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Dental Consultant Tip: Do Patients Understand?


The key to effective case presentation is to get patients to understand by raising their dental IQ, which results in patients who place value on their treatment plan.

This way when you send someone up to the front desk, the treatment coordinator will have a patient who is more willing to figure out the financing of their needed treatment. Whether the patient can pay or not is another story, but at least you've given the front desk staff a fighting chance.

Your case presentation skills (or lack thereof) come into play for only about 20% to 30% of your patients. This is because many of them a) need very little work to begin with, b) don't care about their oral health no matter how much you try to educate them, or c) truly cannot afford the treatment due to a legitimate financial situation.

Increasing your case presentation skills is primarily for those patients who have a substantial treatment plan and could pay if they choose to, but who do not place real value on the treatment. Instead they go out and buy the newest HD TV or fancy tires for their truck. Why? Because they place value on these items and not on their oral health. These are the cases where you can lose a significant amount of production by not refining your case presentation protocol.
To consistently have a high percentage of cases accepted requires the skill to get patients to place value on the treatment.

Talking money

When treatment planning, don’t think about money. Too often I've see dentists who feel obliged to reduce fees or extend credit to patients (often in violation of their own financial policies) when they discuss fees. Doing this sends a bad signal to the front desk. I instead recommend that you treatment plan based on what you feel is clinically best for patients to meet their needs while giving them options, as well as how the plan can be broken up into parts if needed.

2 golden rules of case presentation

1. The more the dentist talks, the lower the case acceptance.
2. The more the patient talks, the higher the case acceptance.

It is not uncommon for a dentist to talk a patient into and then out of accepting treatment.

7 foolproof case presentation tips

1. Truly care and be interested in your patients.

2. Talk to patients in lay, not dental, terms. Don't assume your patients know anything about oral health. Many times I listen to a dentist or hygienist talking about treatment and use terms that sound like the patient just got back from an advanced course on altering occlusion function and esthetics.

3. Use an intraoral camera, draw pictures, and show patients models or their x-rays. You'll lose their interest if you don't. In doing so, do not violate tip No. 2.

4. Don't ask a patient, "Do you understand?" Avoid questions that can be answered "yes" or "no." Too often dentists and hygienists tell patients they need to do this, this, and this, rapid-fire style, throwing in terms like "leaky margins" and then asking, "Do you understand?” Patients say "Yes" when of course they really don’t understand. Most dentists and hygienists never really get patients to fully understand what needs to be done and why. Asking "Any questions?" or "Do you understand?" makes it easier for patients to leave without scheduling.

5. Listen! Let patients answer and talk. Dentists tend to talk too much. The more the patient is talking, the higher the case acceptance.

6. Use analogies. Compare periodontal disease to trying to hold up a post in a hole where the soil has eroded. There are 1,000 different ways to describe dental conditions in terms patients will relate to. An excellent reference book is Dental Analogies by Dr. Rick Waters

7. Make sure the patient understands what will happen to their oral and general health if they do not move forward. This is key.


Kevin Tighe, Cambridge Dental Consultants, Senior Consultant, got bitten hard by the business and marketing bug during long summer days working at his dad's Madison Avenue ad agency. After joining Cambridge as a speaker in the mid-1990s, Kevin went on to become Cambridge’s senior consultant and eventually CEO. Cambridge Dental Consultants is a full-service dental practice management company offering customized dental office manuals. Frustrated? High overhead? Schedule a chat with Kevin at 

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