Handling Patient’s Denials in Your Practice

By: Mary Osborne, RDH
This topic originally appeared on Pankey.org. IgniteDDS was permitted to share it with our readers.

Helping patients move past denial over their dental health is no easy feat. In your dental practice, you have likely encountered this situation many times.   

Resolving denials within a dental practice requires a delicate balance of empathy, patience, and effective communication between the clinician and the patient.

The truth is, that patients who won’t or can’t accept the need for improved oral health can be put on a more positive path. The hard part is that they often require a significant amount of patience.

By understanding the psychological barriers that contribute to denial, dentists can tailor their approach to each patient, creating an environment of trust and openness. Through compassionate engagement and clear education, clinicians can empower patients to confront their oral health challenges and take meaningful steps toward achieving optimal dental wellness, without needing to ‘force it’ because the psychological weight is too heavy for them.

Facing a loss of a measure of health is extremely difficult, despite whether we as dentists believe the issue isn’t significant.

Characteristics That Support Change For Patients in Denial

One way to help our patients in these situations is to avoid frustration. Acceptance of other people’s emotional struggles can come from checking in with our own personal response to stress.

How do you create lasting change?

Exploration of this question can give you a clearer perspective about similar answers for others. It can also reinforce the sense that our reactions to stimuli or upset can be quite different.

Once you (or a patient) have accepted change, you will still need to rely on your own resilience to parry the unexpected difficulties or days where your resolve is less strong. Some of the qualities that help in this situation include:

  • courage
  • commitment
  • awareness
  • curiosity
  • confidence
  • support
  • skill

The foundation of change is the first of these qualities: courage.

Making changes in spite of fear is reliant on our willingness to see the potential risks and move ahead anyway. A big piece of this is recognition. If you can recognize what is holding you back from change, you can externalize the fear, make it more manageable, and talk about it rationally with others.

Mary Osborne RDH

Mary Osborne RDH

Mary is known internationally as a writer and speaker on patient care and communication. Her writing has been acclaimed in respected print and online publications. She is widely known at dental meetings in the U.S., Canada, and Europe as a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. Her passion for dentistry inspires individuals and groups to bring the best of themselves to their work, and to fully embrace the difference they make in the lives of those they serve.