4 Oct 2013  •  Practice Management  •  4min read By  • Kevin Rose

What Can We Do About People That Hate Going To The Dentist?

Dental Business Consultant Kevin Rose shares how he believes communication is key to helping people overcome their negative perception of visiting the dentist.

It’s never a surprise that during family get-togethers you face that one inevitable question: ‘so, what are you doing these days?’ It’s never a shock that I almost always witness a negative reception to my response of the words ‘dentist’ and ‘dentistry’. So, now I’m back at my desk, I feel obliged to ponder the big question… why do some people hate going to the dentist and what can be done about it?

There are years worth of prejudices, stereotypes and ill-mannered comments that undermine a profession that seeks only to serve others. There is therefore no single methodology or solution to any of this. Certainly, there are ways of overcoming anxiety such as linguistic patterns, hypnosis and sedation, but this is really only scratching at the surface and we do have to remember that it can hurt!

The far bigger issue is that there exists an antipathy towards the profession and if we are to follow the lead of James Goolnik and the ‘Heart Your Smile’ campaign, then the profession has to take some responsibility for this as do any external advisors such as myself.

Dentistry has its work cut out! For a large amount of the population, dentistry was once a free service which has now become ‘expensive’. Well, it has; it was once free and if it was once free, then there was little value attached to it. Wind the clock forward 15 years and the solution for many is to supply private dentistry at an increasing premium which, ironically, widens the gap even more. But, surely these prices can be justified by comfy chairs, quality bathroom fittings, flat screen TVs… except on certain days of the week for certain products of course, when prices are reduced… confused?

There is also another angle to consider. Whenever I meet with dentists and I ask them what they want, invariably they will tell me what they don’t want; understandable given that you have perhaps been trained and conditioned to protect yourself from the threat of legislative and administrative bodies. A typical but not exhaustive, list of responses will include;

• Less gaps in my book

• Not to loose patients to cheaper or larger competitors

• To avoid wasting money on marketing that doesn’t work

• A team that doesn’t argue about ordering stock.

By focusing on what you don’t want rather than what you do, it’s conceivable that all you’re doing is attracting more of what you were trying to avoid in the first place?

When I mentor dental business leaders, one of the things that I ask them to do is reframe the list of things that they don’t want into statements of intent that focus on what they want. For example, ‘I want fewer gaps in my book’ becomes ‘I am attracting the patients that I want in to my dental business’. Try it and notice how you feel with each of them, then go through the same exercise by making a list of your main business challenges and reframing them. As bizarre as it may sound, I have seen this exercise begin a phase of transformational change on numerous occasions with the dental businesses that I work with.

All of this brings us back to the original question: ‘why do some people hate going to the dentist and what can we do about it?’ If we apply the idea of focusing on what we want, then we can start by changing the question into ‘what do people get from coming to the dentist?’ This will elicit a different state of mind. However, your answer to this question will be personal to you and your dental business, but some of the answers will be common amongst those that both do and don’t engage with your dental business. After all, a fear of going to the dentist is a learned behaviour created by an exposure to certain messages that in turn have created an irrational belief. Therefore, it makes no sense to try and change that belief with anything other than the messages that somebody that does go to the dentist must have accepted as true. For example, ‘visiting the dentist might improve the health of my teeth and gums’ could be accepted as true by anybody.

As simple as it may sound, it’s in communicating these messages that identify the common ground, values and beliefs we all share, that transformation can take place. Comfortable chairs and flat screen TVs are very welcome but it’s values and beliefs that shape patient behaviour!

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