Meeting the Doctor

Managing Patients | Patient Intake

Have a team member escort the patient to an operatory as soon as possible once the forms are completed and the tour is over.

  • Once the patient is comfortable in the chair, have a team member describe what will be done during the appointment and how those activities help you take care of them. Many dental practices perform medical screenings (blood pressure, pulse, temperature) and may sometimes take photos before beginning actual dental evaluation and treatment.
    • Ask the patient if recent radiographs are available before taking new ones.
    • Consult the Dental Radiographic Examinations: Recommendations for Patient Selection and Limiting Exposure, which were revised by the ADA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Food and Drug Administration in 2012.
  • Welcome the patient to the practice before the examination. This is especially important for the patient’s first visit.
  • Have a team member interview the patient and discuss any dental concerns before sharing that information with you.
  • Review the patient’s name, chart and primary dental concerns so you can address the patient by name as you smile, shake hands, and welcome them to your practice. Be relaxed, be sincere, be yourself.
    • Communicating with patients makes some highly-introverted dentists so anxious that it affects their ability to speak. Certain relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, can induce a sense of calm. Focusing on the patient’s concerns also can help.
  • Break the ice with a few simple, pleasant questions that are harmless and non-intrusive. Try to find something other than dentistry that you have in common. Follow remarks about that topic with dentally relevant questions based on the information the patient has shared with your team.
    • Ask “open” questions that require the patient to provide a more detailed response than a simple “yes” or “no.” This type of question usually results in more specific information about them, their home dental regimen and their experience with previous treatment. An open question is “What are your daily dental habits?” while a closed question is “Do you brush after every meal?”
    • Ask follow-up, closed questions later in the discussion if you need more details. Summarize all of the information by paraphrasing it and repeating it. This technique, sometimes called active listening, shows you’re a good listener and an empathetic health care professional.
    • Positive body language and non-verbal cues, such as a relaxed, yet erect, posture and strong eye contact convey that you are a competent and caring professional. Even though your work requires you to get up close and personal with patients, remember to respect their personal space during conversation. Also remember to adjust either the patient’s chair or your own to ensure that you and the patient are at eye level for any conversation; this can build trust and ease any apprehension the patient might be experiencing.
    • Use as little technical language as possible when discussing findings from the oral exam and radiographs. Short, positive sentences that are supported by visual aids will help patients understand a concept or their oral condition. Explain to the patient the value and purpose of certain procedures, especially X-rays or impressions. If your practice has an intraoral camera, use it to help patients understand what you see.
    • You and the members of your staff should try to strengthen the personal connection with the patient at each visit. Discussing a shared interest strengthens the bond and cements the patient to your practice.
  • Keep in mind that many patients experience some degree of dental anxiety. What you say and how you say it matters. Non-verbal cues such as body language and gestures also are important. A confident yet relaxed dentist can go a long way in relieving patients’ anxiety.
  • Patients will notice how you relate to the members of your team. Be sure you interact with them in a natural way that demonstrates your respect and admiration for their skills and dedication.
  • If it’s difficult for you to make small talk or meet new people, concentrate on trying to express how much you value improving patients’ quality of life by providing quality dental care.

Additional Resources:

Dental Radiographic Examinations: Recommendations for Patient Selection and Limiting Exposure, 2012