2 Factors That Are Useful to Understanding and Shaping Dental Patient Behavior Around Treatment

Aug 04, 2022

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Credit Stephen Covey for those words (the fifth habit in his best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). It’s also useful to understanding and shaping dental patient behavior.

In essence, your desire for patients to accept your diagnosis and treatment requires that you first understand them.

Too simplistic?

Not if you want to tap into how your patients receive information and process it prior to making oral health decisions.

Your mission (should you choose to accept it!)

Perhaps you don’t need to be reminded that dentistry can be challenging:

  • You focus your skill and expertise in a small and sensitive area of the body.
  • Some patients are anxious or less than thrilled to be in your office.
  • You diagnose according to your professional observation and a desire to care for your patient.


  • Patients decide to accept or deny your recommended treatment.

There’s a broader perspective that helps refine your understanding about patient behavior. And it has to do with your patient’s response to the time, cost and hard-earned education and experience you’ve achieved.

The point: it’s about understanding what motivates your patients and how that knowledge can shape their treatment decisions.

Two factors that help you better understand your dental patients and their relationship to oral health

Tap into their emotions related to dental care

One of the fundamental rules of selling is:

“People buy (or use services) for emotional, not rational reasons.”

For example, informing your patient that they “need” a particular treatment might not carry as much weight as your expertise deserves. The reason is your patient is more likely to respond when they make an emotional connection to your treatment plan.

Consider that accepting treatment such as veneers has less to do with the technical or functional features of the procedure.

In this instance, case acceptance is likely driven by an emotional connection to the benefits of having veneers:

  • Confidence to smile
  • Straighter, whiter teeth

Going a bit deeper on the emotional scale…

  • Walking into their next class reunion with a new smile on their face
  • Feeling more attractive on a blind date
  • Showing confidence on an in-person or online job interview

These are emotional benefits attached to a specific treatment. To tap into these emotions, you can:

  • Listen to the clues patients give you during an appointment or treatment consultation (e.g., reunion, interview, back in the dating scene, etc.).
  • Leverage emotion (along with the oral health benefits) to help them process a treatment decision.
  • List (with your team) the emotional benefits your patients could gain from your suite of dental services. Be specific!

Enable your patients to see what you see when processing a diagnosis and treatment

This is value of digital images and/or X-rays. Remember, “hearing” helps, though “seeing is believing.”

In fact, images that support the diagnosis you’re sharing with a patient tend to communicate in a non-threatening way.

Keep in mind that a percentage of your patients are visual learners. That impacts the dominant language and techniques you can use to inform them about their dental condition.

  • Know your patient’s discovery mode (e.g., auditory/hearing, visual/seeing, tactical/hands-on, etc.).
  • Frame your conversations using their dominant “discovery style.”
  • Use analogies, illustrations, stories, etc., to help them understand a particular treatment and/or problem the treatment solves.
  • (Again) process your services with your team during a team meeting. Develop a common list of analogies you can use to compel understanding about treatment/procedures.
  • Include specific notes in your patient data relevant to analogies or emotional triggers that were effective in their case acceptance history.

Treatment decisions and case acceptance are (ultimately) up to the patient. But your understanding helps shape their decisions about their oral health.

The following resources are useful for understanding your patients and their dental health decisions:

3 Factors That Influence Case Acceptance in Your Dental Practice

How to Create a Data “Story” and Use It to Guide Patient Care and Dental Practice Growth

Leverage your dental patient data to better understand their behavior around treatment

The Jarvis Analytics platform helps assure that you’re tracking useful patient data, the important metrics and staying on track with your goals as your dental practice and/or DSO grows and expands.

Experience Jarvis in action. Request a demo today!


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