Communication and connection post COVID-19

communicationWhat difference would having a steady stream of ‘pre-qualified’ private patients make to you post-COVID-19, asks Barry Oulton.

2020 was a year that everyone will remember and not necessarily for the good that life can bring. The human costs of COVID-19 were many – from financial losses and fear of the unknown to furlough and political unrest.

However, as a nation, the one thing that many of us missed most was our relationships with others. Whether it was family, friends, colleagues or patients, 2020 robbed many of us. It robbed us of the most fundamental things we require as humans – personal contact and connection.

Lockdowns and restrictions have had a huge impact on our mental health and loneliness (Wong et al, 2020). This leaves many people feeling isolated. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has even been described as ‘the largest isolation experiment in history’ (Choukér and Stahn, 2020).

While some dentists were able to continue working during the first lockdown, my practice was closed. Although I enjoyed time with family, I truly missed my daily interactions with my patients and my team. Returning back to the luxury of face-to-face interaction with them once the lockdown was over was a joy. However, it was intertwined with an element of sadness.

On returning to work, I discovered that, for a considerable number of my patients (particularly the older ones), their visit to my practice was the only direct human interaction they had had in as many as three months.

My practice is not unique in this. For the many patients who are feeling alone and afraid, the contact and connection they have with their dental team is incredibly important.

Understanding communication

As we head into 2021 with yet another lockdown and more uncertainty ahead of us, some of our patients may be feeling vulnerable. It is vital that we recognise the opportunity we have to provide them with more than just dentistry.

Nurturing and developing relationships with our patients will not only serve them, it will come back to serve us and our teams tenfold.

I have developed relationships with my patients using a simple yet effective way of gaining their trust and respect. Since this, I have had a non-stop stream of recommendations and referrals. This has meant I have not needed to spend any money on external marketing for 13 years.

The patient journey that we have developed has ensured that the constant stream of new patients has continued, despite the pandemic, and that our financial position goes from strength to strength.

Dental professionals must realise how important it is to build rapport and learn advanced communication skills alongside their clinical skills.

Cultivating one’s understanding of communication and how others process information not only serves your patient base at a deeper level, it also increases team and customer satisfaction, resulting in increased profits.

Communicating more effectively

The best way we can serve our patients is by communicating with them in a way that not only means they are informed about the services and treatments we provide, but which also offers them comfort in these challenging times.

This is not a skill we are taught as undergraduates. It is a sad fact that, if left to their own devices and without careful guidance and influence, most patients will make a choice based on what is the cheapest option, not necessarily the best.

I struggled with this until I learnt about the psychology of communication. I realised that I had the power in my hands to move away from the NHS model of offering a ‘basic standard of care’ to patients. Instead I could offer the highest standards of care and customer service.

Having implemented my new skills, shared them with my team and developed our patient journey processes, I quadrupled my turnover. This led me to launch The Confident Dentist Academy and my Influencing Smiles training, a two-day communication and sales course for dentists and team members.

I offer face-to-face training, online courses and one-to-one coaching. This helps dental teams improve their interactions with patients, increasing the acceptance of wants-based, quadrant dentistry over needs-based, single tooth dentistry and making their experience in the dental chair completely comfortable. 


As well as being a practising dentist in Surrey, I am a qualified coach, certified hypnotherapist and a master practitioner in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a method of communication that uses language to re-educate the brain in patterns of mental and emotional behaviour.

This training means I understand all too well how powerful the way we communicate can be. I also understand how to apply these specific skills to the dental sector.

On my Influencing Smiles course, delegates learn how to sell with integrity and communicate with confidence. This includes practical tips and techniques that can be instantly implemented into your practice. The course is confidence-building, contains no role-play and is enlightening and fun.

One of our delegates, Dr Raquel Valentim, said: ‘This has been the most inspiring and valuable course I have done not just in my professional career but in my personal life. I feel more confident, more empowered and buzzing to go back to work.’

With everything that has happened over the last 12 months, taking positive action for yourself and your patients should be top of your new year resolution list!

Join me and I will show you how to wow your patients and increase your profits.

Upcoming events in 2021

  • 12 and 13 March – Birmingham
  • 14 and 15 May – London
  • 11 and 12 June – Birmingham
  • 24 and 25 September – London
  • 15 and 16 October – Birmingham.

Courses run from 9am-6pm on Friday and 8am to 5pm on Saturday.

Visit to take the quiz and download a free language skills video that will help you increase your income.

For more information call 0333 220 2447 email [email protected] or visit


Choukér A, Stahn AC (2020) COVID-19 – The largest isolation study in history: the value of shared learnings from spaceflight analogs. Npj Microgravity 6:32

Wong SYS, Zhang D, Sit RWS, Yip BHK, Chung RY, Wong CKM, Chan DCC, Sun Kwok KO, Mercer SW (2020) Impact of COVID-19 on loneliness, mental health, and health service utilisation: a prospective cohort study of older adults with multimorbidity in primary care. British Journal of General Practice 70 (700): e817-e824

This article first appeared in Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.

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