dental patientI have often said that when a patient says no to treatment, what they are usually really saying is “not right now.” People change – circumstances change – and that’s why a conscientious dentist will, during future visits from a patient who has declined treatment, always continue to work on moving that patient up the ladder, toward appreciating high-value dentistry.

But when that time comes when a patient is ready to hear more, are you going to be ready? Because that moment can come at any time. For example, what about those times when you go in to do a hygiene check on a patient, and you do a quick rundown on their condition and outstanding treatment? Your instinct – and this is an instinct I know almost every dentist has – tells you that the patient is more open to considering moving forward than they have been in the past. But you have a schedule to keep, and maybe the hygienist is even tapping her foot waiting for you to wrap it up so she can finish up with this patient and keep to her schedule, too.

My advice is to slow down, recognize the significance of what is happening, and seize the moment. Take 10 minutes or so right then to have a deeper conversation with the patient about their treatment needs. After all, if circumstances have changed to make the patient more receptive today, they can change again and make them less receptive the next time you see them.

So how do you manage to seize this moment in the midst of a busy day? In the example I have outlined above, I suggest you have a signal with your hygienist – it can be as simple as a nod and a smile – that communicates to her that you are about to take a little more time with this patient. The hygienist can then alert other staff so that other patients, whether back in an operatory or in the waiting area, are advised that something has come up and the doctor may be a few minutes longer. (There has been research that has shown that people are often fine with delays –as long as they are told about them in advance.)

In the end, we are only talking about 10 minutes or so, but it can end up being 10 minutes that will change a patient's life forever. Yes, you have an obligation to your patients to try to keep on schedule, but never lose sight of your greater obligation: to provide the best dental care possible. When you look at it that way, you realize that it is part of your duty as a care provider to be ready when the patient is ready.

Think of it this way: you always manage to make time in your schedule for an emergency. Doesn’t it make sense to make time for a great opportunity?