Avoid the Dental “Watch” List

Most dental practices have it, and most dentists regularly talk to patients about it.  “John, I’m putting that upper right tooth on the watch list.”  You may think you are alerting patients to the need for future treatment, but in reality patients have no idea what you mean by a watch list.

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And when patients hear year after year that their tooth is on the watch list, you have delivered an unintended message that reinforces inaction.  Only put teeth on a watch list if you do not want patients to schedule for treatment.

Understandably, you will experience situations where you notice the start of something that is not yet ready for treatment.  If, for example, a tooth has incipient decay that you want to recheck in six months, inform the patient.  “John, your tooth has the start of decay.  Right now it’s too small to treat, but we will recheck it in six months to see what has changed.”  This delivers a much clearer message than saying we will put your tooth on a watch list.

happy teeth

Too many times, the watch list is also a parking place for lower-priority treatment.  If the tooth belongs on the treatment plan, albeit as a low priority item, then put it there, and this will convey a much clearer message to the patient.  As you decide which teeth belong on the treatment plan, consider how you would approach the situation if you had a member of your family in the dental chair.

Since the need for treatment is not always cut and dry, it’s important to set approximate expectations with your patients.  Clearly communicate your findings and recommendations without using the term “watch list” and patients will be much more receptive to scheduling.

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Learn more about how our dental practice consulting can help you increase your treatment acceptance.

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