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8 Ways to Have Small Talk with Your Patients

At a time when people are just emerging from a couple years of Covid-related social distancing, remote work, and heightened concerns over everything from the economy to politics, engaging in small talk with your patients might not be as small–or insubstantial–as you might think. But instead of meaningless chit chat with patients, why not aim for meaningful small talk that can put your patients at ease, build practice loyalty, and help you learn more about everyone’s needs?

As a dentist, you can benefit by talking to your patients even about seemingly trivial topics. Small snippets of conversation allow you and your patients to get to know one another better–and that builds trust and supports a long-term dentist-patient relationship. Does making polite conversation take extra time or detract from your focus? Yes, it can. However, by sticking to small talk that matters and creating some good professional habits for communicating with patients, you can become more comfortable with the practice. Here, we’ll explore several ways that you can engage in small talk with your patients for big, positive results.

Let Patients Know That They Are Your Primary Focus

When a patient sits down in your dental chair, try to get down to their level and make eye contact with them. This will tell them that you are focused on them and that they, at least for the duration of their appointment, are the center of your attention. If your mind is elsewhere, patients will know that they aren’t your primary focus–and that can be disappointing. Simply sitting down for face-to-face small talk tells them that you are giving them your time and are focused on whatever they are about to tell you, whether it’s small talk or their dental symptoms.

Ask a Lead-Off Question

To begin small talk, lead off your conversation with a question. Ask your patient what they did last weekend or what their holiday or summer plans are. This is an especially good strategy if you suspect that your patient is anxious. Some small talk could distract them from their nerves for a few moments, allowing you to set a positive tone for the appointment. If you happen to know the patient has traveled, has a family, or got a new job, you can also ask questions that pertain to a known topic.

Ask about Their Wait Time

As a dentist, you want patients to have a positive experience when they visit your office. Ask them about how long they had to wait today to see you. Your interest in their experience sets a tone that you care about your patients. Of course, you’d like to get positive feedback, but getting any feedback is positive in a sense as it can allow you to refine your check in and appointment strategies. Your interest demonstrates to patients that you care about their time and want to make strategic improvements to your service.

Let Patients Know about Unique Practice Features Such as Teledentistry by Denteractive

Some dentists opt to use chit chat time as a convenient opportunity to inform patients about practice services that they might not know about yet. For instance, many dentists inform their patients of the extremely positive teledentistry platform experience they’ve had with Denteractive in order to consult and connect with patients virtually. Naturally, not all routine dental services can be performed via an online screen; however, if patients want to report symptoms, show their dental provider their teeth on the screen, or follow up, a teledentistry appointment can be a convenient option. Dentists can also introduce other practice features to patients to make small talk more practical and informative for them.

Distract Them

If your patients seem preoccupied with nervousness for an upcoming procedure, consider topics of discussion that could potentially distract them. For instance, mention some current celebrity gossip and invite them to share their opinion. Similarly, you might mention a popular show or movie that your staff or other patients are talking about. If they have a hobby that you know is enjoyable for them, find a way to introduce that topic into the conversation. It can lighten up the atmosphere before you begin their root canal!


Showing empathy for patients makes them aware that you care about their feelings. It’s easy to feel judgmental toward a patient with tooth pain that has ignored their pain for weeks until it became unbearable. Let them know that you understand their hesitancy or have experienced similar symptoms yourself. Patients will appreciate when the medical specialist shows their ‘human’ side.

Invite Patients to Take a Verbal Survey

You can make small talk more fun by inviting patients to take part in fun surveys. You can even share the results online on your website. For instance, take a survey asking patients what type of music they’d like to listen to in your waiting room. Alternatively, ask them what songs should never be played in a dental office (e.g., “Everybody Hurts” by REM or “Give Me Novacaine” by Green Day). The point is small talk can be effective when it’s positive and fun.

Talk about Pets

When you’re really struggling to put patients at ease, ask them if they have any pets. Most people love their pets and have endless stories about their ‘personalities’ and antics. Keep a framed photo of your own pet around so that you can introduce patients, especially younger patients, to your four-legged bestie. Small talk about pets is sure to be pleasant and help patients to feel more comfortable in their dental chair. If they don’t have pets, switch the topic to food. Most people love food and will be happy to talk about the last best meal they ate or a new recipe they tried.

Is Small Talk Ever a Bad Idea?

Sometimes patients are clearly experiencing pain to the point that idle chit chat might feel like prolonging their agony. There are times when it is important to cut to the chase and get straight to the business at hand–their examination and subsequent dental work. It can also be uncomfortable for patients if you continue to engage in small talk when your fingers or dental instruments are in their mouth, making it impossible for them to respond. Also, if your patient is upset about something, it is best to get to the point and avoid more trivial seeming topics.

Small talk can help you get to know your patients better and make them feel more comfortable during their appointment. It can take years to develop genuinely warm dentist-patient relationships. Small talk can help you pave a path to a positive long-term relationship with your clients. Small talk makes you less of an anonymous medical provider and more like someone they know, someone they can feel good about getting to know on a professional level. Also, remember that you are not the only dental caregiver your patients will meet with. Be sure to train your dental hygienists, dental assistants, and support staff to engage in friendly small talk with patients too. These positive conversations can make patients feel great about your overall practice.

Denteractive, the Most Complete HIPAA Compliant Teledentistry Platform. We help you increase Reach, Revenue and Convenience with your patients. With small talk, you can introduce your patients to your new teledentistry platform an ease patients to trying virtual dentistry.

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