Dentistry |4 min read

Find A Patient’s Why Through the Power of Great Questions

by Jenn Janicki, Executive Director

Join us for Part 3 in a series of 6 presenting “best practices” for dental professionals. I’ve
created this series for clinicians who have a high level of clinical training and confidence, but have not yet created a strategy for attracting comprehensively driven patients. If you’re fascinated by the behavioral science about what motivates people to make great treatment decisions, this series is for you!

Understanding what motivates a patient is fundamental to leading the conversation in the direction of a YES to treatment plans. You want to communicate in a way that the patient can best hear your true intentions from. It’s critical to get an understanding of their WHY to do treatment.prancheta-1508904

WHY Intention Matters in Behavioral Science


The WHY of treatment is significantly more important than the HOW you are actually going to
perform the treatment. Many times, dentists make the mistake of showing, telling, and explaining what they are going to do to fix the problem, before getting to WHY someone would move forward with treatment.

Intentional questions are the key to discovering a patient’s WHY. Understanding what a patient’s goals are won’t necessarily change your treatment plan. Instead, it helps you develop the “language” in which you will present it.

Two Game-Changer Intentional WHY Questions


“What’s most important to you about your teeth?”
“What’s been the nature of your past dental experiences?”

These questions are intentionally designed to guide your understanding of what a patient values.

Be much more interested in HOW a patient answers this question than the actual answer they give. This will assist you in determining if a patient is motivated by avoiding consequences of not doing treatment or if they are are looking for benefits of completing treatment.

Common responses include:

  • That I keep them (benefit)
  • That I don’t lose them (consequence)
  • That I don’t have any problems (consequence)
  • That my teeth don’t cost me too much (consequence)
  • That they look nice (benefit)
  • That they are healthy (benefit)
  • That you don’t hurt me (consequence)
  • That I’m comfortable (benefit)

Understanding Patient Perspectives


“On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being best, how would you rate the teeth or smile?

This question simply tells you from your patient’s perspective where they think they fall. If they say “2,” they know they have a significant opportunity to improve. If they say “9,” there may be education that is needed prior to presenting a significant treatment plan. The answer to this question will guide you as to how fast or how slow to take the treatment presentation process. It’s important that a patient’s pace is honored and this is a good way to ensure they are not shocked by a comprehensive treatment plan, especially if they have never had one before.

“What needs to happen for it to be a 10?”

If they say “WHITER” but you see they have wear, caries, perio, or other functional considerations, you know you’ll need to thread “whiter” into your final treatment plan, because that is what they asked forstructure-1234219

The Power of Needs vs Wants


Co-discovery questions are those that you and your team can use to help guide a patient to develop their own conclusions about needs vs. wants.

“Have you ever noticed …”
“How long have you noticed …”
“Are you concerned about …”
“How long since you’ve had those black fillings put in your mouth?”
“What needs to happen to make this work for you?

“Because I know ____________ is important to you, I’m committed to developing a treatment plan that meets your goals. Is what we’ve discussed in line with your goals?

“We are committed to personalizing the care you receive to fit your goals. Is what we discussed today in line with your goals??

Remember, the questions you ASK are infinitely more important than the answers you SAY. However, relying on some key phrases that you’re comfortable with can help move a treatment conversation toward asking for a commitment.

We will tackle how to properly structure your presentation based on the answers to the above questions in our next article!

Read the first installment and second installment of this series where Jenn Janicki discusses the fundamental aspect of successful visual treatment planning and how to approach your patients from a place of abundance.