Survey says: patients lie to dentists

A recent survey reveals that more than four in 10 adults admitted they lie to their dentist.

That’s according to a story at

One in four, meanwhile, said they would fib about flossing, too, according to a Harris Interactive poll of 1,001 US adults.

The survey was commissioned by Philips Sonicare and the non-profit group Oral Health America.

Experts suggest this illustrates why asking direct questions may not prove the best means of helping patients improve their oral health.

People lie especially frequently to dental receptionists, said Gary Kadi, who heads NextLevel Practice, the dental management consulting firm.

In one of his surveys, only 15% of patients told receptionists why they were really cancelling appointments, said Kadi, whose clients can have cancellation rates as high as 50%.

Also worrying are those patients who fail to mention that they suffer from debilitating diseases – a crucial omission that could lead to serious medical complications.

While it would be nice for patients to talk openly about their hygiene habits, remember that finding out the truth is not the ultimate goal.

It’s far more important for dentists to build strong relationships with their patients – and convince them to become more compliant, Kadi said.

Dentists should not be satisfied with a patient’s first answer, psychologists say. It’s often helpful to ask the same question in different ways and move from general, open-ended questions to extremely specific ones.

Dentists can ask patients directly if they are on specific medications, and explain why they need to know.

Patients are also ‘expecting to be beat up’, said Kadi.

Surprise them and tell them something good, he said, even if it’s just ‘you’ve got good bone structure’.

Too many dentists focus on the means such as tooth brushing, rather than the patients’ ends: the desire to have a sexy smile or live long enough to watch their children grow up.

‘Look beyond the soft and hard tissues, and get to the emotional issues of the patient,’ he said. With this philosophy, he said, his clients have not only been able to convince their patients to be more compliant, but the dentists have also reaped big financial rewards.

He said more than 600 clients saw their collections grow an average of 37% from May 2007 to May 2008, despite the poor economy. And appointment cancellations are down. ‘People buy for emotional reasons,’ he said.

Get the most out of your membership by subscribing to Dentistry CPD
  • Access 600+ hours of verified CPD courses
  • Includes all GDC recommended topics
  • Powerful CPD tracking tools included
Register for webinar
Add to calendar