Building Bridges to Dental Success

Dr. Greg Grillo
Dentist and Contributing Author

Over the past 50 years, dentistry’s evolution includes new techniques and materials that couldn’t be imagined a generation ago. In the midst of this exponential change, a constant remains: The need to really connect with patients and open channels of trust and acceptance. Technology serves a vital role in meeting people’s needs. But alone, it’s cold. Innovation in healthcare comes to life when it’s mixed with timeless principles frequently lost in today’s fast-paced world.
During the growth phase of a practice, it’s especially easy to fixate on the number of new patients coming through the door every month. Open any dental magazine and you’ll find many companies promising to overwhelm you with new patients. But if you learn how to master the doctor-patient relationship, you can provide twice as much care on half as many patients. It’s not about selling more. It’s about helping people discover how much dentistry can contribute to their wellbeing. Focusing on human psychology can pay dividends far beyond the return on any marketing campaign.
What people want
Today’s consumer seeks dental care with a slightly different frame of mind than a generation ago.
What People Want

Today’s consumer seeks dental care with a slightly different frame of mind than a generation ago. Technology’s tidal wave has influenced our brains and certain needs have become more pronounced.

In the essential book, “Decoding the New Consumer Mind,” author Dr. Kit Yarrow points out that Today’s consumers want to feel more in control; they want to feel seen and valued for more than their money; they’re looking for brands and retailers that facilitate a sense of connection with others; and they want shopping to be easier and more enjoyable.

A dental team can meet that mindset brilliantly, or it can fail spectacularly. A comprehensive effort includes incorporating these principles into every aspect of the experience you present to patients. Communication begins with the tone and vocabulary of your website, the messaging in your social media, the verbiage of the first phone call, and every subsequent interaction with your practice.

“Focusing on human psychology can pay dividends far beyond the return on any marketing campaign.”
“I need more control”

As soon as a patient sits in the chair, they feel vulnerable. Dental fear research has established that a loss of control is a major cause of anxiety in patients who choose to avoid treatment. Finding ways to give your patients a sense of control breaks down emotional resistance and is a critical key to building trust. Consider the following: 

Add phone scripting and website content that talks about “working together,” “partnerships for better health,” or “finding solutions that you feel good about.”  
Before treatment, simply tell patients they’re ultimately in control of their visit. “If they’d like you to stop at any time, just raise a hand and I will stop immediately.” Give control back to the patient before you lay them back in the chair.
Let new patients clearly know you’re focused on helping discover the best solution for them. Explain you’ll guide them through their options, but the choice for their care is always theirs to make. No one likes to feel like they’re being sold. If you feel like you’re pushing someone to make a decision, they feel it too.
“I need to feel valued”

Your practice has a tremendous opportunity to help patients feel recognised and valued. Spend time as a team brainstorming ways to bring this to life, and remember that little things matter. Consider:

Have fresh flowers delivered to your office on Monday, and choose a patient on the schedule to give them to on the last day of business. 
Warm towels after treatment, mini lip balms, and teddy bears for kids before a procedure are small things that send powerful messages. The sky’s the limit on the joy you can add to your patient’s lives. Have fun designing ways to create a memorable experience for your patients.
Look patients in the eye and thank them for coming in today. Ask them if there’s anything you or your team can do to improve their experience.  You’ll get great ideas while letting your patients know their opinions matter.
“I want care that’s easier and more enjoyable”

When patients walk out the door smiling, they’re far more likely to accept the treatment plan you’ve helped them develop. Removing barriers to scheduling, payment, and paperwork helps consumers with short attention spans.

Make your website ultra-friendly.

Include an online payment portal and new patient forms on your site.

Consider adding Netflix with overhead monitors.

Have your assistant take a moment to help patients choose their favourite shows.

Look at early morning, evening, and weekend appointments.

This might include adding an associate dentist or just adding a day or two every month with more flexible hours.

Invest in technology that helps patients experience the “wow” in dentistry.

Same day crowns or digital impressions make life better for you and your patients.

The trust journey

Building trust with your patient family happens incrementally through everything your practice does. Spend time as a team considering the patient’s perspective from the first time they view your website. Make small investments in efforts to help people feel special, and consider the words you use every time you interact with them. Healthcare that’s patient-centered rather than doctor-centered continues to stand out in a world full of choices. Simply treat your patients like family, and you’ll give them something to talk about!


Dr. Greg Grillo is a 1995 University of Washington School of Dentistry graduate practicing in North Central Washington.

He balances clinical practice with a role as the Content Director for Legwork, a rapidly growing dental software company.

Dr. Grillo purchased his current practice in 2001 after four years as a U.S. Navy Dental Officer and proceeded to quadruple the practice by every productive measure. He’s now the senior partner of Grillo Robeck Dental, an innovative practice blending technology with exceptional staffing to provide relationship-based healthcare.


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