How Should A Dentist Deal with Difficult Patients?

There are special challenges associated with being a dentist, and one of them is dealing with patients who aren’t happy to be at the dentist. Whether their discomfort is caused by fear, pain, or financial stress, it can be difficult to break through their resistance and get them to trust you.

At Titan Web Agency, many of our clients are dentists. One of the questions we hear a lot is this:

What’s the best way to deal with difficult dental patients?

It makes sense to ask us that because ultimately, word of mouth is your most powerful marketing tool. With that in mind, here are the things you should know.

How to Build Trust with Patients

A difficult patient may be difficult for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common difficult patient scenarios include:

The key to minimizing the amount of stress and lost revenue, both for yourself and your patients, is to find ways to build their trust in you. Here are some pointers:

  • Always be honest with your patients. If a patient feels that you’re glossing over details or avoiding certain topics, it can destroy their trust instead of building it. It’s always best to be straightforward and matter-of-fact.
  • Show empathy. Making people feel that you understand their problems is a hallmark of good marketing—and of good dental care, too. It’s understandable that some of your patients may be frightened or reluctant to undergo treatment. It’s your job to let them know that you understand and empathize, and that you’ll be there with them every step of the way.
  • Be sensitive about presenting serious information. While you might be tempted to lay out the potentially serious consequences of avoiding a treatment, it’s best to approach such topics gently and with kindness. Since pain is one of the most common objections difficult dental patients will bring up, it’s not a good idea to bring up the prospect of more pain to win their trust.

Remember that the marketing aspect of this is about letting patients know that you’re an ally. Even if you’re dealing with an angry patient on the phone, they’ll be far less likely to refuse a treatment or skip an appointment if you build trust with them.

Tips for Explaining Complex or Counterintuitive Procedures to a Patient

When a difficult or frightened patient needs a complex or counterintuitive procedure, it’s essential to explain it properly to make your patient as comfortable as possible. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Use simple, clear language. If you get too technical with your explanation, you run the risk of the patient tuning out. Instead, focus on using a layperson’s language to explain what you’ll be doing and why it’s necessary.
  • Illustrate your point if you can. Visual aids can go a long way toward easing a patient’s worries or confusion about a procedure. Showing a diagram or photograph may help a patient understand what you’ll be doing and why.
  • Explain the consequences of skipping the treatment. When you’re dealing with dental patients who need counterintuitive treatments—for example, the preemptive removal of wisdom teeth—you may need to work hard to get them to understand a procedure’s importance. By explaining what might happen without the procedure, you may be able to ease the patient’s objections.

Managing patients can be challenging, but these tips will help you clearly and thoroughly explain necessary treatments and get your difficult dental patients on board with your treatment plan.

How to Get Patients to Return to Your Practice

If you deal with difficult patients, you may be wondering how to get them to return to your practice. Return business is the best business because it costs much more to attract a new patient than it does to keep an existing one. Here are some pointers:

  • Use dental practice management software with online appointments and automatic reminders. Automation can help remind reluctant patients about their appointments and make them feel involved in their treatment.
  • Make follow-up and reminder phone calls. Sometimes a personal call can do more than anything else to convince a difficult patient to keep an appointment.
  • Build a personal connection with your patients. Make notes in your files to remind yourself of your patients’ kids’ names or what they do for a living. When you review your notes before an appointment, you’ll be able to reestablish that personal connection quickly.
  • Send birthday cards to your patients. A supply of birthday cards won’t cost you much and sending them to your patients can help remind them of what they loved about your practice. You already have your patients’ birthdays on file, so why not use that information in a way that benefits you and your patients?
  • When a patient fails to pre-book or misses an appointment, reach out to them. Sometimes a phone call or text from you is all they need to get back on track with their dental treatments.

Persistence and kindness are the keys to retaining patients.


Managing difficult dental patients can be a lot of work, but it can also be rewarding both professionally and personally. Utilizing the tips we’ve outlined will help you build trust with your patients and keep them with your practice for years to come.

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