What Do Dental Patients Really Care About?

It seems like we’re always looking for ways to bring in new patients to keep our practice growing and healthy. But it’s just as important to make sure we’re keeping the patients that we already have. Sometimes they just disappear with no explanations and no good-bye. I always wonder what makes them just leave like that. But at the same time, what makes them stay when there are so many other offices to choose from? What do dental patients really care about?

Over the years I’ve listened to endless complaints and complements from patients. And what I’ve learned is that what they care about the most, is the little things. So you can buy that Cerec or that fancy new laser and think you’re going to impress them. But I don’t think most of them will care. It seems like it’s the smallest things that get the biggest reactions.

Free stuff

They LOVE free stuff! We all have the ‘goody-bags’ with a toothbrush, floss and maybe some lip balm. But add just a few little extras, and they go bananas!

  • A coffee bar. And it doesn’t have to be just coffee. Get a great big Keurig machine and offer flavored coffee, tea, cider and hot chocolate. Have lots of flavored creamers and be sure you have sturdy ‘to-go’ cups with lids and warming sleeves. Then you can put your office logo and contact information on either the cups themselves or on the sleeves. Patients love it, and they’ll leave as a walking advertisement for your office.
  • Water bottles. A tiny refrigerator with tiny water bottles. You’d think we gave them liquid gold! Our office is located in a small downtown area. A lot of our patients walk or ride their bikes over when the weather is nice so they really appreciate a cold drink. Plus kids like to grab one after their appointments because the fluoride varnish is so sticky.
  • Pens. What is with patients and pens? I didn’t even think people wrote stuff down anymore, but our patients go crazy for our giveaway pens! And of course they have our office logo and contact information on them.
  • Hand Sanitizer. Get the ones with the little leash on it so it can attach to a purse or belt loop. These are perfect during cold and flu season.

Those are just a few things that I’ve noticed patients get the most excited about. But seriously if you want them to love you, just give them free stuff. Anything you can think of. They look so forward to it and get so excited that it’s actually fun to watch.

Dental office smell

Does your office smell like a dental office? If it does, you need to fix that. Pain isn’t the only reason that patients have anxiety over coming to see us. So much of it is what they’re seeing, hearing and smelling. When they first walk in your door, they should be hit with a pleasant scent. Something like lavender or cinnamon. Not like tooth dust and methyl methacrylate.

Get some wax warmers or essential oil diffusers. Whatever you need to do to hide that dental office smell. I once worked in an office that had a cookie oven. The scent of something baking is very soothing so that’s a great idea. Plus it was a nice (free!) snack for the patients to have after their appointment. But if you do something like that, you really have to be careful because so many people have food allergies.

I’m pretty sensitive to smells myself. I use soy wax warmers in my home constantly so it’s just something I’m personally more aware of. But our patients often complement us on the fact that our office doesn’t smell like a dental office. So I know it’s something that they care about.

Running on time

This seems so obvious but so many offices just don’t get it. People hate waiting. They hate waiting to board an airplane for a fun trip that they’re looking forward to. So of course they hate waiting to get in to see us!

  • Schedule enough time for your procedures
  • Assess emergencies; don’t treat them
  • If something really can’t be helped and you do make them wait, go overboard with an apology. A $10 or $15 gift card for Amazon or a local ice cream shop is always a nice gesture.

Just do whatever you need to do, and fix whatever you need to fix, so that you get your patients in and out on time. It is very important to them.


You’d think since our office does consistently run on schedule, that our patients wouldn’t notice the magazines so much. But no. They actually arrive early for their appointments just so they can ‘catch up on their reading’. And sometimes we’re like a library. They’ll ask to take a few home and bring them back later. We always let them and they always return them. We get tons of complements on our magazine selection.

I once temped in an office that had no magazines and no TV in their reception area. Just informational pamphlets and ugly paintings on the walls. Coincidentally, it also had grumpy patients and mean employees.

You might be reading this thinking that none of this makes a bit of difference. But great magazines, hot beverages and free stuff, transform your ‘waiting room’ into a ‘reception room’. And the reason that these ‘little things’ matter so much, is that they show patients that you’re glad they’re there, and that you genuinely care if they’re happy.

I know there are also big reasons why patients will choose to leave or stay with a particular office; insurance, location, financing options, etc. But overall I think it’s the little things that really set us apart. So if you’re looking to make some changes to keep patients happy and earn their loyalty I say, start with the small stuff. Not only will they keep coming back, they’ll want to share you with everyone they know.

‘People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.’

Anna Baumann

Annoyingly cheerful Graves Disease Warrior and Dental Office Lifer. Eager to share, help and connect. Big fan of kindness, food, ocean cruises and reading books while drinking tea.

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  1. Kris David says:

    I agree Anna. My personal opinion is the #1 most important thing to patients is “feeling heard”. They want to feel like they were the most important thing at that given appointment and that enough time was allowed to address all their concerns. It’s how they feel walking out the door. Validate the patients concerns, take the time with them that they need and you will have a friend for life.

    1. Yep! We can have all the fancy technology in the world. But those little things that show that we’re listening and that we care about them, are what keeps them coming back. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment Kris!

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