Focusing on patient education can increase patient retention and case acceptance, two primary goals for dental offices. Patients who are educated about oral health will value your services and are less likely to break appointments. They will stay on top of recall because they know how important it is to their overall health.
The majority of patients do not have much knowledge about dentistry. The information that they do have likely comes from articles they’ve read or the experiences of their friends and family members. The validity of their sources might be questionable.
As a dentist, it is your responsibility to educate your patients and to provide all the facts. Patients should have up-to-date knowledge about prevention and their individual cases straight from the source. When a dentist takes the time to educate their parents, it results in greater trust between the patient and doctor.
So, what is the most effective way to educate patients? There is so much information and a limited amount of time for discussion during their appointment. Each patient is unique, so focus on their individual needs to share the most important facts about prevention and maintaining oral health.
1. Ditch the medical jargon.
Dentists should explain a patient’s signs and symptoms in a way they can easily understand. Not everyone knows the definition of caries, resin or composites. Even the terms “gingivitis” and “plaque” might cause question. Use familiar words and utilize an intra-oral camera to show the problems you are describing.
You might say, “You have a lot of plaque buildup back here” and show them with an intra-oral camera. Now, they will see why they should pay extra attention when flossing that area.
2. Provide relatable examples.
Relate dental conditions to the ones patients are more familiar with. A patient with early signs of periodontal disease might tell you that they feel no pain. Explain to them that while having high blood pressure isn’t painful, it can greatly increase the chances of having a heart attack. Even though periodontal disease might cause no pain, it increases chances of tooth decay, tooth loss and bad breath.
Many times, it only takes a quick comparison for them to put things into perspective. It’s easy to put dental health on the backburner because teeth are a small part of the whole body. Help patients see that oral health is directly correlated to overall health.
3. Set aside time for discussion and invite questions.
Always allow time during the appointment for discussion. No matter how full the schedule may be, you’ll sacrifice more time later if you skip this step. Those who don’t see the importance of your care are more likely to skip future appointments or dismiss recall.
Educated patients trust you, value your services, show up on time for appointments, don’t put off treatment and refer others. They are loyal patients.
4. Appeal to a patient’s emotions.
Present the treatment plan in a way that appeals to a patient’s emotions instead of their intellect. People will always find a way to pay for what they want, not what they need. Ask questions to figure out what motivates them. Find out what is important to each particular patient and appeal to their interests.
Fear is a powerful motivator. Explain to patients what will happen if they put off treatment or don’t return for recall. We don’t recommend that you “scare” patients into scheduling treatment, but be completely realistic with them about the consequences if they don’t.
5. Be completely transparent.
Transparency produces trust and confidence. According to J. Jerome Smith, DDS, when patients make confident decisions, “it minimizes buyer’s remorse, broken appointments, and misunderstandings when complications do arise.”
Furthermore, Dr. Smith goes on to describe in his article for Dentaltown Magazine, “Patients are empowered when they feel they have made a sound intellectual decision. In return for that feeling of empowerment, they place more value and trust in your treatment plan.”
6. Display educational collateral around the office.
Show patients before and after photos, display infographics and provide informational pamphlets in your office. They don’t have to be typical or boring. You can get as creative as you’d like! Make sure your collateral is relevant, accurate and something patients would choose to read.
Consider your audience when creating and curating material. A pediatric office might choose a colorful leaflet with fun facts about brushing, while an office that specializes in cosmetic dentistry would have a wall with pictures of the beautiful work they’ve personally completed.
7. Send patients home with pictures and educational brochures.
Many patients will only retain 20% of what was discussed in the office after they leave. With time, the memory will fade, and the urgency will pass. Without any obvious symptoms, patients will be more likely to put off needed care. Sending them home with pictures of their fractured tooth or plaque buildup will help remind them why the treatment was recommended in the first place.
Pictures and brochures can also be helpful when patients go home and are questioned by their spouses about the need for care. A wife can be a very powerful ally in getting a reluctant patient to complete the necessary treatment once she understands the need.
Educating patients and their families may be one of the most rewarding parts of being a healthcare provider. Do you have any patient education ideas or tips that work for you? Please be generous and share by leaving a comment below 🙂