How to Improve Dental Patient Retention for Long-Term Relationships

Aug 24, 2022

It’s common to look outside your dental practice for new patient opportunities. But insider strategies such as how to improve dental patient retention deserve your energy as well.

Dental marketing data reveals some valuable insight:

  • Patient acquisition can cost up to 25 times more than patient retention.
  • Repeated visits increase the consumer lifetime value (CLV) of a patient. If new patients are more valuable, then your marketing return on investment (ROI) increases.
  • Most people read reviews before choosing a dental practice. Positive feedback from long-term patients is most impactful because they indicate a consistently high standard of care.
  • Loyal patients speaking highly of your practice builds your professional reputation. A good reputation is valuable for your standing in the dental community, your practice branding, and even search engine optimization (SEO) for your website.” [1]

For whatever reason dental patients stick around, it makes sense to invest your energy on patient retention. It also helps to realize that you won’t retain everyone.

Why do dental patients leave?

The COVID-19 pandemic cannot be underestimated for its impact on patient care and patient retention. In this recent era, it’s useful to be aware of what dental patients are saying about why they make a change.


This business standard applies to dental practices. Around 17 percent of dental patients revealed that an “inconvenient location” was a factor in their decision to switch dentists [2].

Dentist’s chairside manner

Approximately 10 percent of dental patients surveyed said they would leave a practice if they felt criticized about their teeth or oral care [3].

Appointment timeliness

Close to 10 percent of survey respondents indicated that they would make a change because of late/delayed appointments [4].

It’s good business practice to control what you can — patient retention included.

How to improve dental patient retention

Retaining your dental patients is best approached from a holistic perspective. Patient relationships have a “lifecycle” [5] that progresses from one experience with your practice to another.

Patient retention strategies are about how you manage that “flow” [6] from appointment to appointment and/or interaction to interaction.

Let your data guide you

Your best decisions will likely revolve around data analysis. According to Spear Education [7], observing and using key metrics (below) could help drive your patient retention results.

Tuning into your dental practice data can give you invaluable insight into how or why patients stay (or go):

  • Dive deeper into your data looking for clues about patient satisfaction and/or dissatisfaction.
  • Take action on what you discover through timely follow-up, implementing new patient-facing initiatives, etc.

Leverage solutions that enhance your patient relationships

Your patients can feel like a number or an important relationship. Patient retention thrives on patients feeling connected, heard and supported.

The British Dental Journal (BDJ) conducted a revealing study in 2019 [8]. They applied the “rule of seven” marketing principle to how dentists interact with their patients.

The rule of seven states that “customers need to hear your message an average of seven times before they’re ready to buy.” [9]

The BDJ study tested the principle by comparing dental practices that communicated with patients at least seven times in 12 months with those who communicated less.

The results:

  • Dentists who used “7/12” touchpoints with patients saw an increase of nearly 87% in the number of active patients, defined as patients who kept at least one appointment in 16 months.
  • Dentists using the seven touchpoints strategy also gained 38% more new patients than those who didn’t, demonstrating its effectiveness at both patient retention and practice growth. [10]

Solutions you could leverage for patient retention based on these discoveries could include:

  • Focus your dental patient communication on building and enhancing the patient relationship (rather than making it transactional).
  • Create, publish and promote content that keeps patients informed about their oral health. Answer questions, provide solutions, be their go-to resource on dental health.

Learn from your experiences with patients and from the broader dental industry

Your ability to listen and learn is a key to mastering patient retention. Thinking you know the reasons why patients stay or go isn’t the same as verifying them from:

  • From your current patients
  • From your colleagues and industry resources

Have a consultant’s mindset about your patient relationships. And train your staff to do the same.

Always be learning about each patient’s “pulse” regarding their care, their relationship with your practice/team, and their willingness to refer you to others.

Keep an eye on trends instead of on isolated incidents around patient satisfaction and/or dissatisfaction. Again, let your data reveal what’s really going on, whether it’s trend or a one-off experience.

Dental patient retention relies (in part) on your intentional strategies. The following resources can prompt ideas — especially around your patient data:

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

How to Do Patient Acquisition to Help Assure They’ll Stick Around

Leverage your data to improve dental patient retention success

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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