Leading Patients with Simple Questions 

May 17, 2024 David Rice DDS

By David R. Rice, DDS 

I travel a lot for speaking engagements and often ride to and from the airport using Uber. As I make small talk with the drivers, inevitably they ask what I do for a living. One day, as I shared that I was a dentist, the driver said, “I’m finally straightening my teeth with those aligners.”  

I thought, “Okay, he’s either seeing a dentist or he’s doing this thing on his own.” Either assumption would’ve potentially painted me into a corner, so instead of assuming, I asked a simple, yet leading question: “Good for you. Is your dentist happy with the progress?” 

Leading questions like that help us walk a patient down the path we want. His response was, “Wait a second, this should be done with a dentist?” 

With one question, I got to the heart of the matter. From there, I responded and asked a series of simple (and again leading) questions: “Yes, seeing a dentist helps to know if you are a good candidate to move your teeth at all. How is the health of your mouth? Are your gums healthy? Do you have any cavities?” 

Now he was thinking, “Wow, not only should I be going to the dentist but there are things that could go wrong.” 

I asked him one more simple set of questions: “Would you like to know basic things that could go wrong? Or would you like to know what might really go wrong and harm you?” He, of course, wanted to know what could harm him. 

Simple, leading questions get to the point. So, when restoring a patient, I think about the simplest questions to ask to understand what the patient understands, what the patient really wants, and why. In short, I want to know what matters most to them and connect that to the dentistry I know they need. As an example, I might ask, “Do you want to replicate mother nature when we restore that tooth, or do you want to improve upon mother nature? Would you like to discuss preventing future problems that will save you time and money or just focus on today’s problems? 

These leading, simple questions prompt a response that enables me to determine if the patient wants just a slice of pizza—say a crown, the patient wants the whole pie—an optimal smile, or the patient wants something in between. Based on that input, I know how to best have a great conversation with the patient—a conversation the patient will appreciate and through which I can earn more trust.  

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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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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.

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

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CE HOURS: 25.5

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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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Partnering in Health Part 1: The Missing Piece 

May 1, 2024 Mary Osborne RDH

By Mary Osborne, RDH 

There was a time when I thought “partnering in health” was just about getting people to take better care of their teeth. 

Many years ago, I had a patient who was excellent with her home care, but she showed up periodically with an acute periodontal infection. We asked about stress and her overall health, but she was not aware of any issues. We would treat the infection and she would be fine for a sometime. We knew she worked for National Public Radio, and one day we made the connection that her infections showed up concurrent with NPR’s fund-raising drives. That shared realization allowed us to help her see that her stress was affecting her dental health and her overall health. She was open to conversations about lifestyle changes that would help her be healthier. My relationship with her influenced my thinking and my ability to connect with my patients from a perspective of Whole-health Dentistry. I came to understand that I had been missing opportunities to influence the way people think and feel about health. I knew that I wanted my patients to see me as “a partner in health.” 

Unfortunately, most of our patients come to us with the perspective that we are fixers of teeth, not partners in health. 

In the culture today people are bombarded with information about what is healthy. From friends and families, social and news media, and a wide variety of health care practitioners, everybody expresses opinions on how they are supposed to take care of themselves. Why, then, are we surprised when our patients don’t know whom to trust? Why are we surprised when they shrug their shoulders or appear confused? It’s not always a case of conflicting facts but a case of various perspectives that people don’t know how to navigate. 

Think about where you place your trust. How do you decide whom to trust about decisions—whether it’s about your health, or about your finances, or about how you raise your children? When I ask myself that question, two criteria surface. They need to know their subject and to know me. I want that person to know what it is they’re talking about. I want them to be well informed. I also want someone who knows me, who understands my values. I want that person to have a sense of who I am and what is important to me. 

As we get to know our patients over the years, most of them come to see us as trusted advisors when it comes to their dental health—but fewer see us as trusted advisors when it comes to their general health. If we jump too quickly to making recommendations about their overall health, we are more likely to meet resistance. If we want to cross the bridge into influencing our patients’ overall health and wellbeing, I believe we need an invitation to cross that bridge.   

The Missing Piece in our quest to influence the overall health of our patients is the failure to invite patients to share their perspectives on health. Beginning a conversation with a new patient with the question, “What can you tell me about your health in general?” is an invitation for them to talk about their experience of their health, not just details. Instead of “reviewing” health histories, what if we “explore” health histories? As we connect and get to know each other we can learn to listen beyond information to hear attitudes, beliefs, fears, biases, concerns, barriers, etc. As you understand their perspectives on health issues that come up in conversation, it’s easy to ask if they would like your perspective on that issue. These conversations often lead to more questions and answers that invite more and more invitations from our patients to be their partner in health. 

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

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CE HOURS: 16

Dentist Tuition: $ 2795

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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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Stories About Stories 

April 22, 2024 J. Michael Rogers, DDS

By Michael (Mike) Rogers, DDS

Close to my office there is a small strip center that includes a realty group and a small church. At one end, there is no sign to show what it is, but it has a drive-through window. Every day there is a significant line of cars going up to that window. Cars line up waiting their turn, and the line is so long the cars snake through the parking lot, out into the street, with hazard lights flashing. 

I have a friend who loves to create stories about what is going on in strangers’ lives. Why is someone driving so fast? What meal are they going to create with food in a shopping cart? Why are two people arguing?  

Fantasized from some level of observation, my friend has captured what this drive-through is all about. He believes that because the drive-through is adjacent to a church, you can pull up to the window and are given a donut along with a prayer. It’s a small ministry for people to have a better day. That’s not a bad narrative but no real basis for the story. I say that as the line of cars grows longer, the prayers gain power. I get a warm feeling of their impact on others. 

I find we make up stories in my office as well. We make them up about why someone didn’t show up for an appointment, why someone didn’t move forward in care that has been advised, or why someone won’t pay a balance. Our tales are based on some level of observation, but they are tales none the less. 

I try to remember to look at these moments in three ways. 

  • What do I know? 
  • What do I think I know? 
  • What do I want to know? 

We practice this in our office. I encourage my team to not live in “what I think I know.” This state of mind too often leads to creating stories that reflect a judgement. If I hear a team member begin to create a narrative based on a circumstance with the phrase “I think…,” I try to politely make them aware of what they are doing. They most certainly recognize when I do it and politely let me know. I just grin to hide my disappointment in myself. Maybe someday, I’ll say, “thank you.” 

In relationship-based practices, we have such marvelous opportunities to help people be healthier. Asking questions about what we’d like to know and sometimes creating self-discovery for the patient as well. We often get repeated moments to connect and learn with each other. The need to make up stories is dissolved when we get to hear their story. Sometimes that story is fun, other times hard. We get to walk along that story with them. What a gift to live a life in that connection! 

Recently, a member of the realty group on one end of the strip center came in to see me. I couldn’t resist asking what the line of cars is about. It turns out it is an Ignition Interlock site for people that have had a recent DUI. You go up to the window for your installation time of the small handheld breathalyzer to prevent your car from starting after drinking alcohol. 

I haven’t shared that with my friend. I like his story better. 

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J. Michael Rogers, DDS

Dr. Mike Rogers is a graduate of Baylor College of Dentistry. He has spent the last 27 years developing his abilities to restore patients to the dental health they desire. That development includes continuing education exceeding 100+ hours a year, training through The Pankey Institute curriculum and one-on-one training with many of dentistry’s leaders. Dr. Rogers has served as an Assistant Clinical Professor in Restorative Sciences at Baylor College of Dentistry, received a Fellowship in the Academy of General Dentistry and currently serves as Visiting Faculty at The Pankey Institute. He has been practicing for 27 years in Arlington, Texas.

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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. 

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

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CE HOURS: 25.5

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

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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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CE HOURS: 16

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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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The Never-Ending Patient Interview

October 11, 2023 Paul Henny DDS

In the year 1958, Dr. L. D. Pankey asked one of his most devout students to join him and teach the Pankey philosophy about dentistry and life to dentists around the world. And that’s precisely what they did. F. Harold Wirth, DDS, was one of the most dynamic speakers in all of dentistry. He rivaled Drs. L. D. Pankey and Bob Barkley in his ability to engage an audience and make his points clear using real (often funny) stories from his practice and life experiences.

Harold understood people on a very deep level—physically and emotionally. For this, he gave Dr. Pankey most of the credit. He had a very successful restorative practice in downtown New Orleans prior to meeting Dr. Pankey, but always felt that something was missing. L.D. Pankey showed him what that was, which turned Harold Wirth into a missionary for whole-person dentistry from that point forward:

“Give the case presentation to the person who makes the decisions,” Dr. Wirth said. “If I ever get to the point where I’m explaining what I’d like to do…If I’m not already about 90% into gaining their agreement, then I have messed up! Because I should have already won them over with the interview, the aura of my office, the literature that I’ve given them to read, and whatever else I’ve done before that time.”

Dr. Wirth said, “The case is constantly being presented: 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. Are you comfortable? Does your bite feel good? Are your teeth sensitive?”

These are questions that have to do with how the person FEELS. A case history is exploring what happened, but an interview is about how they feel! You need to understand the difference! How do you feel about your restorations? Are you comfortable? Are you satisfied with the appearance of your smile? Can you chew everything you want to chew?

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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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Understanding Smiles Part 1

August 21, 2023 Bradley Portenoy, DDS
Smile behavior is influenced by the individual’s feelings about their smile.

Smiles are an integral part of human communication. They make us appear more attractive, approachable, happy, agreeable, and attentive. Studies have shown that people who are happy with their smiles are more confident, have a greater sense of well-being, and this is also reflected in their behavior. In one study, subjects were shown photos of people with nice smiles. The subjects deemed these people as being more socially competent, with greater intellectual achievement and better psychological adjustment. These smiles are contagious and It’s easy to reciprocate when someone gives you that “genuine smile.” We’ve all seen this smile, but what makes it genuine?

There are a variety of smiles that reflect a wide array of emotions. From flirtatious to embarrassed, our smiles reflect our mood and communicate our thoughts. Or do they? When people are unhappy with the appearance of their smile they present a variety of guarding. There’s upper lip guarding, lower lip guarding, both lips guarding, covering one’s mouth with a hand, and of course close lip grins.

As dentists, we must be able to spend time with our patients, to see those smiles, and to delve into why a patient may be guarding. In a sense, we must become esthetic psychologists. It is not an overstatement to say that as dentists, we don’t just change teeth; we can change lives. We can shape how others see our patients. If a patient cannot give a genuine unencumbered smile, perhaps, they’ll miss an employment opportunity or meeting that special someone. Perhaps they’ll be seen by others as unfriendly or unapproachable.

So, is there a “genuine smile” that can be quantified? In the 1800s, a French anatomist by the name of Guillaume Duchenne sought to answer that question. Duchenne, through stimulating facial muscles, found that the most genuine, sincere smile occurred when 3 muscle groups fired: the orbicularis oris and zygomaticus major in the mouth and the orbicularis oculi of the eye forming crows’ feet.

Most consider the resulting Duchenne smile to be the genuine smile that is spontaneous and sincere. Studies have shown that this type of smile can elevate mood, change body stress response, and is responsible for the release of endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. In all, the Duchenne smile is the Holy Grail. It is certainly about the smile but a major component is the formation of crows’ feet around the eyes. Just think of the song When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. The Duchenne smile in all its splendor is sure to steal your heart away. My point is that we need to remember that the Duchenne smile is about the mouth AND the eyes; these elements are interconnected.

What we’ll need to evaluate as Dentists is whether Botox injections and plastic surgery affect the Duchenne smile. Certainly, in the case of the Botox smile, the answer is yes since the elevator muscles of the mouth are injected thus altering the Duchenne muscle contractions. Obviously, it is vital then to take a good health history and determine whether a patient is smile guarding or simply cannot fire the muscles that make up the Duchenne smile.

In making dental changes, we change lives. We shape how others see our patients and how they see themselves. This is priceless work. It is worthy work. But until a patient desires the best results that today’s dentistry can achieve and trusts us to execute the technical aspects of their new smile, we are in listening, understanding, and guidance mode. We are leading them forward with primary, essential care and taking them on a long journey to achieve what is possible. With each new dental restoration, they may smile more broadly and lift their head higher. They will feel the release of endorphins and serotonins. They will experience the positivity of greater self-confidence.

Artful comprehensive dentists are like behavioral psychologists who have the sincere intention of doing their utmost for the benefit of their patients.

You know what greater smile benefits are possible if the patient understands and wants to continue with aesthetic treatment. Patience is a virtue. So, spark the curiosity of your patients and lead gently but with confidence. Never forget that a patient who is concerned about the cost of elective treatment today will be thanking you profusely two to three years from now and saying the decision to move forward with a comprehensive smile makeover was one of the best decisions of their life.

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Bradley Portenoy, DDS

Dr. Bradley Portenoy earned his Doctorate of Dental Surgery with Thesis Honors in Behavioral Science from SUNY at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine in 1985. Dr. Portenoy practices comprehensive relationship-based family dentistry in Rockville Centre, NY. He was one of the first dentists to complete the Pankey Scholar program at The Pankey Institute (2002) and has been on the Visiting Faculty of the Institute since 2005. Currently, he also serves on the advisory board of the L.D. Pankey Dental Foundation, Inc.

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The Art of Influencing Our Patients Part 2: An Opportunity to Develop Patient Understanding & Confidence

June 16, 2023 Mary Osborne RDH

In dentistry, we’re clear about the connections among the teeth, the muscles, the bone, and the joints—and how all these pieces are related to esthetics. We understand how those pieces fit together. Unfortunately, most patients don’t come to us with that understanding.

Dr. Bob Barkley used to talk about patients not understanding “the web”—the connection of how all the pieces come together.

Just as with a delicate spider web, if you touch any one aspect of it, you change everything. Bob Barkley would say to his patients, “I know you are concerned about that one tooth. That’s your job to be concerned about that one tooth. My job is figure out and to help you understand how what’s happening with that one tooth is related to everything else that is going on in your mouth.”

The exam is a process by which we can do exactly that. We can help our patients understand the connections in their mouths. The exam is also an opportunity to encourage our patients to have confidence in us. Confidence building starts with the new patient exam and continues in subsequent interactions. The more thorough the examination we do, the more in touch we are with what is really happening in our patients’ mouths and the more confident patients will feel about our ability to help them.

Our thoroughness and knowledge aren’t the only aspects of the exam that develop patients’ confidence in us. The gentler we are in our touch and the more careful to include the patient or others in the room during exams are important. These aspects of the exam communicate our character and the way we tend to approach our work. Patients anticipate our care and approach will be similarly open and comfortable during future consultations and procedures.

People don’t take risks when they don’t feel confident. Unfortunately, many patients do not have confidence in making decisions for themselves when they sit in a dental chair. They think of significant dentistry as a risk. For best long-term results and positive relationships, we always want the patient to feel as strong and confident about their choices as they can.

Repeated comfortable interactions are needed for them to develop their confidence. Every time we find something good in their mouth, every time we point out health such as healthy gum tissue or a beautiful restoration, and areas not needing restoration, we are reinforcing healthy choices they made in the past. This can be a confidence booster to help them move forward in making next choices.

The examination process is an opportunity for the clinician to:

  • Understand what the patient is experiencing emotionally and physically,
  • Provide sensory learning experiences (see Art of the Examination: Part 1),
  • Help the patient draw connections for deeper understanding of their health
  • Explore options for what the patient might choose to do.

The examination is an opportunity for the patient to develop understanding of:

  • The clinician’s ability to help them.
  • The current condition of their teeth and other oral structures.
  • The impact on them of what they are learning.
  • The choices they can make to improve their health.

Every examination is a next opportunity to develop our patients’ confidence in us and in their ability to make healthy choices for themselves.

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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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Your Patients Want to Know You Are Thinking of Them During the Holidays

November 16, 2021 Deborah Bush, MA

When leaves are turning red and yellow and grasses are turning shades of pink and brown, most of us start anticipating the coming holidays. It’s a season to list everything we still want to accomplish by the end of the year…and it’s also a time to think more about others.

Not everyone experiences happiness during the holidays.

It would be wonderful and remarkable if every patient in your dental practice has fond memories of the holidays and has family and friends with whom they celebrate. But proactively working year around to know your patients has provided you with glimpses into what your patients really might be feeling.

Getting to know each patient has revealed recent losses…a spouse, parent, son, or daughter. It has revealed the emotional impact of divorce, job loss, the chronic stress of work or caregiving, and then, there are a multitude of worrisome health problems.

An idea for uplifting these special patients: Mass-printed holiday greeting cards can be turned into something special that touches these patients on a deep level. Some effort needs to go into personalizing the cards with handwritten messages but the message can be as simple as, “We want you to know that we are thinking of you during this holiday season. You are someone we admire and care about.” That special touch…a small act of kind outreach can make a beautiful, memorable impression on special individuals you have come to know, think about, and may be praying for.

The entire practice team can help in listing the few dozens of patients who would benefit most from personal notes. Everyone can pitch in to write messages. Everyone can sign the cards. Social wellbeing among your team members will be elevated by creating an open afternoon on the schedule to do this as a “family” of compassionate caregivers. Add lunch or snacks to make it a team party.

Tip for a Thriving Team from Gallup’s Wellbeing at Work: Operationalize your mission. You will clearly communicate your mission of genuinely caring for patients when you demonstrate to your team that you do care by investing personal effort. Doctors, this means writing personalized messages right alongside your team—and with enthusiasm.

Many patients become hyper busy during the holidays.

Cancellations and lateness occur more frequently in December. Despite best intentions of keeping their dental appointments, some patients overbook and overextend themselves. My personal thoughts are to be patient with them and do four things.

1. If your practice is large with many patients coming through your door daily, it may not be your regular practice to make confirmation phone calls. In December, make the extra effort to follow up text messages with personal phone calls. Have team members organized to make as many calls as possible.

2. Build value for December appointments via a Happy Holidays newsletter that sparks enthusiasm for your practice. Include a digital photo of the holiday decorations in your reception area and remind your December patients that you look forward to wishing them Happy Holidays in person.

Here’s an idea: What if you were to put together oral health care gift bags for a local group home or shelter and communicate to your patients that those coming in for appointments in December will have the opportunity to put their name on a card in a gift bag? You would spread community awareness, the spirit of health, and giving back to your community as a wider dental family.

3. Update your wait list of patients who might come in on short notice. Have those names and numbers at the ready.

4. When open time occurs in your schedule, have a mindset of gratitude: “Wow, I guess we won’t feel so pushed today. We didn’t expect we would have this time to breath and catch up a little.”

Your patients want to know what to do if they have a dental problem over the holidays.

Have a clear plan that you and your team members can engage around to respond when patients have emergency or urgent needs over the holidays. Tell your patients via your media (recorded phone message, newsletter, Facebook page, website blog, etc.) what to do if a dental problem occurs. Clear communication from you tells them that you are thinking of them and want to make it easier for them to manage life’s exigencies…even during the holidays.

Here’s to a season of doing our best and thinking of others!

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About Author

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Deborah Bush, MA

Deb Bush is a freelance writer specializing in dentistry and a subject matter expert on the behavioral and technological changes occurring in dentistry. Before becoming a dental-focused freelance writer and analyst, she served as the Communications Manager for The Pankey Institute, the Communications Director and a grant writer for the national Preeclampsia Foundation, and the Content Manager for Patient Prism. She has co-authored and ghost-written books for dental authorities, and she currently writes for multiple dental brands which keeps her thumb on the pulse of trends in the industry.

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