It’s not unusual for a patient to walk into their dentist’s office asking for a smile makeover—a Hollywood smile—that, while desirable, might not best suit their features. This isn’t to say that we can’t help them achieve an amazing smile that they will love, but a significant part of our role in shaping a patient’s expectations to what is realistic and achievable, without downgrading their initial ask. Yet what exactly do we mean when we refer to patient expectations and how does that impact orthodontic treatment expectations?
Helping shape realistic orthodontic treatment expectations for patients.
Helping shape realistic orthodontic treatment expectations is crucial in providing quality dental care. Expectations, in the context of healthcare and dental care, encompass patients’ beliefs and anticipations about the consultation process and the overall dental system. Previously, it was easy for dentists to manage some of these expectations because conflicting information wasn’t so readily available. But things have since changed and it has impacted the world of dentistry.
Patients often arrive with expectations, some of which may be subconscious or require elicitation by the dentist. This is helpful because it gives dentists a baseline measurement on what patients are looking for. But, in today’s world, where information is easily accessible and social media influences perceptions, patients may come in with unrealistic expectations that must be addressed properly.
Here are five other examples of unrealistic expectations patients might have regarding their dental or orthodontic care:
- Immediate results. Patients may expect instant, dramatic changes in their smile or bite alignment, overlooking the fact that orthodontic treatment requires time and gradual adjustments for sustainable results.
- Pain-free experience. Some patients may anticipate no discomfort or pain during orthodontic treatment. Though with the advances in dental technology, pain is less of a factor than just a few short decades ago, failing to recognize that mild soreness or discomfort is normal during the adjustment process.
- Perfectly straight teeth. Unrealistic expectations of achieving flawless, magazine-worthy teeth may overlook individual variations in tooth shape and the limitations of orthodontic treatment in some cases.
- No need for retainers. Patients may assume that once orthodontic treatment is completed, they no longer need to wear retainers, disregarding the importance of long-term retention to maintain the achieved results.
- Non-compliance with treatment guidelines. Some patients may believe they can deviate from prescribed treatment instructions, such as not wearing rubber bands or neglecting oral hygiene practices, without affecting the treatment outcome.
Why dentists must properly shape patient expectations.
Building and maintaining a healthy dentist-patient relationship relies on properly shaping patient expectations. In order to do so effectively, dentists must address current expectations, provide thorough information, and engage in open communication.
1. Maintaining a Healthy Dentist-patient Relationship
Properly shaping patient expectations lays the foundation for a strong and trusting dentist-patient relationship. When patients have realistic expectations about their orthodontic treatment, it fosters open communication, collaboration, and shared decision-making between the dentist and the patient.
For example, a healthy dentist-patient relationship involves the dentist actively listening to the patient’s concerns and providing clear explanations and guidance. The patient feels comfortable expressing their needs and actively participates in their own treatment decisions, while the dentist provides personalized care and supports the patient’s oral health goals.
2. Adjusting Current Expectations
Understanding and addressing the current expectations of patients is essential. By discussing and evaluating their expectations, dentists can clarify any misconceptions, correct unrealistic assumptions, and set realistic treatment goals. This helps align the patient’s understanding with the actual outcomes and ensures they have accurate information about the orthodontic process.
3. Active Patient Engagement
Dentists should actively involve patients in the treatment planning process. This involves giving patients ample time to ask questions, express concerns, and seek clarification about their orthodontic treatment. Providing a supportive and informative environment makes patients feel empowered to participate in their own care, leading to better treatment compliance and overall satisfaction.
4. Transparent Communication
Openly discussing various aspects of orthodontic treatment is crucial for shaping patient expectations. Dentists should openly discuss treatment costs, potential side effects, alternative options, and expected treatment outcomes. This transparency helps patients make informed decisions, understand the treatment process, and have realistic expectations about orthodontic care’s potential benefits and limitations.
Creating a foundation of trust between the dentist and patient.
Dentists can establish a foundation of trust and collaboration with their patients by addressing current expectations, engaging in open communication, and setting realistic treatment goals. This leads to increased patient satisfaction and better treatment outcomes.
And, for dentists wanting to capitalize on the momentum of their improved patient relationships, continuing education may be the answer. Dentists may wish to enhance their skills in orthodontics and improve patient care. As such, pursuing orthodontic courses designed for general dentists can provide valuable knowledge and expertise. By investing in continuing education, dentists can further strengthen the patient-doctor relationship and deliver optimal orthodontic care to their patients.
Check out the courses offered through the American Orthodontic Society (AOS) to learn how to better manage patient expectations.
To learn more about our popular orthodontics courses for pediatric and general dentists, check out one of the upcoming events below.