If you’ve mentioned it each time you’ve seen the patient, the patient probably expects what’s coming. They are prepared and willing to accept your advice. They know that you’re no cowboy who just wants to dive in, drills whirling. You’ve earned that trust and can now act in the patient’s best interests.

Summary: What are you going to do now?

As dentists, I’m sure that most of us already explain which teeth we are monitoring. However, I hope this article has helped you to realise the importance of doing it consistently. Telling our patients what we’re not doing for them is just as important as explaining what we are doing. Consider whether you are doing this or whether you should be doing it more. A 20 second chat at the end of each check-up may help you to build trust with your patients, increase attendance for recalls and improve uptake of treatment plans. Let me know how you get on.

Follow Andrew via email

Enter your email address to hear about Andrew's latest posts by email.