Providing All Treatment Options to Patients

The art of communicating treatment options

Having worked with and coached hundreds of dentists over a period of 12 years, one of the biggest challenges that dentists face is how to communicate to patients all of the treatment options available to them.  And to do so in a manner than informs the patient. One of the challenges is that patients often have a poor idea of the state of their oral health. This means dentists have to educate patients to issues they are unable to perceive and discuss treatment options that might seem unnecessary to the patient. Often dentists might pass over more involved treatment options due to the difficulty in getting the patient to understand the risks they face.

However, it is a Dental Council requirement that dentists make patients aware of all the possible treatment options. This includes the option of ‘doing nothing’.

So why do dentists struggle with this? Well, in my experience, it is often due to not wishing to have their treatment options rejected. Being rejected over and over can bring one down and so we will avoid rejection by only discussing the options we think the patient might be interested in or might be able to afford. But is this fair to the patient?  Of course not.

Then how can we deliver all of the options in a non-threatening way that educates and informs?

We should start with our purpose and mindset. We are not ‘selling’ treatment. We are simply diagnosing, informing and educating patients so as to allow them to make an informed decision about their oral health. We are simply the messenger.

How can we deliver this message in the most effective way? Well, we need to consider the following:

  • Trust.   This plays an enormous part in how patients receive information. Building trust with your patients is the most important step in a successful long-term relationship.
  • Clinical education.  Patients are not (usually) clinicians, so we must consider how we can educate them as to the clinical aspects of their oral health and options.
  • The psychology of the patient.  Consider that patients are often in a state of anxiousness or stress when at the dentist, which makes it difficult for them to understand information.

There is an art to how to present options in a manner that ensures the patient is fully informed.  But it is an art that can be learned.  This is a common topic of focus in Collective Dental training. 

Also, once the options have been properly presented, don’t forget to record the options presented in your notes.

Steven Valentine, Business Coach