3 Ways to Make Lapsed Dental Patients Less Nervous

a dentist puts a lapsed patient at ease by answering her questions and making her less nervous with empathy


Whether a patient has returned after many years or you want to reach out to overdue patients, it is important to consider why a patient may have stayed away for so long. Psychology plays a key role in the decisions people make about their health and for many, anxiety about the unknown and fear of judgment are keeping many would-be patients out of your chairs.

In this guide, you’ll learn three ways to put lapsed patients at ease and build trust so they are more likely to return for dental care. 

Use empathy, not fear

As a dental professional, you understand more than anyone why oral health is such an important part of everyone’s well-being. Many patients might not prioritize dental care in the same way and it can be tempting to create urgency and emphasize consequences in your outreach attempts.

While it’s true using blunt language could scare your patient into a chair, you are more than likely going to increase their anxiety about coming to see you. And using fear to persuade anyone is bound to decrease trust.

Before you pick up the phone or open a new email, think about the patient’s point of view. Meeting the patient where they are will demonstrate that you understand their perspective and are more likely to earn their confidence.

Instead of this:

“It has been more than six months since your last appointment. By not scheduling regular cleanings, the risk for oral health problems, such as gum disease and cavities, increases. It is important that you give us a call and schedule your appointment as soon as possible.”

Try this:

“Our records show that it’s been a while since we have seen you for a cleaning. We understand it is easy to set scheduling your appointment aside when you get busy. But Dr. <Name> wants to make sure you remain in good dental health. We’d love to answer any questions you may have, so please give us a call and we’ll be happy to work with you.”

See the difference? The first version focuses on the consequences of not scheduling a cleaning and uses urgency to create a sense of fear for the reader. Meanwhile, the second version employs empathy and offers the chance to create a dialogue with the patient rather than demand action.

This brings us to our next tip:

Reach out before the appointment

If a lapsed patient is returning to your practice, that is likely a big step for them. To help ease any anxiety they are likely feeling, reach out before their appointment via phone. Ask if they have any questions about their upcoming visit and allow them the opportunity to express any concerns they may have.

As mentioned earlier, the fear of the unknown is a major factor in keeping patients away. So, this strategy allows the patient to gain as much knowledge as possible to help quell any anxieties they may be feeling. You could even offer some time for the patient to come to the office before the appointment to meet the dentist and see the tools and room.  

Remember that the words you use matter

Patients are more likely to return to a practice where they feel comfortable and studies show the use of language plays a significant role. So, when you are working with a patient who has lapsed, be thought of the words you use regarding:

  • Money. Patients must weigh financial considerations when seeking dental care, so focus less on the direct cost and more on various options for payment, especially if they don’t have insurance.
  • Procedures. Be mindful that the verbs you use to describe the appointment don’t invoke negative experiences. Instead of “pull” or “scrape,” use words like “remove” or “clean.”
  • Medical and insurance terminology. Speak plainly with your patients and don’t assume they understand everything about their oral health or dental coverage.

Bonus: We have a whole article dedicated to the importance of positive language.

The bottom line:  When it comes to bringing lapsed patients back into your chairs, empathy and understanding are two of the best tools in your arsenal. Connect with patients to answer questions and ease concerns. Be mindful of the words you use because they absolutely matter.