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Relationship building and holistic dentistry: Be the influencer you were meant to be

Dec. 18, 2019
What's the secret to ensuring patients follow our advice? As Paula Quinn, RDH, discovered, it's all about building the relationship! Only then can we influence patients to take a holistic view of their health. Find out where to start in this article.

“I believe in a holistic approach to dentistry.”

As members of the dental profession, we often hear the term “holistic approach.” But what exactly does that mean? At the core of this idea is a health-care philosophy in which the entirety of a patient’s health is evaluated and treated, not just the problem that presents itself on the day of a patient’s visit.

Adopting a holistic approach to wellness is important for every individual. Traditional Western medicine often focuses on treating symptoms rather than root issues. As dental professionals, we now have the opportunity to show patients that their dental health is just as significant as nutrition, exercise, preventive care, or a yearly check-up with a doctor. We can give them the education and tools they need in their transition to achieving total wellness.

How do we create an environment that leads to total wellness? Incorporating this approach into patient care must start at the beginning of every patient interaction. It takes into account the physical, mental, and social factors of a patient’s condition, rather than just the diagnosed disease.

However, obtaining true insight into patients’ overall health, and the resulting effect on their dental health, requires more than just completed paperwork. It requires a strong relationship. Studies show that people are effectively influenced within the context of a meaningful relationship. In the dental profession, this is accomplished through individualized care, transparency, honesty, and clarity.

So, stop the sales pitch and start a conversation. If you focus your conversation on problems that you can help patients solve, you will find that patients will start taking a more holistic viewpoint themselves. They become partners with you to improve their dental health and, by extension, their overall health.

What are the keys to strong relationship building? Having foundational principles allows you to create a framework for every interaction. Here are my core principles that shape each patient encounter.

1. Individualized care

a. Make patients feel that they are more than just a number to you. This means you must see them as a people, not just a sales opportunities.

b. Make them feel significant and unique. This requires you to be completely engaged during interactions—with patients and members of your office.

c.  Make sure they understand that anything they fill out, any questions you ask, and any information they share, are all taken into consideration. Commit to asking for specific, detailed medical histories. Understanding what they value, as well as their concerns, gives you insight into all of the ways you can help patients toward total health.

2. Transparency

a. Make sure the patient has visibility into all aspects of their dental care—transparency into every issue, every question, every action, every benefit, every cost, and every option. If your solutions cannot stand the light of transparency, the patient will eventually lose trust in you.

b. Welcome questions and plan your time accordingly. A few extra minutes at the start will guarantee buy-in at the end of the conversation.

3. Honesty

a. “Without truth, trust will never develop.” Building a relationship based on honesty with the new patient is worth your best effort because it leads to a lifetime of dental health.

b. Make sure that they know about their issues, the causes, all of their options, actual costs, and a realistic time frame. This is the time to demonstrate your understanding of their whole health picture. Not every cause starts with the mouth!

c. Don’t minimize patient concerns and issues. Helping the patient understand all aspects of treatment is important. However, it is just as important that the patient understand the significance of their issues. If they have an infection, don’t use phrases like “You have a little infection” or otherwise minimize their issues. Tell them the truth to allow them to make the right decisions and understand the consequences of choices.

4. Clarity

a. Speak in a way that your patient understands.

b. Explain technical and dental terms in a user-friendly way. Patients are often intimidated by language that makes them feel as if they should know something they don’t.

c. Pause between concepts to allow patients to absorb your message and perhaps ask questions. Maintain as much eye contact as possible to allow you to see when an individual is confused or unsure. Be completely prepared for patient interaction so you can speak freely and see what reaction you are receiving.

Focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and show yourself to be an advocate for the patient. This is done by challenging patients to think beyond their immediate pain point. The patient not only needs specific help in the moment but will also need to adopt a variety of changes in their behavior to support the treatment of the immediate issue.

In building this relationship, you increase your ability to influence your patients toward better self-care habits (e.g. brushing, flossing); regular maintenance with appointments for cleaning and follow-up; and knowing the consequences of their choices in both self-care and provided treatment.

We also know that patients presented with preventive care have better health outcomes, with lower costs and less risk of complications and ongoing issues. Show them aggressive dentistry with the most organic, affordable, and effective treatment. It is through your guidance that patients begin to grasp and implement the holistic approach for themselves.

About the Author

Paula L. Quinn, BS, RDH

Paula L. Quinn, BS, RDH, has been a licensed dental hygienist for 22 years. She started by volunteering for the Red Cross as a dental assistant and continues to volunteer in her community. Striving to always grow and learn, Paula coaches other dental practices on patient health, benefits of clear aligner therapy, business management, hygiene department and overall team development, and leadership. Quinn also stays involved in her professional organizations, including the Academy of Laser Dentistry, American Dental Hygienists' Association, and Arizona Dental Hygienists' Association. For more information, email her at [email protected].

Updated December 17, 2019