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‘I’ll Wait Until It Hurts’

When we hear patients say ‘…but it isn’t hurting’, we don’t know what to do with it other than educate and try to bring the patient in to our frame of reference. We do so in attempt to increase their ‘dental IQ’ – for if they could just understand the need for dentistry from our perspective, surely they’d follow through with treatment, right??

If you think about it, the comment ‘I wait until it breaks’ is completely illogical. It doesn’t make any sense.

See, not long ago, I noticed low tire pressure in one of my tires, so I prayed all the way to Discount Tire, hoping to arrive without incident. I made it – after evaluating the pressure issue, the salesman walked from the garage over to where I was camped out, holding his notepad. I thought to myself, ‘Oh boy – here we go!’ He reported that I had a nail in my tire, and that they would repair it for free. He also told me that for safety reasons, my car would benefit from new tires in the near future. If I were like a dental patient, I might have said, ‘I think I’ll just wait for a blowout’. See what I mean? It just doesn’t make sense. I didn’t plan on buying 4 new tires that day, but I did. And I didn’t hold it against the salesman, either.

The problem doesn’t lie with our patients’ dental IQ – the problem has to do with the way we are communicating with our patients. Interestingly enough, the objection ‘I’ll wait until it hurts’ goes away when we are operating in a completely patient-centered system.

Here’s what might be happening…

1. You have ownership, not the patient – Every time you tell your patient something, explain or educate, you are stealing another piece of ownership. Every time you tell them they ‘need’ something, you steal ownership. Every time you say ‘I think…’ or ‘We need…’, you are stealing ownership. Remember – ask, don’t tell.

2. You failed to establish their motivation – Do you even know why your patient takes time out of their day to see you? It’s not because they are ‘due’. Or because their insurance gives them two free cleanings a year. Heck – there are a lot of things I can do everyday that are free – but if it’s not important to me, I’m not going to do it. Ask your patients – ‘Why is it important for you to get your teeth cleaned?’ ‘Why do you come to see us every 6 months?’ ‘What do you hope to accomplish when you come in for a preventive visit?’ Quit making assumptions and find out their WHY – it then becomes the basis for everything you do from that point forward.

3. Focusing too much on here and now vs. future focus – are you asking ‘crisis’ questions like ‘Is anything hurting’, ‘Are you having any sensitivity’, ‘Is anything bothering you’, etc.? See, you ask pathology-based questions, and then you can’t figure out why the patient is basing decisions on whether or not they are having pain. Who the heck planted that seed?!?

Instead, try asking these types of questions –

‘How proactive would you like to be?’

‘What role does prevention play when caring for your teeth?’

‘What if we see something that isn’t necessarily symptomatic, but could potentially pose a problem – how soon would you want to do something about it?’

4. We don’t realize that the real objection has yet to be uncovered. Instead of asking further questions to discover what else is on the patients’ mind, we try to tell them what will happen to the tooth if they don’t follow through with treatment.

What if instead, you said something like…

‘If we were able to ward off any emergency or pain, while saving you some money, would that be helpful?’

‘I am so glad you’re not experiencing pain! We hate to see patients uncomfortable. It sounds like you might see a benefit in waiting until it hurts – help me understand’

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