“TEACH, DON’T TELL”: The Super-“Starr” secret to 99% case acceptance

The diagnosis is complete. The patient sits in the chair waiting to hear what comes next. What will you say next?


Office Manager Starr Patterson knows the answer to “What will you say next” is usually a question:

“Do you have any problems chewing with that tooth missing? Would you like to talk about replacements for that missing tooth?”

She’s used this approach to rack up an almost unheard of 99% case acceptance rate in the practice she currently manages. Pulling from her extensive experience as both hygienist and office manager, Starr meets her patients where they are. This is the key to successfully “teaching” patients about what’s going on clinically, instead of “telling” them what they need:

INCORRECT APPROACH (Telling): “Mrs. Jones, you need a crown on this tooth.”
CORRECT APPROACH (Teaching): “Mrs. Jones, what do you see when you look at this picture?”

See the difference? When we open the conversation with a question about what they see, we can begin to explain the diagnoses in terms they will understand. This allows patients to value, accept, and convince themselves of the treatment they know they need.


Starr knows intraoral photos and x-rays are powerful teaching tools. After that initial question, “What do you see?” …Patients will often respond with honest concern:
“It looks dark.”
“What’s that black spot?”
“It looks gross!”
If, for example, the patient says, “It looks like there’s a crack in that tooth,” Starr can simply respond, “Yes, I see that too.”   And then she takes it a step further, by using an easily understandable analogy:

“A crack in a tooth is like a windshield. It will spread…We don’t know at what rate, but at some point it could even shatter.”


The result of this strategy, 99% of the time, is a sense of agreement between Starr and her patients about what they see, and necessary treatment. Use this “Teach, Don’t Tell” technique to allow patients to understand for themselves. Allow them to take part in their treatment planning, and talk themselves into the treatment they now clearly know they need.

Leave a Comment