One of the biggest challenges we have in dentistry is to motivate patients to accept treatment recommendations when the condition is asymptomatic. When it hurts, it’s easy. A simple, “Would you like that tooth to stop hurting?” is often the only prompt required when the condition is symptomatic.
With the 2012 London Olympic Games fresh on my mind (weren’t they awesome, by the way!), I have a useful lesson that will help you motivate patients to accept care when it doesn’t hurt. Here is a rhetorical question for you. Would Usain Bolt, the world-record holding Jamaican sprinter, run faster in an athletic competition or would he run faster if he was being chased by five rabid Rottweiler dogs? I don’t actually know the answer to that rhetorical question, but I suspect Usain could outrun those dogs if necessary!
The point that I am making here is that fear can be a very motivating factor. Let me tie that back to case presentation with a tip that I learned from Dr. Frank Spear. Before I go any further, let me state that Dr. Spear is one of the most incredible educators we have in the dental profession. He has the ability to take very complex subject matter and distill it to simple concepts. Much of Dr. Spear’s curriculum has been assembled in digital form and this is a resource that every dentist should consider:
It is so cool to be able to access this amazing content anywhere, at any time! This may be the best value in clinical education today.
Here is the tip courtesy of Dr. Spear. Begin by taking clinical photos of common pre-treatment conditions that you routinely see. A fractured cusp, excessive tooth wear, teeth shifting due to a missing tooth might be just a partial list of these types of photos. Put all of these photos is an easily-accessible digital file. Then when you have an asymptomatic condition, show the patient what could happen if they don’t do anything. Here’s how that might sound:
Dr.: “Linda, this is something we see quite commonly. My concern is that the condition can become much more complicated if you don’t do anything. For example, here is a picture of a tooth of a patient I saw recently with the very same condition you have. You can see that the whole side of the tooth fractured and then the treatment was much more complicated. I’d like to avoid that happening to you.”
You are giving the patient a sneak preview of possible coming attractions. The visual images of the photos are very powerful and can help the patient make good treatment decisions. Consider this tip as an excellent way to help patients move forward with treatment recommendations when the condition doesn’t hurt. It has helped us a great deal! Keep Smiling!