Giving Patients What They Really Want

 It has become even more important to understand that the most successful Dentists are not the best clinicians but that they are the best communicators with the best support teams…

Jonathan Fine, Partner, Breathe Business.


Despite these austere times, the press is full of articles on cosmetic surgery including cosmetic dentistry. Just recently, The Times ran an article on the “top” cosmetic dentists and the transformations they achieve. This is great! I’ve waited my entire career for dentistry to emerge from the shadows of “drill and fill” and preventative medicine and become a highly desirable, sexy, must have. At last, dentists and dentistry have become the new rock and roll and the public are lining up for straight white teeth…

Hang on a minute ~ what’s this? Along comes William Leith, columnist in my favourite paper, the weekend Financial Times with a deeply personal, hard-hitting description of his terrible experiences of being treated by a series of bad dentists. This could spoil things, just when we were getting going!

I like William Leith. He’s just turned 50 and he and I share many concerns, confusions and neuroses. Like me, he has spent many hours during the last forty years in a dental chair and like me; his mouth is full of restorations. Unlike me, his experience of dentists and their dentistry has been utterly woeful. And yet, he represents the sort of perfect private patient that many of you are marketing for; he is beginning to feel his mortality, he doesn’t want to lose the last vestiges of his youth (including his teeth) and he has the money to pay for private dentistry. He’s the perfect mixture of a man who: wants to look and feel good, has plenty of dental problems and is prepared to spend enough to have his mouth transformed.

While the articles about cosmetic dentistry continue to extol the many advantages of having your teeth made more beautiful, Leith is like the man in the fable about the king’s new clothes who dares to stand in the crowd and exclaim that he isn’t wearing any. He blows the whistle on the not very well kept secret that not all dentists are the same and that some of them, by any standards, behave very badly.

Here is the link to William Leith’s article.

And here are some edited highlights:

“Oh well, I think, here we go again. I’ve been here so many times before. Let’s hope everything works out this time. Let’s hope for the happy ending that, so far, has eluded me.

I had many different dentists, who undid and re-did each other’s work. So many have disappointed me. Why?

  • Because they’ve been rough.
  • Because they’ve been uncaring.
  • Because they’ve been after my money.
  • Because they’ve been cheap hustlers.

 Somebody I know and trust told me I’d like her. And I do. I’ve been frank about what I want. I’ve been exacting

“That’s good work,” says Katherine. We look, for a moment, at a picture of a crowned molar. It fits perfectly. The work cost me about £750. It was horribly complicated. Fifteen years on, it’s as good as new.

 She can tell me that I’ve had lots of bad dentists, a few average ones, and one good dentist. She points out the places where the good dentist has worked

My mouth tells the story of:

  • · the man who didn’t want to give me a painkilling injection, so when he hit a nerve I jerked sideways, his drill splitting my lip
  • the man who filled my teeth with a crumbly substance;
  • the man who re-filled my teeth but left gaps underneath the filling;
  • the man who tried to replace the old amalgam fillings with early plastic ones;
  • the man who replaced the early plastic fillings with amalgam;
  • the speed-merchant who could have me in and out in 17 minutes, having removed and replaced a filling.
  • The emergency crowns that didn’t, and don’t, fit properly.
  • The one magical filling created by Tom, who somehow made a condemned, razor-sharp shell of a tooth whole again.


 So, I say, can you do it? “Yes,” she says. At this exact moment I look into her eyes. I decide that she’s The One. She does not look like a cheap hustler. She does not look like she’ll be rough. She looks caring. She looks capable. If I shake her hand now, I’ll be spending a lot of time in this narrow, bright room. I’ll be here 15 times over the course of a year. I’ll give her thousands of pounds.

Let’s go for it, I say, and stick out my hand.”

So, before we rush to the moral high ground and polish up our defences, what can we learn from William Leith?

It matters a great deal to patients like William Leith that they perceive that their dentists:

  1. Are competent and do a good job
  2. Do what’s in their best interests, not what are in the dentists best interests
  3. Wont hurt them at any time
  4. Wont rush
  5. Are good communicators
  6. Are affordable and offer good value
  7. Are trustworthy

In reality, as far as the patient is concerned, it comes down to two things, what the dentist says they can do, what the dentist actually does and that the two congruent! What the dentists say will determine whether the patient has the dentistry done and what the dentist does will determine whether they come back! (Remember 33 million people avoid going to the dentist in the UK, quite a statement of how they feel about dentists!). As in all businesses, “the clients perception is the client’s reality” and whatever you or I think, their reality is the only one that counts! There are many who feel like William Leith and it is our responsibility to help them have the treatment they need and want.

I read endless marketing messages on web sites and in practice brochures about: comfortable modern surroundings and state of the art equipment and yet the William Leith’s of this world want to know one simple fact, “Can you do the job well?!”

So how about telling your prospective patients a few things that they really want to hear (providing of course that they are true!).

Such as:

  1. We do good dentistry that lasts.
  2. We wont hurt you.
  3. We wont rush the work
  4. Or use cheap materials
  5. We will always do what’s in your best interests
  6. We will charge you a fair fee
  7. And we will always explain the fee before we do the work

I suggest that a list like this will get your patients and your prospective patients attention. Providing of course that you and your clinical team can deliver it…

Isn’t it time we really gave the patients what they really want? The practices that do will always survive the external economy and those that just pay lip service will, as always, get found out and written about by journalists such as William Leith and good on them for blowing the whistle!

If you would like some help with growing your practice in difficult times by working with a team with a proven track record,


Or Call Breathe Business on 0845 299 7209

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