A Dentist's Guide to Life After Dental School...#5 "What The Heck Do Dental Patients Want From Me?"

#5 “Initially, my biggest struggle was a lack of confidence in my clinical skills, ability to diagnose quickly and accurately during a brief hygiene exam and then to clearly articulate a thoughtful treatment plan that would motivate the patient to pursue ideal treatment, without using too much dental jargon.”

~ Practicing Dentist, MN


As a young dentist, it is inevitable that you are going to get feedback and questions about your experience level…or lack thereof. You’ll probably start to wince every time you hear the question “My God! How old are you?” and “ You’re just a kid!” Don’t take it personally and be prepared for them. Initially your steepest learning curve is going to be providing competent care under the pressure of a time clock.


You’re going to be doing 1-3 hygiene exams and hour and trying to finish your 2 MOD Composites in that same timeframe. You WILL feel the crunch and pressure of the clock...and you WILL get behind unless you have a plan. To be honest, the daily flow of dentistry is like a battle. You’ have to have a plan and a system, but also be flexible.


You’ll start to develop a timeline for scheduling and completing procedures.


For example: a single 2 surface filling will be a 40-minute appointment block. If a second filling is added onto the plan - add an extra 20 minutes to the appointment. Is a mandibular block required? - Add another 20 minutes. Crown appointment? Start with 75-90 minutes for prep and impression and 60 minutes for the crown seat.


Understanding and anticipating this flow will become a reflex, and will allow you to predict and manage the chaos of your day. Start SLOW! And as you become more seasoned - shorten and pack your procedures tighter together. You’ll be able to see the holes in the hour that will allow you to stop in for a hygiene exam. You’ll see what appointment types are the most frustrating to be pulled away from, and learn the best moments are best for you to complete your exams. Usually this will be at the end of your hour, but you’ll soon learn (as you get busy), that times when the patients are waiting on anesthesia or are waiting for a radiograph - can be great times to stop in early for a hygiene exam. This will prevent you from getting behind. Print out a schedule each morning and think/plot out your tentative plan.


Also, start working on your new patient or hygiene patient greeting. In the beginning it helps to script everything. You will save yourself so much stress and embarrassment if you sit down for half a day and physically write out how your ideal conversations would go with patient when greeting them and explaining treatment. Recommended treatment and discussions need to be spoken in real world language, not dental jargon or scientific lingo. Try to understand the patient’s fears or concerns, and ASK them about their questions and reservations.


UNDERSTAND THIS: In the minds of patients you are not a great dentist because you know all the right answers, can complete a perfect MOD composite, or prep the best crown margins...What makes you great in their eyes are the things that they PERCEIVE to be a benefit or value to them.


A) How comfortable do you make them FEEL about treatment? How well do you COMMUNICATE? How well do you explain procedures? Do you seem compassionate?

B) Are you “good” at giving anesthetic? Which is often the #1 patient fear.

C) Do they FEEL like you have their best interest in mind and understand what THEIR dental concerns?

D) Does the work you do last? Does your work NOT cause them pain afterwards (hence - the need for a plan and discussion regarding cracked teeth, and post-operative sensitivity). Do they trust you and do you seem to actually CARE?


Explain the WHY and not so much the WHAT - regarding their recommended treatment plan. Patients are motivated by emotional triggers and really just want to understand WHY a condition or treatment will impact them in a positive or negative way. What is the perceived value to them?And don’t overwhelm them by talking too much. Stick to the point, ask questions, be compassionate, and NEVER let them feel that you are in a hurry. Even if you hear that little clock ticking away in you mind...putting you farther and farther behind schedule :) It will get easier and you will learn to be great at the “dance” of keeping up with the daily schedule. If you master these things and learn to be a great communicator; You will set yourself apart, deliver great care and build a loyal patient base. Your work life will be much happier.



- Cole Brenny DDS