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We’ve all been there; it’s Tuesday morning, you’ve just had your first drink of coffee and turn on your computer. Low and behold, you look at the schedule and there is Mr. Jones whom you just placed a beautiful crown on not one month ago. You walk over to your receptionist and inquire about him being on the schedule, she says,

“Oh yes, I couldn’t forget that one.  He was straight up pissed that his tooth is hurting after you worked on it. Said his tooth felt just fine until you used that drill on him. I meant to warn you, but I got stuck with insurance… and he just called and is coming in early.  Actually, I think he’s in the chair now.”

These are the situations where you feel like a giant bomb has just been placed in your lap and you have exactly 52 seconds to disarm it or your day, and possibly your practice, will be ruined.

Rest assured, we’ve all been there.

So what to do?

First, calm yourself down. I personally do what is called “box breathing”, and I only need to do it three or four times before it takes effect. I breathe in for 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, breath out for 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds. Repeat.

Now you may be asking yourself, “Where the heck did this ‘Yogi’ come from telling me to do breathing exercises when I have a pissed patient about to explode in my chair?”

I only mention this because coming into the room calm and not being on the defensive works in your favor, and this is one way I steady myself prior to any uncomfortable situations.

It works, try it.

Next, and really the secret to the whole thing… is empathy.

Empathy, empathy, empathy, and verbal skills.  You have to be genuine.  Patient’s want to be heard. Period. You have to listen and show concern.

So the very first thing I do when I enter the room, is I say, “Mr. Jones, I heard that tooth has been causing you terrible pain, how awful that must feel”.  Then, I stop and I listen.

You have to stop.

If you keep talking you’ll just work yourself into a corner by giving 50 different excuses as to why the tooth hurts. Patients don’t want excuses, they want to be cared for. So you listen. And listen some more. After they’ve finished explaining how miserable the tooth has been and how they’ve missed their favorite grandchild’s baseball game and been up all night, you simply say,

“Mr. Jones, I’m so sorry and that sounds miserable; I’m going to do everything I can to get you out of pain, how does that sound?”

This is where the conversation turns around. This where you get your footing back. You’ve listened and let them know you care, and you’re now moving in a positive direction to take care of them.

After that, all you need to do is diagnose where the pain is coming from (I hate to say it, but often it’s not even from the tooth you just worked on!) and develop a treatment plan.

We’re not all perfect, and to be honest, neither is our dentistry. But with good verbal skills, you can take an upset patient to one that will refer their family and friends within the span of 15 minutes.

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