How to Build Good Rapport with Patients and Set Yourself Apart

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Have you ever had a patient ask, “So, what do you think?” after the dentist walks out of the room? If so, that patient trusts you not only with his/her oral health care but also with an important financial decision. You have developed a good rapport with that patient, and maintaining it is extremely important for many reasons. We all know the bad reputation the media has given dentistry over the years, and I believe this is part of the reason we are questioned by patients in everything we do. There may be some in dentistry who are in it primarily for financial gain, but we have the choice in making sure our patients know they are able to trust that we are always doing what’s best for them.

Establishing a good rapport with patients is the foundation of a practice because we cannot treat patients as if they are just an oral cavity and production sitting in our chair and then expect them to trust us. I have found in my experience good rapport is the foundation to everything, including but not limited to, keeping six-month recall appointments, trusting our recommendations when it comes to their oral health, and treatment plan acceptance. It seems best if new patients could have more time on hygiene schedules than a six-month adult prophy recall appointment in order to begin the process of building a good relationship with that patient we have never met. Intraoral photos, radiographs, and a hand mirror are also beneficial when discussing treatment needed because it allows patients to see what we see and why we are recommending specific treatment. They no longer must take our word for it while questioning in their minds if what we are telling them is the truth.

While productivity is important in maintaining a business, it’s important to keep in mind why we chose this profession. Don’t allow the pressures and incentives of production goals to overshadow the standard of care those patients need and are trusting us to provide. We can’t allow our worth as hygienists to be determined by productivity. There will be good days and bad days. It’s out of our control when a patient doesn’t show, cancels, or refuses certain recommendations. Therefore, that loss in production shouldn’t cause us to recommend unnecessary treatment or other services. Patients are generally aware when we are genuine in making recommendations for treatment and other oral healthcare needs. We do not have to sell dentistry when our main goal is taking care of others and treating them in a way we want to be treated.

If we want to be considered as more than “teeth cleaners,” we must be patient-centered. That means genuinely connecting with each patient and treating them on an individual basis while having their best interest in mind. When caring for and treating patients, we can compare the dentist/hygienist relationship to the medical doctor/nurse type of relationship. When in the hospital, the doctor is going to diagnose and may do a major procedure. It’s always nice to have a doctor who makes it evident he truly cares and is not just marking off another patient from his list. However, it’s generally expected that the nurse is in tune with most of the overall needs and to communicate with the patient as though he/she truly cares. Examples of that will include things such as making eye contact, maybe a light touch on the shoulder, listening to understand the patient’s concerns and a demeanor that shows he or she is caring for that patient as an individual, instead of just going through the motions.

Just as a nurse has the ability to make a greater, and hopefully positive, impact due to spending the most time with patients, we have the opportunity to develop a trusting relationship with our patients due to the time they spend with us compared to the dentist. Have you ever left a wonderful doctor due to an impersonal nurse? The same can happen in our profession if we aren’t in tune with the patient’s needs.  We can’t minimize the importance of the hygienist-patient relationship.

It’s imperative our patients know they can look to us for honest answers to their questions, and that we are trustworthy in giving our opinions and recommendations. When choosing to be a part of the health field as our profession, our main objective should be to care for others in the same way we want to be treated or better. This is something I see lacking too often in our profession and is something I’ve always felt is extremely important.

As I think back to when I began seeing patients for the first time in the dental hygiene program, I knew I wanted to give them my best because I entered a health field of study to help others. Since then I have been criticized for communicating too much with patients and being too thorough clinically with my notes as well. However, many patients have thanked me for the quality of care given. We must be thoughtful of the next patient who is waiting, but there are also the patients who just need more time for several reasons. This could be where teamwork is mentioned, but that’s a whole separate topic.

I agree with many in the need for more time and more control over our schedules to provide better patient care and establish that good rapport with patients. Building a trustworthy relationship with patients is something that has been extremely important to me even before obtaining my license as a Registered Dental Hygienist. It has always been imperative that each patient knows I want the best for them and they are treated as individuals.

It is my hope that we will work harder at building a good rapport with our patients. Not merely get into a routine of “turning the room over” for the next patient, after hurriedly going over the necessary preliminaries, while being content with “cleaning teeth” as quickly as possible because we have little time due to all other responsibilities placed on us.

As a hygienist, how important are ethics and standard of care to you? We are more likely to experience burnout when we see it as just a job; rushing patients in and out as we have great demands placed on us instead of viewing ourselves as providers of a healthcare service while having a desire to establish a good rapport with each person who enters our room. We are much more than “teeth cleaners.”

NOW READ: How to Gain Trust with Patients with Dental Phobias

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Jennifer Ryan, RDH
Jennifer Ryan, RDH, graduated from the Wallace State Dental Hygiene Program in Hanceville, Alabama, in 2003, and is a member of the ADHA. During her years at Wallace State, she went on clinical rotations at the VA Hospital and Jefferson County Health Department in Birmingham, Alabama. She found these experiences most valuable in her training to become a Registered Dental Hygienist because they helped in honing her clinical skills as well as giving her the opportunity to see patients in different clinical settings with different levels of oral and physical health. Jennifer is married with three adult sons. She is currently employed in Alabama working the evening shift to accommodate patients who have difficulty reserving appointments during the day. During her years working in a clinical setting for various dentists in private practice, Jennifer has been passionate about the need for patient-first care. She strives to provide each patient with the standard of care needed while also trying to establish a good rapport. All aspects of dental hygiene interest her, and she has a desire to continue learning as well as writing. Jennifer is pursuing other aspects of the dental health care profession out of the clinical setting. She is now an ambassador for BURST and PlaqueHD in hopes of helping others while promoting the importance of better oral health and prevention of disease. She also has a desire to educate and encourage the dental hygiene community through writing, which has been a passion of hers for many years. If you are interested in trying out BURST, head over to and use Jennifer's Ambassador promo code: E8B3HW Try PlaqueHD here.