Nov/Dec 2014
Volume 11, Issue 6

Patient Communication for Case Acceptance

Lower the chances of treatment plan rejection by increasing the plan’s value

Sonny Chokka, DDS

Let’s face it. For many dentists and our teams, each day is filled with the exhilaration and challenge of diagnosing a problem and crafting a treatment plan for our patients. All too often, this is followed by the despair of watching our patients leave the office with no future appointment. In response, thinking that perhaps we weren’t convincing enough, we regroup, attend more continuing education, develop better visual aids and perfect our case presentation skills. Brimming with renewed confidence and determination, we are ready to go to battle now. Much to our dismay, this approach doesn’t move the needle much and more of the treatment still remains in the chart than in the patient’s mouth.

For many of us, our examinations resemble the old man at the beach with a metal detector looking for buried treasure. We’re looking for anything anywhere. The problem, as the patients see it, is that they haven’t lost any coins. At least, not the ones we’re looking for. The number one reason patients reject their treatment plan is value. They don’t perceive their dental treatment as having any value. Their dental health is not a priority.

The first step toward gaining case acceptance is to stop thinking of dentistry as procedures and treatment, and to start thinking of it in terms of its value and true worth. Our first inclination should be to discover their lost coin. We value balanced occlusion, golden proportions, centric relation/centric occlusion, and cuspid guidance, to name a few. We transform into missionaries spreading our version of the dental gospel.

However, human nature is to buy, purchase, acquire, obtain, or even steal that which is perceived to be valuable. Generally what patients find valuable is what makes them feel good about themselves or how they compare to others. The big screen TV, the latest smartphone, vacations, cars, clothes, and golf clubs are all examples of what our patients will buy and even rearrange their budget to obtain.

How do we know what is valuable to them? The best way to find the answer is to ask questions that lead to an emotional response: What advantages would there be to you if you changed your smile? How would your life change if you fixed that tooth? Do you think an improved smile would give you the confidence for getting that new job? Attaching an emotional benefit to their dental condition is the first step in creating value. Patients are more than willing to pay money for things they want and desire as opposed to things that they need.

Shift your perspective to that of the patient. If your dental healthcare team was interested in your personal life, how would that affect you? Too many of our patients dread their visits because they anticipate being shamed and scolded.Now imagine a dental team that takes the time to get to know you personally and learn important details of your life. That’s a team that you will have rapport with, feel comfortable around, and trust. With this approach, our patients become partners in their oral health. They work alongside us toward reaching our goals and theirs. When decisions are made mutually between doctor and patient, both benefit. It is vital that dental teams are aware of the emotional effect that dental work has on the patient over the actual dental work itself. The emotional and scientific sides of dentistry are inseparable and intrinsically linked to the profitability of the office. Our collaboration must reach the level where the highest hopes of our patients meet with the best of our abilities. Nelson Mandela said, “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” Today’s dentists and their teams must realize the argument is not clinical, but emotional.

About the Author

Dr. Chokka is a Pacific Dental Services-supported owner dentist, where he is faculty, speaker, advisory board member, and consultant. He can be reached at

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