The Key Essence of Communication - Part 1 of 3The Key Essence of Communication - Part 1 of 3

The Most Important thing in Communication, is hearing what isn’t said – Peter Drucker


Dentist Talk: The Key Essence of Communication

by Dr Bala Saravanan 

Feb 13, 2019

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“No matter what job you have in your life, your success will be determined 5% by your academic credentials, 15% by your professional experience, and 80% by your communication skills “ – Author : Unknown.

This is so very true in every element of a successful dental practice.

How often do we get our referrals due to our academic credentials or professional experience comparatively to “Happy Patients” spreading the word around, of his or her beautiful, enjoyable experience in our dental chair? In my fairly short clinical experience, the latter would have brought in 20 times more referrals than just the dentist’s credentials itself. Hence, my personal belief is that the key importance of a successful dentist relies very heavily on patient communication.

Now, there are many articles out there on simple basic human understanding of communication that need not be repeated here like confidence, empathy, compassion, truthfulness, respect and listening skills. I believe these skills are developed by us in our “up bringing” as well as the core basis of “people would like to be treated, just the way you would like to be treated”.

In this article, I would like to share a different understanding on Dentist - Patient communication and not just social skills. An in-depth on tools that I’ve personally used understanding “A different aspect of Human Psychology” comparatively to the basic principles of civics.


Humans love recognition. This is a bare psycho-social fact on human behaviour. No matter whom one may be, they love to be recognized and respected. Don’t get me wrong - I’m not just saying, call them by name but also to know their social history before they come into your office.

No matter how little access we have to this key information about an individual it can be used to create a “recognition based conversation” that will start the communication rolling and in the back of the patients mind they would feel “Wow..He/she knows me”. This is your ignition to the “Wow Dentist" factor.   

Before I continue please remember there is a line, to speak only briefly on the recognition of a new patient and not his or her total history as you don’t want to sound like a stalker.

An example of above is, I had a patient once called Mrs. X. Prior to Mrs. X walking In, I did a Google search and found that she actually runs the bakery down my street. Now that’s a key point! So when she walked in, I stood up and greeted her with “Hi Mrs X.. How are you? How’s the bakery doing? I have to say your bakery makes lovely cakes that we all love here”. What did I just do! Did I create a magical David Copperfield moment? Not really. I created recognition. A wow factor. We later kept on chatting and this “recognition tool” had created a “patient for life” for me.

Though you may not be able to find something this easy to talk about with all of your patients, there are many ways in which you can create recognition. Training your office staff to record how the patient heard of your practice at the initial phone call may be an easy way to generate recognition. If they have been referred by a current patient with whom you already have a history, you can continue the conversation from there. Or if they saw your office while walking by, you can discuss whether they live or work in your area.

Recognition is equally, if not more important when dealing with existing patients. They certainly will remember you, so it is important that you make them feel as important. If they have kept their teeth clean from their last visit, please recognize them for it and tell them. If they have a new hairdo, recognize it and tell them. Writing dot point notes on their clinical records of your previous conversations, where they might be going for holiday or what their children have been up to can help future conversations flow.

Humans love recognition. Your recognition and the feel of “my dentist knows me” will go a long way even after the treatment.

Non Verbal Communication

The Most Important thing in Communication, is hearing what isn’t said – Peter Drucker

I believe we all have been through this at some stage. How many times have you seen your father/mother or wife/husband walking into the house and without uttering a word you know “Oops.. Something is wrong”. Yes, we need to understand our patients as deeply as we understand our loved ones in order to understand their mode of non verbal communication. Trust me, we have to be a psychologist first before being a dentist.

Now, how do we do this without knowing this individual, a complete stranger?

When a patient walks in, without uttering a word, fearful, shaky or just non verbal – what do I do? I don’t do dentistry of course. I don’t jump into treatment or any sort of clinical engagement until the psychological component is addressed. If there is no communication, and treatment is done - you are unlikely to have a happy patient at the end of treatment.

No dentistry if the patient is not comfortable. That’s my rule. At this point, I tend to use all tools of communication to break the barrier and to bring the patient over to what I call “My Zone”. The tools that I use may be laughter like a common joke to get us giggling at least to break the ice, or the “I know you” strategy mentioned earlier, or a gentle touch on the shoulder and checking in to see if they are OK. The rule is to get your patients talking. Don’t leave them in silence. Don’t leave them in an unknown zone. They are fearful. Break that ice. Break that barrier. Before you bring the chair down, you need to communicate. This may take a little time, but please invest this time, as before you bring the chair down, you have to be your patient’s friend, the trusted one, the care giver. Use all possible tools in this effort and once this barrier is broken, believe me, you’re going to be the only dentist this patient ever goes to. My philosophy of practice is always “The Most Difficult Patients are my Best referrals”

As there is a whole day of lecture just on Human Business in Dentistry, thank you for allowing me to share with you a part of what I do, that has contributed to my success. As this is a lengthy topic with many sub structures, I have broken it up into 3 parts. Stay tuned for Part 2.

This article was originally published by Dr Bala Saravanan and reproduced with permission.

The contents of this article and the opinions shared are that of the Author and not Nexlec

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