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Dental providers have plenty of different things to worry about, but one of the biggest is simply trying to convince a patient who needs treatment that they do. Everyone knows the importance of good dental hygiene and ongoing care, but sometimes that just doesn’t matter.

You might explain the procedure, the importance, offer third party financing options, and more, but sometimes certain patients just seem impossible to reach. But there are options. Life coaches have been using techniques known as motivational interviewing to help encourage forward thinking and positive action for several years now, and it’s actually something that can impact your treatment acceptance rates as well.

Understanding Motivational Interviewing
Motivational interviewing is a type of process that focuses on helping address behavior change over time. For example, if you have a patient that is avoiding treatment for an extended period of time, you may have to address the thoughts that are leading them to say no.

Patients who are concerned or avoiding a treatment are doing so because they believe that they won’t get the exact outcome they are hoping for. They may feel that their oral health is already doomed, or that the procedure is far too expensive for them. There are a few elements related to this that you’ll need to keep in mind in order to find success.

The Stages Of Change
Change is a process that happens over time. It’s far too common to assume that just sitting down and talking to a patient about oral health or a specific problem or procedure is all you’ll need to do in order to get them to schedule an appointment. It doesn’t work that way. Instead, you have to go deeper in many instances – find out what motivates a patient, what beliefs you have to help them overcome, and guide them through the process.

There are 5 key stages of change that will occur with a patient:

  1. Precontemplation – This is when the patient isn’t even thinking about making a change or having a procedure done.
  2. Contemplation – This is the stage when patients are starting to consider making a change. They may know about a problem but aren’t sure what to do just yet.
  3. Preparation – This stage occurs when patients are beginning to prepare to take action at some point in the near future.
  4. Action – Here is when patients begin finally implementing the change.
  5. Maintenance – After the change is made, patients continue ongoing lifestyle changes to maintain it.


When patients contact you with questions about an issue, they’re in the preparation stage. Once they’re sitting in your chair for the consultation, they’re in the action stage. You’ll have to make sure you get them to the action stage and that you guide them through everything thereafter.

Why Say No?
As a dental professional, you’re there to help your patients maintain maximum oral health. But patients usually aren’t ready to instantly agree to a procedure they need until they go through an internal process that changes their thoughts over time.

There are many issues that a patient may think of that will lead them to say no – fear of change, fear of pain, fear of costs, and more. Motivational interviewing looks at these exact issues and then empowers patients to take more control of their health.

When you get to the root of the reason a patient is refusing treatment, you’re becoming their guide. You’ll be there to answer questions, guide them to the right solutions, and help them feel as though they are in charge of their health and wellbeing. This is in direct contrast to you being a director, giving them orders and telling them what they have to do.

By building trust you’ll be helping patients feel like they’re in charge of their health and that they’re making the right decisions. This is huge, and an be the single biggest factor in helping them accept a treatment option.

Primary Points of Motivational Interviewing Questions
When you begin the process, you’ll want to focus on using terms like ‘you’ and ‘your’. Never say things like “we need to figure this out” – your patient should feel in charge of their health. There are a few examples of points you’ll want to keep in mind:

  • Ask open ended questions
  • Express empathy
  • Support them when challenges are brought up
  • Manage resistance
  • Support self-efficacy in all ways to ensure they feel in control

For example, ask them ‘what do you feel is holding you back?’ instead of just providing a chart with cost estimates and recovery times. Addressing their fears directly is the foundation of motivational interviewing and will be instrumental in making sure that you are able to help guide them to a positive choice.

Consider adding motivational interviewing to your repertoire. It’s something that could help increase case acceptance, help your patients seize control of their health, and help your dental practice in the long run as well.