The Dental Professional’s Guide to Chair-Side Manner

Artful communication is an essential component of effective treatment. Dental practitioners are required to listen to patients, to understand their problems, and to communicate effective treatment options, while simultaneously managing anxieties and concerns. And when it comes to effective communication and chair-side manner, there’s verbal and non-verbal communication.

Make and Maintain Eye Contact

Maintaining eye contact is a fundamental part of connecting with another person, so always ensure you are facing your patient when you speak. Keep the chair in an upright position so the patient does not feel intimidated (as can happen if the chair is left in the reclining position, even after the procedure is complete).

Listen to Your Patient and Read Body Language

Attentiveness and empathy enhance connection. Encourage your patient to speak to you by asking open-ended questions, rather than those that require straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Read your patient’s body language for signs of anxiety or agitation.

A few of these signs include:

  • Pinched features (thin lips, narrow eyes, flared nostrils)
  • Hands in fists or gripping the chair/their own hands tightly
  • Stiff body
  • Trembling
  • Eyes darting about the room nervously
  • Speaking quickly with a high-pitched or breathy voice, or not speaking at all

To be able to listen effectively, you need to be present. Don’t leave the patient alone immediately after finishing an operation. Give the patient feedback on how the procedure went, what they can expect to experience afterward, and how long the recovery will be. Try to offer something positive at the end of the experience.

Don’t Judge

Having someone look in your mouth is an intimate experience and many people are embarrassed about the state of their teeth. If your patient hasn’t seen a dentist for the last three years or clearly hasn’t been flossing, present these ideas in an understanding light.

Test the Waters

Yes, you should be warm, inviting, and friendly, but it’s also important that you don’t cross the line and introduce topics your patients may feel uncomfortable discussing, particularly on their first visit. It’s advisable to probe gently and read your patients’ body language. If you can see visible stress or anxiety, you may want to slow down or soften your approach.

Be Consistent

Treat all patients the same. Sure, you may like some more than others. Certain patients may be a nightmare to deal with but, at the end of the day, everyone needs to be treated with the same respect, care, and attention.

How Fresh is Your Breath?

It might sound like a strange thing to ask a dentist, but many patients complain about a dentist’s breath during procedures because of the close proximity between practitioner and patient.


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