Case acceptance for complete dentistry in the COVID-19 era

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Let’s talk about dentist communication and the importance of complete care. I am very excited to share the latest DOT SHARECAST with Dr. Paul Homoly! Dr. Homoly has been helping dentists with case acceptance for complete dentistry for many years and I encourage you to watch the full episode above.

Here is a summary of what we talked about.

What is Complete Dentistry?

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Many young dentists want to fix their patients’ teeth. They want to solve tangible problems and be done with it. But that isn’t complete dentistry.

Complete dentistry focuses on the big picture. It communicates the full scope of the situation, gives the patient options, and allows them to make decisions accordingly.

By definition, complete care is the minimum amount of dentistry required to restore patients to optimal function, aesthetics, phonetics, and in the last 10 years, airway.

We’ll dive into the details shortly. For the time being, it’s important to note that the evolution from tooth dentistry to complete dentistry lies in the dentist’s behavioral skills.

Focus on How the Patient Feels

In dental school, one might argue there isn’t enough emphasis on practicing empathy. Experts may touch briefly on the benefits of active listening. However, dentists early in their career tend to focus more on the technical side of things. But we need to hone in on we are influencing the patient. We need to think about how the patient feels, and reassure the patient they will be well cared for.

How I am doing this in COVID-19 era?
  • Making eye contact
  • Telling stories
  • Smiling (mask-free in a telehealth consult)

Stop Trying to Educate the Patient

To be a leader, you need to speak like one. You need to act like one. And by doing so, you can build a strong connection with your patients—all by focusing on how they feel.

Some dentists think they can instill confidence by sharing all their knowledge. Trying to impress the patient with how much you know many times will only make them feel uneasy. It’s important instead to take the time to understand why the patient wants their teeth fixed.

We are trained to use complex dental vernacular, and to educate patients into doing treatment rather than trying to understand the patient’s goals. No matter your industry, getting to know the person you’re talking to is key.

In the latest DOT SHACAST, Dr. Paul Homoly shares the way many dentists approach their patients and gives the listeners an alternative that drastically increase the patient’s comfort level.

How NOT to approach the patient: “Now that I’m looking at your X-rays, I can see you have what we call periodontal pocketing. When the hygienist was doing your exam, you probably heard numbers like four, five, and six—and any number over two means you have inflammation.”

How to approach the patient: “Well, I understand you’re not happy with the appearance of your front teeth—but before we start talking about how to fix it, tell me something. It’s been a while since you’ve been to the dentist. What’s going now that makes you want to address your front teeth?”

It might be a child’s wedding, or another important event in the patient’s life. And by engaging the patient in this way, the dentist can build a stronger connection, share their own stories, and reveal who they are beyond their professional role.

The conversation will flow naturally and promote comfort. These conversations—by asking the right questions and listening—will help the dentist understand what the patient wants to do, along with the when and the why. This is all crucial to providing complete care.

Leadership Best Practices

Within and outside of dentistry, it may be worth looking into what leaders are doing right. How can stakeholders in any field build trust with their followers?

1. Leaders must help set the destination.
For example, a dentist might make it personal and say, “We’re going to make it so that the next time you’re with your family, you won’t be worried about your jaw.”

2. Leaders should provide resources for reaching that destination.
A dental leader might say, “I want you to know that dentistry of this nature is complex and time-consuming. I can assure you you’ll be safe and comfortable throughout.”

3. Leaders must give listeners the confidence to advance in their best interests.
It’s the confidence piece that’s far too often missing. Avoid giving the patient too much technical information, and instead speak to them in an open and friendly way.

It may sound simple—but over 70% of dentists surveyed by Dr. Homoly admitted they aren’t providing complete care. 

They may be afraid of overwhelming the patient or of losing them to sticker shock. They may be worried about how to respond if the patient says no to treatment.

Yet, not offering complete dentistry presents an ethical violation. And it’s especially paramount to provide it as we move through the coronavirus pandemic.

Complete Dentistry in the Context of COVID-19

These are complex times we’re living in. Yet complete care doesn’t necessarily mean complex care. It’s up to the patient to decide what they want. Sometimes, getting their teeth fixed might not be the next best step in the person’s life. It might instead be saving money, getting sober, losing weight, or tackling another goal.

There are so many reasons why people who want care might not get it—and it has nothing to do with a lack of understanding.

Complete care isn’t something dentists should sell. The patient should be made aware of their options and move forward of their own will, rather than being manipulated into making a decision. The idea is to help patients advance in the direction of their own best interests.

The idea is to help patients advance in the direction of their own best interests.

With the pandemic in mind, we know that dentists aren’t presenting complete care to the extent that they should. And now more than ever, we know there is strong evidence that oral conditions can exacerbate systemic conditions. This makes complete dentistry all the more important.

How can dentists address this? By presenting everything they see to the patient. By making a full list of the conditions they find—and by acknowledging that there may be some conditions the patient might not want to treat. So the patient can expect a very thorough exam, but this is simply the new standard of care the dentist is following.

And for dentists who have a hard time slowing down and listening—there’s no better time than now to do just that. For more information, watch to Dr. Hartlieb’s full conversation with Dr. Homoly.

Exclusive Offer - Are Interested in a free consultation with Dr. Homoly? Dentists interested in learning more about complete care can book one here.

Your for better dentistry,

Dennis Hartlieb, DDS, AAACD

DOT Founder

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