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While it can be a struggle to calm the financially fearful after tax season, it’s easy compared to what dentists deal with. More than one-third of Canadians have anxiety about seeing a dentist, according to a 2012 paper from Oral Health Journal.

Dr. Natalie Archer, whom NOW Magazine readers named Toronto’s best dentist in November 2013, owns Runnymede Dental Centre and Rosedale Family Dental Care. She explains how she calms anxious patients.

Problem: No amount of professional credentials or experience can replace a personal relationship.

Solution: A content-rich website helps patients build a relationship with Archer before they walk in the door.

“I thought it was a natural way to put a face to my name and share my philosophy,” says Archer. “Sometimes new patients who are sitting in the waiting room will have this big smile because they already recognize me.”

Many dental websites just have “about” and “contact” pages, but by including a personal blog, collected media references, and even YouTube videos, potential patients can connect to the service in a meaningful way. Rather than patient testimonials—which are more credible coming from services like RateMDs.com—the videos feature Archer explaining different dentistry topics.

Problem: It’s hard for patients to express their needs during first-time visits while also dealing with anxiety.

Solution: Archer offers free meet-and-greet visits for first-time patients with non-emergency needs. That allows particularly anxious patients to familiarize themselves with the office and its staff without the added stress of undergoing dental work or making decisions.

“[When] they come back for the second appointment they’re like brand new people,” says Archer. “They know what to expect—they’re familiar with the office.” Sometimes these meet-and-greets are planned in advance, but often they’re an on-the-spot option when someone is too anxious for a full appointment. To ensure a good first experience, Archer consciously books longer-than-standard windows to create a buffer and keep patients from feeling rushed.

Problem: When people don’t show up for appointments, it costs money, and can delay other appointments.

Solution: Rather than creating punitive no-show fees or excessive follow-up mechanisms, Archer says a reputation for timeliness and professionalism encourages patients to keep their appointments. “Most of our long-standing patients show up,” she says.

She ensures her appointments always begin when scheduled—even sooner if the patient arrives a few minutes early.

“Growing up, there was nothing worse than having a two o’clock dentist’s appointment and not getting in the chair until three.”

For missed appointments, Archer’s staff follow up politely and ask if they’re on their way or if something came up. If so, they’ll schedule a new appointment. After a third consecutive no-show, patients are let go.

Problem: Beyond a fear of dentistry itself, people get anxious when they don’t know what will happen when they’re in the dentist’s chair.

Solution: Archer and her staff foster respect by ceding some control to patients. The dentist or hygienist is the expert in the room, but it’s more productive to facilitate than to dictate.

“We ask our patients’ permission to tell them what we see, and then we can take it on to next steps, whether it’s a hygiene issue [or something more serious].” This is a rhetorical device, as patients rarely say no, and encouraging patients to ask questions helps reduce their anxiety. Language should be observational and forward-looking, rather than normative and overly focused on past behaviour.

Casey Dorrell is a Toronto-based financial writer.

Originally published in Advisor's Edge

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