What do your patients really want?

By | February 12, 2020

When you tell your patients they NEED a crown, mouth guard or wisdom tooth removed. Do they believe you? You are clinically trained to know what’s best physiologically for your patients, but do you really understand their psychology?

Photo of Dr. Williams

Dr. Williams

On Jan. 17 in 1792 the dollar sign ($) was born and showed up for the very first time on a federal U.S. document, which was a treasury bond issued to President George Washington, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Only three stocks have ever broken the trillion-dollar mark, until Google’s Alphabet stock (GOOG) became the fourth this week. Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are the only three others to ever hit this huge number. On the flip side, J.P. Morgan, Chase — the largest U.S. Bank is worth less than half of Google, Amazon, or Apple at just short of $426 billion as of Jan. 17, according to Yahoo Finance.

All of us NEED a bank account to stay in business or to buy groceries and gas. But most of us only WANT an iPhone, two-day delivery, or online search at our fingertips. These WANTS aren’t things we need to function. As a bank holding your money, J.P. Morgan is more of a necessity than any of these tech giants, yet it isn’t even worth 50% of the value of Google.

This brings me to my point, what do your patients really want? How many times has a patient been concerned about the appearance a black spot or small chip on a front tooth in your office? This is a WANT in action. Many times I’ve treated patients for these “small repairs” on front teeth, while they have large decayed or cracked posterior teeth that they are pushing off or have little urgency for addressing. The feeling of wanting a socially acceptable smile far outweighs the emotional feeling over a tooth that they really NEED treated.

On the flip side, taking care of the want first builds trust with your patient. I’ve learned the hard way, by pushing too hard to convince the patient of a NEED, they can feel overwhelmed or like the doctor or team is “pushing” them into treatment they just aren’t ready for. It’s not about what they NEED, it’s about what they can handle.

Recently I had an adult patient referred to my office who just completed orthodontic treatment, we’ll call her Sam. Sam had serious decay, about 16 teeth in fact that needed serious restorative care. But Sam hated her two front teeth because they were short and small. No decay on her front teeth at all, but a WANT for a better smile. Instead of telling Sam she needed all of her teeth fixed right away, I let her know that she had many areas that needed attention, but we would take care of bonding her front teeth now and discuss options for her other teeth when we met again in a few weeks. We took care of the bonding for her, she was smiling more, and we earned her trust to take care of both her NEEDS and WANTS.

Helping our patients’ wants match their needs is the key to case acceptance. If they want whiter teeth, show them how their needed perio treatment will make their teeth whiter. If they want to save their teeth until they die, show them how they need a crown to prevent losing a tooth or needing a root canal or dental implant.

As demonstrated by Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft, wants can be at least twice more powerful than needs for many of us.

Now I think I WANT to grab an afternoon snack. Surely I don’t need one, but never underestimate the emotional side of needs from you or your patients. Plus this powerful psychological principal may be able to more than double your case acceptance like it has in my practice.

Until next time, have a wonderful week!

Dr. Tyler Williams is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. He is a full-time practicing dentist and the founder of Pinecrest Dental. He is the author of a recently released book, Reason to Smile: 11 Keys to your best oral health ever, which can be found at major bookstores and on Amazon.com. He is a member of the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, the American Academy of Facial Esthetics and the American Dental Association. He is a proud husband and father of three.

2 thoughts on “What do your patients really want?

  1. Mary Jo Sandberg

    We learned at the university of Michigan dental school to take care of the needs before the wants. If the patient gets the wants taken care of and doesn’t return for the needs what service have you done for the patient? It does take time to explain why the needs need to take priority and do a professional service for the patient and that’s the ethical approach I have used throughout my 27 years of practice. I’m not Costco where the patient comes in and picks the care they want. I’m the professional who ethically guides them in their oral health care needs.

  2. Dr.Christopher Phelps

    Being a dentist, I truly agree with the TRUST factor, you are talking about. The trust factor is one the reason that patient can easily and freely convey their thinking and what they are looking for. This trust factor will help us to find what exactly they WANT is. As we found the WANT of our patient it will be easier to deal with their NEED.


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