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Why Your Dental Patients Need You to Speak with Authority

Why Your Dental Patients Need You to Speak with Authority
Jeff Anzalone

We’ve all been there before. You walk into an examining bay and meet the patient in the chair. He hasn’t seen a dentist in years. His teeth and gums are a wreck. The state of his mouth is impacting his ability to speak, to eat, and to socialize. His entire body is suffering because of periodontal damage. Surely he realizes that he’s going to need extensive therapy to restore function!


Except, when you start talking to him, he stops listening. You recommend a treatment plan and are prepared to schedule his first appointment. He wants time to think about it. He leaves the office, and you never hear from him again. His quality of life, his health, and his relationships may be in jeopardy. You could have helped him, but you couldn’t get him to accept treatment.

When I started my periodontal practice, I had this problem too. But over the years I came to realize one reason why patients refuse necessary treatment. Patients want to trust you. They want to believe that you have the expertise and skill to solve their dental problems. To earn that trust, you need to be able to speak to them with authority.


When Your Degree isn’t Enough

At some level, most dental professionals, from hygienists to oral surgeons, understand the value of authority. After all, there’s a reason we all have our diplomas displayed on our walls. This subtle signal lets our patients know that we’re experts in our fields.  However, when a patient is faced with a frightening, high-level decision about treatment, a piece of paper in a frame isn’t enough reassurance.


Your patient needs to know that you have the deep understanding of his problems, that you have the expertise to help him, and that you have his best interests at heart. In these situations, a degree can provide only a tiny fraction of the authority you need to calm fears and start treatment. You need something more to get patients to accept treatment.

A Path to More Authority

A piece of paper from a decent school isn’t enough to demonstrate authority. You also need:

– An Outgoing and Likeable Persona. If people like you, they’re more likely to trust your clinical recommendations. Physicians recognize this. That’s why medical schools talk so much about bedside manner. It applies to our field as well. If your patients see you as a friend, they’ll be more likely to take your advice. If you come across as an antagonist, they’re more likely to reject the treatments they need.

– An Honest and Direct Approach. A diagnostic exam is no time for subtly. Explain your patient’s diagnosis and treatment options clearly and concisely. Doctors who talk in circles seem less trustworthy. They lose authority because the patients suspect they’re incompetent.

– A Sense of Selflessness. Your patients need to know that you have their best interests at heart. You want to see them healthy. You work hard, develop your skills, and pay attention to detail because you care about your patients and their oral health.

– It’s not enough to know a lot about your field. You also have to love your field. People who hate their jobs and find their patients boring don’t project authority. A good dental specialist can get excited about diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

– Outside Confirmation of Your Authority. This is where degrees are good. But everyone, from the hair dresser to the brain surgeon, has a degree on his wall these days. To truly project authority, it helps if other people recognize you as an authority. This can come from patient testimonials, referrals from other dentists, talks at professional meetings, or appearances in local media. The key is to have a fairly objective source treating you as an authority in your field.

If you look at these characteristics, you’ll see that authority is grounded in a relationship with your patients. This presents a problem. If the only contact a patient has with you is at his first consultation, you don’t have time to build the sort of relationship that gives authority. When I first started in private practice, I frequently ran into this problem. Only about 47% of my patients accepted treatment. However, once I started working to promote my authority before our first meeting, 83% of my patients accepted treatment.


By sending patients a pre-consultation packet of articles, a book, videos and podcast, I start a relationship with them before I ever meet them. When those patients walk into my office, they already know and like me. They already trust my judgement and want to hear what I have to say about treatment. I don’t have to waste valuable appointment time convincing them to trust me, because I’ve already earned their trust.


You may choose to earn trust through your website, your appearances in local media, or through a prominent role in your community. I offer personalized coaching to those who want to establish this kind of authority, contact me and I can find at least $10,000 in your practice you didn’t even know was there.

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