Communication: Listening your way to success

I have written before about how many steps to achieving case acceptance are tied to one source – communication. Communication is everything and great communication will, in conjunction with finely tuned systems, lead to great production.


Good communication begins with a good attitude. Introducing and presenting aesthetic dentistry takes careful planning. Everyone on the team must understand and believe in the treatment options that are available. If anyone on the team is less than enthusiastic or if someone does not honestly believe in the treatment, this lack of enthusiasm will come across to the patient. People are insightful and whether your attitude about the treatment is positive or negative, the patient will pick up on and reflect that attitude. Put a mirror up in front of your face and know that what you are receiving is a direct reflection of what you are putting out there. Either attitude – positive or negative – will come across loudly and clearly to the patient and will be reflected in their response to you.

So spend some time on this critical aspect of communicating about aesthetic dentistry. Study not only the clinical aspects of aesthetic dentistry together as a team, but, also study and discuss the benefits of this treatment to your patients. What is the impact of the treatment on their feeling of self-confidence? What is the impact on their feeling of self worth? What impact does this treatment have on their ability to relate to others?

Ask yourselves these questions. Reflect on patients who have received this care and discuss what has happened to their life. Then, joyfully and confidently continue to offer this kind of wonderful service to your other patients. When you speak from the heart and when you speak with an honest belief in the service, an immeasurable trust factor develops.


Patient acceptance of aesthetic dentistry depends on the ability of the team members to communicate. This involves both being able to (1) listen carefully and caringly to the patient, and being able to (2) present the benefits of the treatment.

Let’s look at listening: ways to open the door for conversations about aesthetic dentistry, and ways to listen carefully for a patient’s dominant interest or motivator. Listening follows the asking of relevant questions. Asking the questions can be carried out personally or can be prepared in written form. For example: on your patient information sheet, ask the classic questions:

• ‘How do you feel about the appearance of your smile?’ and;

• ‘If you could change anything about your smile, what would you change?’

This might be the first time your patients have ever been asked these questions. If you do not have these questions on your patient information sheet, prepare a patient questionnaire that will open the doors to cosmetic possibilities. Tell patients that you want their opinion about their mouth, teeth, and smile so that you can do an even better job of serving them. Presented in this manner, they will be more than happy to complete a brief questionnaire.

Dr Larry Rosenthal, who presents his hands-on training course for cosmetic dentistry called Aesthetic Advantage in London each summer, concentrates his practice on comprehensive restorative and cosmetic dentistry. Dr Rosenthal believes in the powerful use of questions.

‘We ask the above-mentioned classic questions on our patient information sheet. If a person indicates an interest in changing their smile, we pay close attention. Even though a patient may have come in for an emergency or some other kind of treatment, we give them a chance to consider how they feel about their smile. Since they are already there, this may be a person who is ready to go ahead and get imaged on our computer imaging system. They may be interested in seeing what we could do for them.

We will take care of that emergency first or they may need periodontal therapy first. But we know that this is an excellent candidate for cosmetic dentistry. Any doctor who is interested in developing the cosmetic area of his/her practice needs to change all of the forms in the office. Every patient that comes in the office for continuous care needs to complete one of these kinds of forms. You can customise your own, or you can buy appropriate ones.

You need to ask how a person feels about the appearance of their teeth. You may not have asked them that in five years. They may have changed how they feel. They may have had something change in their life that makes an attractive smile more important now. We all need to ask questions to find out if the person desires a cosmetic change.’

Asking the right questions and then listening to a person’s response is the key to discovering true feelings. If you ask these ‘door opening’ questions on your patient information sheet, then be sure to pay attention to the patient’s response. For example, on the questionnaire, you ask ‘How do you feel about the appearance of your teeth?’ and the patient says something like, ‘Oh, I hate my teeth. They are yellow and ugly, so I just don’t smile.’ Rather than jumping off and making recommendations, listen carefully. Reflect back to the patient what you think you hear them saying. Such as, ‘Mrs. Jones, it sounds like you are unhappy with the way your teeth look. Tell me about that.’

And then listen. Make a note of what they say, how they feel, what they don’t like. Then, ask them if they would like to have you show them (use photography to do this) what can be done today in modern dentistry to change the smile to make it just the way they want it to be. Get their interest established. Then ask their permission to show them some examples of before and after photographs. This is the beginning. An illustration follows.

Some time ago, I was coaching a young doctor who was practicing in a lovely community of well-educated, solidly employed clients. Economically this was a sound situation. The doctor was practicing in a professional facility and had a predominantly professional clientele. I asked the practitioner if she was doing much cosmetic dentistry. She hadn’t been out of school too long and I thought – because of her location and because of the professional aura of the practice –that this was a possibility. She said that she was not doing cosmetic dentistry, not because she didn’t like to do it, but because her clients did not want cosmetic dentistry.

I was teaching her team to do chart auditing. She had an excellent patient education sheet that asked those ‘classic questions’. In auditing the first 100 charts, I discovered 14 people who had indicated – very strongly – that they hated their smile, or that they wanted very specific changes to make it better.

In analysing the situation, we realised that it wasn’t that the patients didn’t want cosmetic dentistry. They did! In fact, they were asking for it. The team was not responding to their answers and to their requests. There was the problem. The patients were opening the doors, but the team – including the doctor – was closing them.

In summary

Ask the right questions to give patients a chance to express themselves. Pay attention to their responses and follow up to give them the care they deserve. Learn to ask questions. Then, listen! Once people have been made aware of the possibilities in aesthetic dentistry, more people will respond affirmatively.

Cathy Jameson will be presenting her seminar 7 keys to a more prosperous practice next February in London. For more information, or to book your place, call Independent Seminars on 0800 371 652, email [email protected] or visit There is also an optional half-day session titled Hands-on photography: getting your photos right every time with Misty Absher Clark the following day.

7 keys to a more prosperous practice

Date: 8 February 2008

Venue: Royal College of Physicians, London

CPD: Seven hours

Dentists: £355 + VAT

Subscriber discount: £319.50 + VAT

Team member: £215 + VAT

Special team price: £685 + VAT

Seminar plus half-day (9 February, am) Hands-on photography: getting your photos right every time

CPD: 11 hours

Dentists: £605 + VAT

Subscriber discount: £544.50 + VAT

Team member: £465 + VAT

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