Explaining Dentistry in a Way Patients Understand

February 14, 2024 Clayton Davis, DMD

Explaining Dentistry in a Way Patients Understand 

Clayton Davis, DMD 

Here are some of the ways I communicate with patients to help them understand dentistry. I hope some of these will be helpful to you in enabling your patients to make good decisions about their treatment.  

Occlusal Disease: In helping patients understand occlusal disease and the destruction it can cause, I have long said to them, “The human masticatory system is designed to chew things up. When it is out of alignment, it will chew itself up.” I tell them, “Your teeth are aging at an accelerated rate. We need to see if we can find a way to slow down the aging process of your teeth.” The idea of slowing down aging is very attractive to patients, and if you relate it to their teeth, they get it.  

Occlusal Equilibration: Typically, I come at this from the standpoint of helping them understand that teeth are sensors for the muscles, and when the brain becomes aware our back teeth are rubbing against each other, it sends the same response to the muscles as when there’s food between our teeth. In other words, the brain tells the muscles it’s time to chew, and this accelerates wear rates on the teeth. Equilibration is really a conservative treatment to reduce force and destruction of the teeth.  

Diseases of the Jaw Joints: Regarding jaw joints and adaptive changes and breakdown, patients understand that joints have cartilage associated with them. Saying there has been cartilage damage in your jaw joint gets the message across simply. 

Treatment Presentation: When patients say, “I know you want to do a crown on that tooth,” I jokingly say, “Oh, don’t do it for me. Do it for yourself.” I never say, “You need to get this work done.” Instead, I say, “I think you are going to want to have this work done.” 

Conservative Treatment: I have always enjoyed John Kois’s saying that no dentistry is better than no dentistry, so when talking about conservative dentistry, I’ll tell patients, “No dentistry is better than no dentistry. We certainly don’t intend to do any dentistry that doesn’t need to be done.” Another way I speak about conservative dentistry is to say, “Conservative dentistry is dentistry that minimizes treatment. In the case of a cracked tooth, a crown is actually more conservative than a filling because it minimizes risk.” 

Moving Forward with Treatment: I love Mary Osborne’s leading question for patients after they’ve been shown their issues and treatment possibilities have been discussed. The question is “Where would you like to go from here?” With amazing regularity, the patients choose a really good starting point for their next steps toward improved health, steps that feel right to them. Always remember, people tend to support that which they help create. 

Dental Insurance: I typically speak of dental insurance as a coupon that can be applied to their dental bills. I’ll say, “Every plan sets limits on how much it pays. The way dental insurance works, it’s as if your employer has provided a coupon to go toward your dental bills.” 

Presenting Optimal Care: If I want to present optimal care to a patient who is ready to hear it, I ask permission by saying, “Mrs. Jones, if I were the patient and a doctor did not tell me what optimal treatment would be for my problems because the doctor was concerned that I couldn’t afford it or that I would not want it, I would think, ‘How dare you make that judgment for me. You tell me what optimal care would be, and I’ll decide for myself if I want it.’ So, with that in mind, Mrs. Jones, would it be okay with you if I presented you with the optimal solutions for your problems?” 

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Clayton Davis, DMD

Dr. Clayton Davis received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina. Continuing his education at the Medical College of Georgia, he earned his Doctor of Dental Medicine degree in 1980. Having grown up in the Metro Atlanta area, Dr. Davis and his wife, Julia, returned to establish practice and residence in Gwinnett County. In addition to being a Visiting Faculty Member of The Pankey Institute, Dr. Davis is a leader in Georgia dentistry, both in terms of education and service. He is an active member of the Atlanta Dental Study Group, Hinman Dental Society, and the Georgia Academy of Dental Practice. He served terms as president of the Georgia Dental Education Foundation, Northern District Dental Society, Gwinnett Dental Society, and Atlanta Dental Study Group. He has been state coordinator for Children’s Dental Health Month, facilities chairman of Georgia Mission of Mercy, and served three terms in the Georgia Dental Association House of Delegates.

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Powerful Questions in a Pre-Clinical Dental Conversation

June 20, 2018 Brad Weiss

As a maximizer, I’m always tweaking processes to try to make things a little better. A few years back on the advice of a wise mentor, I made a small change to the last question I ask of patients in my Pre-Clinical Conversation. This change required a dramatic difference in how I view my “job” for patients.  

A Powerful Pre-Clinical Conversation Question

For years, I thought I was so unique to finish my time in the consult room with the question: “Is there anything else I should know about you to take good care of you?” Patients genuinely seemed to appreciate that question. I felt great about the responses I got, almost always along the lines of, “Nobody has ever asked me these types of questions!”  

A few years back, I was diving deeper on Locus of Control of Oral Health with my small growth group, The Sinking Stones. I was hoping to help my patients increase ownership of their condition and shift the “locus of control” from the doctor/expert (tell me what to do, when, and how) toward a true partnership (I can be the expert of the technical pieces, but you are the expert of you).  

The elegance of this transfer relies on our ability to do so without the patient feeling abandoned and unguided. I was gently reminded by Dr. Rich Green that a small change to that question could help frame the relationship differently right off the bat.

My new question is: “Is there anything I should know about you to work well with you?” Rather than facilitating a dependent/top-down/expert doctor relationship, I now have a much better chance of a patient understanding how important it is for me to be in partnership with them.

I can look them in the eye and tell them my healthiest patients are those that view me as their partner. This is better than looking for “experts” to tell them when it is appropriate to take on a particular procedure or make a decision for them without knowing their temperament, circumstances, and objectives.  

Though I love taking care of people, a change in those four words has allowed me to do so in a partnership according to the context of the patient’s life.

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Brad Weiss

Following dental school, Brad practiced in Kenilworth and Winnetka and gained experience with Lasers and Computer Aided Design and Machined Dentistry. Brad continued his education and the L.D. Pankey Institute in Florida and is honored to be a part of the Visiting Faculty since 2008. Brad has also been co-facilitating a study group for dentists interested in developing relationship-based practices in Vancouver, B.C. since 2010. Brad practices in Evanston, IL.

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Why Calibrating Perio Probing Matters

May 18, 2018 Sheri Kay RDH

Amidst all the details that must be managed day in and day out at a dental practice, I’d like to bring to light something I find super important that is often neglected. Let me begin by asking a question: When is the last time you took a good look at your perio probes? I mean a really good look!

My guess is you will find different shapes, sizes, colors, materials, ages, and markings. Maybe this doesn’t seem like the worst tragedy in the grand scope of the world, and yet, having even two different probes in the office can set the stage for lack of continuity in your patient diagnoses. 

Why Perio Probes Matter

It does seem like there are as many choices in probes these days as there are stars in the sky, so how can you make the best decision when it comes down to buying?

Although I do recognize the need and desire to have options, at the end of the day I encourage you to consider which probe provides the LEAST probable chance of creating error. Although I have used (and observe people using) a huge variety of probes, my favorite by far is the UNC-15. Due to markings at every mm up to 15, there is virtually no guesswork in capturing and documenting data with a high level of accuracy.

As you make the decision of exactly which probe you will use exclusively in your practice, please also consider calibrating all dentists and hygienists on an ongoing basis. It is typically easy to notice that probing techniques will vary from person to person. Watching and learning from each other with the ultimate goal of having everyone in agreement about how you will probe is invaluable.

Lastly, remember that an accurate periodontal diagnosis can only be made when a comprehensive periodontal assessment is completed and documented. Your probe is designed to be used for measuring pocket depths, recession, bleeding, pus, and attached gingiva. Oh, and don’t forget to check for mobility and furcations while you’re at it.

Here’s to a future of more accurate and calibrated perio probing in your office!

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Sheri Kay RDH

Sheri Kay started her career in dentistry as a dental assistant for an “under one roof” practice in 1980. The years quickly flew by as Sheri worked her way from one position to the next learning everything possible about the different opportunities and roles available in an office. As much as she loved dentistry … something was always missing. In 1994, after Sheri graduated from hygiene school, her entire world changed when she was introduced to the Pankey Philosophy of Care. What came next for Sheri was an intense desire to help other dental professionals learn how they could positively influence the health and profitability of their own practices. By 2012, Sheri was working full time as a Dental Practice Coach and has since worked with over 300 practices across the country. Owning SKY Dental Practice Dental Coaching is more of a lifestyle than a job, as Sheri thrives on the strong relationships that she develops with her clients. She enjoys speaking at state meetings, facilitating with Study Clubs and of course, coaching with her practices.

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Actionable Dental Tips to Thrive in 2018: Part 2

May 16, 2018 Gary Takacs

Growth should be the primary goal of every dental practice. No matter how well things are going, planning for and promoting growth ensures that any setbacks do not completely derail you. Growth is also valuable because it keeps your practice lively with new patient energy and ensures your team stays engaged.

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed my first two tips for 2018 that encouraged developing a marketing plan and increasing whitening services. Keep reading for my final two pieces of advice:

Thrive in 2018: Patient Education and Experience

Use Digital Photos for Patient Education

Take the following series of six digital photos on all new patients:

  1. Natural smile
  2. Close up retracted view
  3. Upper occlusal view
  4. Lower occlusal view
  5. Left buccal corridor
  6. Right buccal corridor

Load the photos onto an iPad or tablet for patient viewing. This will convert the process from passive to active for the patient. Be prepared to hear two frequent comments from patients: (1) “Wow, I have never seen my teeth like this before!” and (2) “Yuck!”

Provide a Remarkable New Patient Experience

The first visit to your practice should be an awesome experience that helps new patients become more interested in their oral health. Take some time with your team and design a new patient experience that is more ideal.

Consider beginning with a simple office tour that shows the patient some services that are available. Include a new patient interview where a team member takes the time to get to know your patient and understand their ‘dental story.’ Make it a ‘wow’ experience where patients leave saying, “I have never been treated so thoroughly before!”

The four tips presented in Part 1 and 2 of this series are an excellent way to develop a thriving practice in 2018 and beyond.

As you begin to implement these recommendations, think of the following axiom: To achieve what you have never achieved, you must do what you have never done. Here’s to your success!

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Gary Takacs

Gary Takacs’ passion is helping dentists develop their ideal practice. Specializing in the ‘business of dentistry’, his unique, in-depth knowledge of the components of a successful practice has helped thousands of dental offices thrive in today’s challenging business environment. Gary’s seminars, highly acclaimed audio and videotape programs, and his in-office consulting services have helped many dentists develop a more profitable and enjoyable practice. A familiar presence on the dental lecture circuit, Gary frequently addresses dentists and team members at national dental meetings, regional seminars, and study club meetings here in the United States and internationally as well. His seminars are designed for the doctor and the entire dental team and are recognized for being both highly educational and entertaining. Attendees often comment that they learned more than they ever imagined and that Gary’s seminar was the most fun they have ever had at a dental meeting!! Gary is a member of the faculty for Essentials 3 at The Pankey Institute. Although Gary is not a dentist, he owns a dental practice in partnership with Dr. Paul Nielson. His practice is called LifeSmiles Dental Care and this practice serves as a learning and teaching laboratory for Gary to ‘test’ concepts that he can apply in his teaching.

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Actionable Dental Tips to Thrive in 2018: Part 1

May 14, 2018 Gary Takacs

It’s my strong opinion that dental practices are either growing or they are in decline. A case could be made that there is a third option, staying the same, but with ever-rising overhead, staying the same is just another form of decline.  

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I’ll share 4 specific tips that will help you thrive in 2018 and beyond.

Thrive in 2018: Marketing and Whitening

Develop a Comprehensive Marketing Plan

New patients are necessary for a growing practice. Oftentimes the difference between a good practice and a thriving practice is the volume of quality new patients.

Spend some time crafting a comprehensive marketing plan that includes internal, external, and digital marketing activities. In my own practice, our most effective internal marketing strategy is the dentist calling all new patients and any patient who receives an injection on the evening of treatment.

An effective external marketing strategy for us is making NFL-quality mouth guards for our local high school football team. Also, one very effective digital marketing strategy has been getting online patient reviews. An appropriate marketing budget for a growing practice is 4-5% of revenue.

Embrace Whitening

Growing your whitening business is a great way to attract patients. Here are 3 simple things you can do to increase the amount of whitening treatments you perform:

  1. Take a shade match at the beginning of the hygiene appointment. Then show the patient their current tooth shade on a shade guide organized chromatically from dark to light.
  2. Value-price whitening. Consider value-pricing as a means of making it more affordable and accessible for your patients. The real economic benefit is the restorative and elective treatment that results from increasing your whitening.
  3. Offer lifetime whitening. Consider offering free gel to your whitening patients, provided they keep their recommended hygiene appointments. This is a win/win strategy that patients love!

To be continued …

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Gary Takacs’ passion is helping dentists develop their ideal practice. Specializing in the ‘business of dentistry’, his unique, in-depth knowledge of the components of a successful practice has helped thousands of dental offices thrive in today’s challenging business environment. Gary’s seminars, highly acclaimed audio and videotape programs, and his in-office consulting services have helped many dentists develop a more profitable and enjoyable practice. A familiar presence on the dental lecture circuit, Gary frequently addresses dentists and team members at national dental meetings, regional seminars, and study club meetings here in the United States and internationally as well. His seminars are designed for the doctor and the entire dental team and are recognized for being both highly educational and entertaining. Attendees often comment that they learned more than they ever imagined and that Gary’s seminar was the most fun they have ever had at a dental meeting!! Gary is a member of the faculty for Essentials 3 at The Pankey Institute. Although Gary is not a dentist, he owns a dental practice in partnership with Dr. Paul Nielson. His practice is called LifeSmiles Dental Care and this practice serves as a learning and teaching laboratory for Gary to ‘test’ concepts that he can apply in his teaching.

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In the Details: Personal Patient Care

May 9, 2018 DeAnne Blazek DDS

Throughout my dental hygiene, dental school, and residency programs, I was blessed to have exceptional instructors and role models. All of them encouraged me, believed in me, and most importantly, impressed upon me the importance of lifelong learning. Many of them recommended Pankey, telling me to go there as soon as I could.

A Journey to Deeper Patient Relationships

That journey began in 1994. I will never forget sitting in Dr. Irwin Becker’s philosophy class as he talked about the Crosses of Dentistry. He discussed “Knowing Your Patient” and I remember becoming very emotional.

As a young hygienist, it would bother me when I would see a re-care patient and not remember what we talked about the previous time. I started jotting things down on index cards about each patient and keeping them in a private file. Not the things you would typically see in chart notes, but personal things they felt comfortable sharing.

Each time they came in, I would refer to the personal card file and refresh my memory as to where we left off. There was no way I would have been able to remember all those special discussions, so I had to write them down. Each time they came in, the next chapter began.

I also started sharing more information about myself. I found the more I shared, the deeper the conversations went. I really wanted to know my patients on a much deeper level and that is what happened over time.  

When I came back to the Pankey Institute for the second continuum, I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by name by Dr. Ernie Anderson, one of the course instructors, as I stepped into the elevator of the condos. Obviously, he had taken time to look at the roster to see who was in the class and that was very impactful. The kindness, thoughtfulness, and encouragement shown to me at the Institute were instrumental in demonstrating how I wanted to make my patients feel during my care.

Time spent getting to know my patients has resulted in lifelong relationships. Of all the things I’ve learned, this is one of the most important keys to a meaningful and enjoyable career.

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DeAnne Blazek DDS

Dr. DeAnne Blazek's love for dentistry began in the fifth grade while under the excellent care of her uncle and orthodontist. She enrolled in a dental hygiene program and then continued on to become a dentist. During dental school, Dr. Blazek worked as a hygienist for her uncle Louis Dellios. Upon graduation, Dr. Blazek was asked to join his practice and eventually became the owner when he retired. Dr. Blazek's main goal has been continuing the deep level of caring for patients that her uncle provided. The trusting relationship she creates with her patients puts them at ease and assures them that she will provide gentle, loving care at every visit.

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Fine-Tuning a New Patient System

February 1, 2018 Devon Conklin DDS

Clarifying and fine-tuning a new patient system can be more challenging than you might think.

Five years ago, my partner Charlie and I bought a ‘Pankey practice.’ Soon after the transition, we started to recognize that our new patient system would need a little adjusting. The prior owners, who happened to also be my parents, had almost every new patient go through the same protocol.

Charlie and I noticed that the young adult patients who were drawn to our practice had two things in common. (1) They wanted cleanings at the first appointment and (2) they often had less dental needs. We concluded they may not need all the diagnostic records that someone with a lot of restorative needs would have to have.

Defining an Efficient Patient System

I am very systems oriented, and having worked with my parents for a few years, it wasn’t easy for me at first to switch up the new patient system. I liked having all patients funnel through the same protocol, but I began to realize that to get the younger generation into our practice we needed to cater to their desires and gain their trust.

When a patient calls our office, we have a great team that asks questions to understand what the patients’ needs are. I would say that because our referral is mostly word of mouth, we still have many new patients looking for comprehensive treatment. This means we have the traditional new patient appointment, which includes the new patient interview comprehensive exam and full diagnostic records.

But if a patient calls and says they want a cleaning and that there are no concerns, we flex and allow them to meet with the doctor first for a new patient interview, then they have their comprehensive exam and we finish with a cleaning with the hygienist.

If I find that diagnostic records are necessary, I will then have them come back for the records. Sometimes if I really think it would be in the patient’s best interest to not have the cleaning the same day, I will try and talk to the patient to help them understand why I think diagnostic records would be a better option that same day. Most times, if the patient understands the benefits, they are comfortable coming back for the cleaning with the hygienist on another day.

No matter whether the patient has the full new patient exam and diagnostic workup or has the exam and cleaning, the most important part to me is the first 30 minutes where I sit down with the patient and get to know them. I love this time because it allows me to learn about my patient. It also allows the patient to learn about me and my practice and ask any questions.

I believe those first minutes with my patients set our practice apart. It is the beginning of building trust so that whether they have a healthy mouth or need extensive treatment, they are confident that my practice will work with them to maintain optimal oral health.

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Devon Conklin DDS

Dr. Conklin attended Baylor University, where she earned my Bachelor’s degree in 2005. She received her Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the University of Maryland Baltimore College of Dental Surgery in 2009. Devon has continued her education through a one-year residency and attended the Pankey Institute where she have broadened her learning in restorative dentistry.

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