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.  

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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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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Are Your Temporaries a Practice Builder or Simply Temporary? 

April 10, 2024 Gary DeWood, DDS

Gary M. DeWood, DDS, MS 

Many dentists believe that provisional restorations don’t really matter. After all, they are not really a stand-in for the final restoration. I would respectfully disagree. I am a proponent of creating functional, durable, and highly esthetic provisional restorations, every time. They have the potential to impact your dental practice a lot more than you might think. Whether you print them, form them, or free-hand them, a GREAT temporary is a great billboard for your practice. 

  1. Make the provisional as Esthetic as the final restoration.

I contend that the more your provisionals look like what you are hoping for when you seat the final restorations, the more people will talk about them, AND you. 

I was able to build a referral restorative practice by creating provisionals that made patients want to come to my practice and specialists want to send people. For much of our career, almost the entire team of the oral surgery office we worked with, and many of the team members from the other specialty practices we worked with, were our patients in Pemberville, Ohio. 

Front teeth or back teeth, when you make them look like teeth, people will like it and they will show and tell other people. “This is just the temporary?!” was not an uncommon question or exclamation from our patients.  

  1. A GREAT guide makes a GREAT provisional restoration.

Your wax-up** cast/model serves as your vision, as your preparation guide fabrication device, and as your provisional former. When the preparation is appropriately reduced for the material selected, the temporary can mimic the restoration. 

** The wax-up might be created with wax then duplicated with impression material and stone to create a cast, or it might be scanned to be duplicated with resin and printed or milled to create a model. 

  1. 3. Use that provisional to highlight the talents of your team members.

You might LOVE to make those provisionals, but if your assistant is equally excited when it comes to recreating nature for the patient to appreciate, then it could be an opportunity for patients to see that your assistant does much more than set-up, clean up, and hand you an instrument. My dental partner, Cheryl, (who is also my wife) and I actively sought out things that could help our patients experience our team as much more than our helpers. 

As we all know, dental assistants are an integral and vital part of what the practice is and are a powerful force in how and why patients ask for dentistry. Assistants who fabricate provisionals have an opportunity to be seen differently, and we were always looking for ways to create partnership with them in our treatment. 

  1. 4. Take pictures of them.

Photographs of the temporary will make it easier for the lab to design the outcome. They will be able to see what you are thinking, able to visualize what you want, AND maybe even more importantly, see what you do not want. With anterior provisionals, I have frequently noted to my ceramist, “Please put the incisal edge in exactly this position vertically and horizontally in the face, then use your artistry to create the tooth that belongs in the face you see in the photographs of the patient before, prepared, and temporized.” 

There were many times when the technician was able to see and create effects that I might have not recognized as being “just the thing that would make these teeth extraordinary.” And don’t forget to show the patient the photograph. 

  1. 5. Love the material you make the temporary with.

The better the provisional material is at holding tooth position and functional contact, the less adjustment we’re going to have, so using a high-quality material is important. There are a lot of them out there. I like bis-acryl materials that polymerize with a hard surface, have little or no oxygen inhibited layer, and can be polished easily. The polish is more about feeling smooth than about the shine. Ask you patients how their provisional tooth “feels” when you are done, so they sing your praises. 

  1. 6. Use high-quality core material.

When you use a good core material the prep will be smoother, making it easier to fabricate nice provisionals. Ideal prep form goes a long way toward better provisionals. 

  1. ASK your patient to tell people.

As noted above, when you can elicit an emotional response about the awesomeness of your provisional, ask the patient to tell other people, “….and this is just the TEMPORARY!” 

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…

Learn More>

About Author

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Gary DeWood, DDS

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