Elevate the new patient dental experience from the start

Date: October, 2020

Meeting new people in any situation can be exciting, but also nerve-racking at the same time. For some of us connecting with new people feels quite natural and doesn’t take much effort. But for others, including introverts like myself, it's not natural and takes us out of our comfort zone. It takes a bit of courage to be a conversation starter, but in our profession, we will find ourselves in this situation routinely. Since we are in the business of helping people, being able to quickly build rapport with new patients is an essential skill. Below are a few tips and techniques I have used that may help with your interactions with new patients.

First impressions matter

Like any encounter or interaction, first impressions matter. According to a paper published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, being professionally presentable establishes reassurance and trust with patients. When we present ourselves well through our professional attire and being well-groomed, we project confidence and this in turn can help us be more comfortable in new situations. Easy measures such as a pressed shirt and a clean gown will go a long way in making a good first impression.

When it comes to where you meet a new patient, creating a warm and inviting environment is important. From the reception to the dental surgery, establishing a visually appealing interior and a non-clinical feel can enhance the patient’s experience. I prefer greeting all patients at the reception lounge, guiding them into the dental surgery and making introductions to the dental assistant who will be helping me that day.

Breaking the ice

Small talk and conversations about the weather are okay to start with but will quickly grow dull. Asking your patient open questions and getting them to share a little about themselves will get the conversation flowing and make them feel more comfortable. It is best to avoid any controversial topics such as politics and religion. Taking time to chat with your new patients and showing a genuine interest will be pivotal in you connecting with your new patient. A good method to jog your memory is to make some notes about your conversation in the patient’s chart. You can then refer to these notes before their next appointment and ask follow-up questions. This will make your patient feel valued and will help you continue to build rapport with them. Easy conversation starters for the next appointment could be e.g. “How was that holiday to Bali?” or “How are your grandchildren?”

Agenda setting

As they are new patients and this is their first appointment with you, take the time to chat with them and explain your practice’s new patient protocol. For example, why you need to take x-rays or undertake periodontal charting. What occurs at the new patient appointment should be mutually agreed and understood, especially if it is an emergency appointment.

It is common to see new patients who just want a ‘clean’, even when their last dental visit was over five years ago. If, like me, you are sometimes able to include a scale & clean as part of your new patient appointment, I will start by saying: “Since I have never seen you before, what I will be doing today is making sure I have a full understanding of your oral health status. This will include taking a set photos and x-rays. If I find your gums are in good health, we can certainly undertake a clean for you in one visit, as part of your appointment today. However, if we find gum disease, it is likely at least one additional appointment will be needed to complete your treatment”. This is particularly helpful, in setting expectations, as many new patients are unaware they have active and painless oral diseases, such as periodontitis.

Hopefully these tips and techniques can assist you in preparing for your new patient appointments and making a good first impression. Making patients feel comfortable is the key to a successful and long-lasting relationship.

About the Author

Tan Nguyen is a registered oral health therapist and holds graduate qualifications with the Graduate Certificate in Dental Therapy, Master of Public Health and a Master of Science in Clinical Education. He is a PhD Candidate with the project titled ‘Assessing-Cost Effectiveness on Oral Health Prevention Interventions’ at Deakin University, works clinically in private dental practice, and contributes to public dental health advocacy as co-convener of the Public Health Association of Australia Oral Health Special Interest Group. He is a founding member of the Colgate Advocates for Oral Health: Editorial Community and became a member due to his interest in advancing public dental health and hopes to achieve in inspiring dental excellence in the profession.