Tips to Improve Your Conversations with Patients

Four tips for improving your communication skills in some common office scenarios.

Updated 10/29/21

Communication skills are probably one of the most difficult skills to acquire in the dental office, but they are extremely important. I am going to share with you a few of the most common conversation mistakes I have heard team members make in the dental practice and give you some better language choices I have learned during my 20 years in dentistry.

Example #1

Patient calls to schedule an appointment: “Hello. I am calling to schedule my cleaning appointment.”

Receptionist: “Are you a new patient or a returning patient?”

If this person has been a patient in your office for many years, they might be offended because you don’t recognize them. To avoid any potential problems, simply reply: “Great! How long has it been since you have been in to see us?” The patient will respond with either, “Oh, I am a new patient” or “I just got my reminder that I am due.” Now you can have the appropriate conversation with the patient because you know with whom you are talking.

Example #2

A patient calls and asks how much you charge for a certain procedure: “How much do you charge for a crown on a back tooth?” or “How much do you charge for a cleaning?”

When patients call and shop for prices, this is a great opportunity to build a relationship and hopefully schedule the patient for a new patient exam or, at the very least, a second opinion.

Here is how I would reply:

“May I ask you a few questions? What is your name?” (Let the caller respond.)

“How did you hear about our office?” (You are building a relationship here.)

“Has your regular dentist told you that you need a crown on this tooth?” (Find out if the caller has a regular dentist or if they are self-diagnosing.)

“Treatment can vary depending on the diagnosis of the tooth. The tooth could be broken or have a cavity, but without our doctor looking at it or an X-ray, I can’t determine over the phone if the tooth needs a crown or some other type of procedure.” (The caller will either agree with you or still want pricing.)

“Can I schedule you with Dr. Smith so he can take a look at your tooth and give you some treatment options?” or “Our crown fees vary. I can give you a range of $950 – $1,250 depending on the type of crown.”

Example #3

A patient is checking out at the front desk and you need to collect their out-of-pocket today.

Receptionist: “How did your appointment go today?”

Patient: “Great! Emily always does such a thorough cleaning.”

Receptionist: “Yes, she is my favorite as well! Your portion of today’s appointment is $65.40, how would you like to take care of that today?”

If the patient did not bring any money or credit card to their appointment, print them a walkout statement and hand them an envelope with the address of the office already printed on it and attach a stamp. This ensures that nothing prevents your patient from putting the $65.40 in the mail right away.

Example #4

Another patient is checking out and is pleased with how their appointment went.

Receptionist: “How did your appointment go today?”

Patient: “Great! Emily always does such a thorough cleaning.”

Receptionist: “Emily has mentioned that you are one of her favorite patients. If you have friends or family that would appreciate the same great service that you get from Emily, I know she would love to see them. Here is our card if you would like to send someone our way.”

Asking for a referral or review flows easily after your patient has given your office a compliment.


Verbal skills are important in the dental practice. Even the choice of words can be more patient-friendly than others, such as:

  • Bleaching vs. Whitening
  • Scaling and Root Planing vs. Gum Therapy or Perio Therapy

When you have a new team member join the practice, it is important to listen to them as they interact with patients and teach them how to respond to different situations so that all of your patients have an excellent experience in your office.

Learn More

For more ideas about providing excellent patient care, read the following articles:

By Dayna Johnson, Certified Dentrix Trainer

Dayna loves her work. She has over 25 years of experience in the dental industry, and she’s passionate about building efficient, consistent, and secure practice management systems. Dayna knows that your entire day revolves around your practice management software—the better you learn to use it, the more productive and stress-free your office will be. In 2016, Dayna founded Novonee ™, The Premier Dentrix Community, to help cultivate Dentrix super-users all over the country. Learn more from Dayna at and contact Dayna at