Ask Questions About How Your Patient Feels 

May 13, 2024 Paul Henny DDS

Paul Henny DDS

I wrote about this topic last October in The Never-Ending Interview and wanted to revisit it to connect the timeless teachings with my most recent thoughts. Bear with me as I recount some of the history from that previous article. 

Dr. F. Harold Wirth had a very successful restorative practice in downtown New Orleans but he always felt that something was missing until he met Dr. L.D. Pankey and was influenced by his teachings. Dr. Wirth became a missionary for Dr. Pankey’s philosophy of dentistry and life, and he gave Dr. Pankey most of the credit for developing a deeper understanding of people, both physically and emotionally.  

One of Dr. Wirth’s key messages from the podium was that dentists are always presenting the case, even from the beginning of their first encounter with the patient. Another key message was that the patient’s feelings matter in accepting care and the patient interview should be forever ongoing. 

He said, “Every time the patient comes in, you’re doing a presentation. As a matter of fact, I think the interview is forever ongoing. It might only be one word, but every time the patient comes into your office, you should be interviewing them.” 

He said, “Ask questions that have to do with how the person feels. A case history is exploring what happened. An interview is about how they feel! You need to understand the difference!” 

We might ask, “Since I last saw you, have you noticed any changes in your oral health? How do you feel about these changes?” We might ask, “How do you feel about the appearance of your teeth?” or “How do you feel about the restorations we did?” We might ask, “At your last visit, you talked about the possibility of doing ortho; how do you feel about that now?” We might ask, “You mentioned last visit that you weren’t looking forward to Thanksgiving because it was difficult to eat all your favorite foods. Would you feel good about revisiting the possibility of replacing your denture with something more stable?”  

Do you feel better after a long conversation with someone who knows you well on the emotional level? I know I do. Over time, those kinds of conversations cause us to feel more positive and hopeful. They occur when a person gifts us their full attention while making no attempt to judge. And because we experience no judgment, we share more feelings, which leads us into an even deeper level of self-understanding. 

Doctor-patient conversations that tap into how a patient is feeling on an emotional level enable patients to grow in trust and to become more open to the possibilities we offer.  

In her recent blog series, Mary Osborne has encouraged us to journey toward health with our patients as fellow travelers because we all have health issues we hope to resolve. We can make connections over shared feelings and hopes. These connections bond us so we can pursue a mutual, positive goal with our patient.  

What I love and sticks with me from Mary’s blog is that the medical health review during each preclinical interview is an ideal time to check-in about feelings regarding health in general. So, if you and your team are not doing that now, you might want to add a question about the patient’s feelings about their current health. It’s ideal if the doctor or hygienist  asks the question. It may be as simple as “How do you feel about your overall health?” Wait for the patient to think and speak.  

One of my favorite quotes is this: 

Any kind of gesture that pulls another living soul out of despair is indistinguishable from magic. – Michael Xavier, Author 

The medical history review is a prime opportunity to demonstrate we care. Expanding our preclinical interview to routinely ask one or more questions that surface feelings related to health will give us opportunities to touch hearts on a deeper level. This will engender greater trust so patients more readily accept us as partners in their health.  

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Mastering Treatment Planning

DATE: October 2 2025 @ 8:00 am - October 4 2025 @ 1:30 pm

Location: The Pankey Institute

CE HOURS: 25.5

Tuition: $ 4795

Single Occupancy with Ensuite Private Bath (per night): $ 345

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Paul Henny DDS

Dr. Paul Henny maintains an esthetically-focused restorative practice in Roanoke, Virginia. Additionally, he has been a national speaker in dentistry, a visiting faculty member of the Pankey Institute, and visiting lecturer at the Jefferson College or Health Sciences. Dr. Henny has been a member of the Roanoke Valley Dental Society, The Academy of General Dentistry, The American College of Oral Implantology, The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and is a Fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantology. He is Past President and co-founder of the Robert F. Barkley Dental Study Club.

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Partnering in Health Part 2: There Is No Suffering We Cannot Care About  

May 6, 2024 Mary Osborne RDH

By Mary Osborne, RDH  

Think for a moment: Is there a change you think you could make in your life that would contribute positively to your health? Is there anything you could be doing—or not doing—that could improve your overall health and wellbeing? Most of us can think of something we could do, or do more consistently, to improve our health. Next, ask yourself if the reason you have not made the change you need to make is because you do not have enough information. Our clinical training taught us that if we give people the right information they will change their behaviors. It’s easy to get disappointed in ourselves and our patients when that turns out to not always be true.   

Reflecting on our own past and current health challenges is a way to remind ourselves that health is a journey, not just a set of strategies. What makes perfect sense to us now, may not have been relevant 20 years ago. Often we have heard the relevant information before but were slow to act on it. We may have conflicting priorities, such as time, or money. We may have had fears or doubts. When we can look at our own journey with understanding and compassion we are better able to see our patients that way.   

I remember a patient who came to us with a lot of dentistry that needed to be done. As we talked with her about recommendations for treatment, her eyes welled up with tears. “It’s nothing,” she said when I asked her what the tears were about. Eventually she shared with us that she and her family had been saving up to build a deck on their house. Doing the dentistry she knew she needed would mean they could not build the deck. There was a time when I might have thought, “What’s more important, a deck or your dental health?!?” But I was moved by her struggle. I can’t judge what a deck may mean to her and her family, but I can relate to her sadness in letting go of something they had been saving toward.   

As you advise patients, it’s helpful to share that are you on a path to better health yourself, and that it is not always easy. In this way we can step outside of the role of “expert” and come to our conversations as fellow travelers. And when we do come as fellow travelers, we bring our empathy, our humanity, and we allow ourselves to feel compassion. We are likeable.  

One of my favorite books is Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal. She quotes the psychologist Carl Rogers, who said:  

Before every session, I take a moment to remember my humanity. There is no experience that this man has that I cannot share with him, no fear that I cannot understand, no suffering that I cannot care about, because I too am human. No matter how deep his wound, he does not need to be ashamed in front of me. I too am vulnerable. And because of this, I am enough. Whatever his story, he no longer needs to be alone with it. This is what will allow his healing to begin. 

Because we are on a journey of becoming healthier just like everyone else, we can sit side by side with a patient. We can say, “I get it. It’s not always easy.” We can allow ourselves to feel compassion—that urge to genuinely help someone, and gently invite them to understand they are no longer alone.

Related Course

Mastering Treatment Planning

DATE: October 2 2025 @ 8:00 am - October 4 2025 @ 1:30 pm

Location: The Pankey Institute

CE HOURS: 25.5

Tuition: $ 4795

Single Occupancy with Ensuite Private Bath (per night): $ 345

 MASTERING TREATMENT PLANNING Course Description In our discussions with participants in both the Essentials and Mastery level courses, we continue to hear the desire to help establish better systems for…

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Mary Osborne RDH

Mary is known internationally as a writer and speaker on patient care and communication. Her writing has been acclaimed in respected print and online publications. She is widely known at dental meetings in the U.S., Canada, and Europe as a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. Her passion for dentistry inspires individuals and groups to bring the best of themselves to their work, and to fully embrace the difference they make in the lives of those they serve.

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“Provisional” Versus “Temporary” 

April 12, 2024 Kelley Brummett DMD

Kelley Brummett, DMD 

After you do a crown preparation, do you tell your patients that you’re going to make them a temporary or a provisional?  

Provisionals are more than temporary restorations. They are part of a process. They’re the dress rehearsal to the final outcome. They are the prototypes for the final restorations.  

The “provisional” process is an opportunity to gain trust with the patient while modifying the length of teeth, the shape, or the color. It is also a way to communicate with the patient how their functional and parafunctional findings may have contributed to the destruction of their teeth. 

As the patient comes back to have their bite checked and to talk about what they like and don’t like, we are building trust. We’re involving them in understanding what they feel and think. We’re listening to improve their conditions. 

I’ve had patients who were fearful about moving forward with extensive treatment because they couldn’t envision the transition from the prep appointment to the final. What would those temporaries look like? What would they feel like? How would they function?  

So, when I am discussing a case with a patient, provisionals are all part of one treatment fee. We talk about the prep process, the provisional process, the lab process, and the final seating process—all as one process for which there is a fee. We discuss how the provisionals will guide us in optimizing the lab plan to achieve the desired comfort, function, and aesthetics.  

Whether it’s a single tooth or whether it’s multiple, I encourage you to help the patient understand that what you are providing in the interim between a preparation and a seat of a restoration is called a “provisional.” 

A provisional protects the underlying tooth structure. It keeps tissue in place. It helps the patient feel confident. It allows us to understand what might be going on functionally. It helps us communicate better with the lab. It’s more than a temporary restoration. It’s a guide on our journey toward predictable and appreciated relationship-based dentistry. 

Related Course

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DATE: October 2 2025 @ 8:00 am - October 4 2025 @ 1:30 pm

Location: The Pankey Institute

CE HOURS: 25.5

Tuition: $ 4795

Single Occupancy with Ensuite Private Bath (per night): $ 345

 MASTERING TREATMENT PLANNING Course Description In our discussions with participants in both the Essentials and Mastery level courses, we continue to hear the desire to help establish better systems for…

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Kelley Brummett DMD

Dr. Kelley D. Brummett was born and raised in Missouri. She attended the University of Kansas on a full-ride scholarship in springboard diving and received honors for being the Big Eight Diving Champion on the 1 meter springboard in 1988 and in 1992. Dr. Kelley received her BA in communication at the University of Kansas and went on to receive her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. After practicing nursing, Dr Kelley Brummett went on to earn a degree in Dentistry at the Medical College of Georgia. She has continued her education at the Pankey Institute to further her love of learning and her pursuit to provide quality individual care. Dr. Brummett is a Clinical Instructor at Georgia Regents University and is a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Dr. Brummett and her husband Darin have two children, Sarah and Sam. They have made Newnan their home for the past 9 years. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, reading and playing with her dogs. Dr. Brummett is an active member of the ADA, GDA, AGDA, and an alumni of the Pankey Institute.

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Trust Is Essential to Helping Our Patients 

April 3, 2024 Paul Henny DDS

Paul H. Henny, DDS 

Trust is commonly thought of as a firm belief in the reliability, truthfulness, and capability of another. But trust is about vulnerability . 

The more a person trusts, the more they are willing to allow themselves to be potentially hurt. They make a risks-benefit analysis, and when they feel they are ready, they decide to throw the dice.  

Conversely, when a person isn’t willing to trust, they have strategically chosen to minimize their vulnerability.  

Think about the times when you were personally unwilling to let someone into your life—when you were feeling too vulnerable. 

It’s easy for us to project our values without sensitivity to others’ often hidden concerns. When a patient says no to x-rays, to allowing us to proceed with a proper restoration, or other appropriate procedures, they don’t trust us enough right now. And when that occurs, it’s easy for us to instinctively respond by projecting our values onto the situation.  

A better strategy is to empathetically explore why a person responded to the situation the way they did—try to understand the situation from their perspective, and then focus on finding common ground in shared goals and values. Hopefully, with the right questions and empathy, we can build a bridge of trust and help our patients cross over to a place of more information on which to make the appropriate decisions for themselves. 

“No” often means “not yet,” as in “You haven’t convinced me yet that I should allow myself to be that vulnerable around you.” 

Co-Discovery requires a leap of faith on our part—a belief that most people will eventually do the right things for themselves. If we are unable to trust our patients on that level, then we’re going to struggle emotionally, demonstrate frustration, and to some extent inadvertently manipulate patients into doing what we want them to, a behavior that drives emotionally sensitive patients away. 

We need to trust our patients will make the leap as well. We need to willingly take the time and energy to continue in and trust the Co-Discovery process during which the patient starts to believe that we are the best resource to help resolve their problems and achieve their goals. When we allow our patients the time to make decisions based on what they think is in their best interest, they usually make healthy choices and appreciate the services we provide. This is how we succeed in helping them (and us) have a healthier, happier life. 

For an in-depth look at Co-Discovery and multiple essays on patient-centered dentistry, you are invited to read my recently published book: CoDiscovery: Exploring the Legacy of Robert F. Barkley, DDS, available at The Pankey Institute and on Amazon. 

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DATE: March 6 2025 @ 8:00 am - March 8 2025 @ 2:00 pm

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Paul Henny DDS

Dr. Paul Henny maintains an esthetically-focused restorative practice in Roanoke, Virginia. Additionally, he has been a national speaker in dentistry, a visiting faculty member of the Pankey Institute, and visiting lecturer at the Jefferson College or Health Sciences. Dr. Henny has been a member of the Roanoke Valley Dental Society, The Academy of General Dentistry, The American College of Oral Implantology, The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and is a Fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantology. He is Past President and co-founder of the Robert F. Barkley Dental Study Club.

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Do You Know Your Team’s Threshold?

February 23, 2024 Robyn Reis

Do You Know Your Team’s Threshold? 

Robyn Reis, Dental Practice Coach 

While visiting a dental practice that had amazing hospitality and incredible relationships with its patients, I observed a doctor’s presentation to a patient who was in his forties and who had been saving for a smile makeover for a long time. The doctor did an amazing job with his presentation of what was possible and the phases of treatment. The patient was very excited, even teary-eyed.  

The patient wanted to get started and asked about the cost. The doctor said, “You know what? My team at the front are experts in figuring that out.” So, the patient was taken to the front and handed over beautifully. In a few minutes, he was presented with the treatment plan on paper with the approximate dollar amounts. In phases, they would do the full mouth. All seemed to be going well until it wasn’t. 

Intrinsically, everyone has a monetary threshold that up to a certain point, you have no problem with the amount. It’s something within your range of expectations and easy to say yes. When you cross that threshold, anxiety may creep in and for sure, you become uncomfortable.  This is what I witnessed in a matter of moments. 

I observed the front office team member look uncomfortable after glancing at the paperwork, despite being experienced with treatment presentations. The clinical assistant who had been part of the diagnosis and treatment planning process, would also help with scheduling and any questions. 

Together, they gave the patient the opportunity to ask questions after reviewing the plan again. The full mouth restoration was going to be in the neighborhood of $25,000. The first phase would be about $18,000. They offered CareCredit financing. The patient said, “It’s only $25,000 and I have $20,000 saved. This is wonderful! I don’t know how I will pay the other $5,000, but I know I have the means. It’s only $25,000.”  

The team appeared somewhat shocked because they were obviously uncomfortable with quoting that amount. This treatment plan crossed their personal thresholds. They suggested the patient go home and sleep on it “because this was a big investment.” The patient was so committed to moving forward that, despite their advice, he scheduled his first appointment. He would call them back once he figured out how to pay the remaining balance, knowing insurance would contribute very little. 

What I also found interesting was that neither team member asked for a deposit. No money was exchanged to reserve an extended appointment. The patient could back out and the doctor’s time spent on the case work-up would be uncompensated. In my experience, making a signed financial agreement would be the responsible step to take at this stage.  

This example illustrates the discomfort many dental teams feel about asking for a deposit if the treatment estimate crosses their personal threshold. Of course, dental teams will want to explain what can be done to make treatment more affordable and the financing options that are available. But it is beneficial for team members to understand their personal threshold and to become comfortable saying, “Grab your checkbook or pull out your credit card, Mr. Jones. Here’s what your investment is going to be to get started.”  

What’s your threshold? This is a great team exercise you can do at your next meeting because a patient might ask anyone they interact with about the cost of dentistry, and what options you offer for the dentistry they want.  Every team member will benefit from considering their personal threshold and discussing it — even role-playing — to become comfortable with the best ways to manage these questions. Depending on the situation, it could be referring the patient to the treatment coordinator or to the financial administrator to have a comfortable conversation. 

It is my belief that when patients are excited about what the treatment results will be and they want to move forward, it’s the right time to ask the patient to make a financial commitment to get the process started. 

Related Course

Mastering Treatment Planning

DATE: October 2 2025 @ 8:00 am - October 4 2025 @ 1:30 pm

Location: The Pankey Institute

CE HOURS: 25.5

Tuition: $ 4795

Single Occupancy with Ensuite Private Bath (per night): $ 345

 MASTERING TREATMENT PLANNING Course Description In our discussions with participants in both the Essentials and Mastery level courses, we continue to hear the desire to help establish better systems for…

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Robyn Reis

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