I’ve always wondered why so many orthodontists are resistant to allowing patients’ parents, families and friends to join the patient in the treatment area but this weekend I visited a dental school and saw something that made it clear.


Most if not all dental schools are tyrannical in the setting and enforcing of rules. Many are arbitrary but we dental students are schooled early and often in the three rules of dental school.

  1. Because I said so
  2. That’s not my problem
  3. Sucks to be you

We don’t even realize the conditioning we receive as everyone we associate with thinks the same way we do. Orthodontic residences are generally no better than dental school so by the time we get into practice we have “the rules” firmly entrenched in our minds. Stupid and untrue rules like:

  1. I have to do this all day so my comfort is more important than the patients’
  2. Allowing anyone other than the patient in the treatment area is a HIPAA violation
  3. My time is valuable and patients need to respect that
  4. It’s all about the most senior doctor on the premises

With all this crap programming in our heads it’s amazing that we can function at all – and this list is far from all inclusive.

But back to the point a hand. I’ve bought and visited numerous orthodontic practices that don’t allow parents back with their children during treatment. That’s just dumb and if you’re still preventing parents from being with their kids then it’s time to stop and smell the not so new reality. Every time I’ve bought a practice that didn’t allow parents in the treatment bay I’ve changed that immediately and received massive goodwill and a huge upsurge in internal patient referrals immediately.

Every. Time.

How much is it costing you and your practice to continue this way? How much do you spend in time and money in an attempt to attract patients/referrals while ignoring this free boost to your practice? Well, I have to admit that free isn’t exactly right… it will cost you as much as any change does! You’ll have to change your mind and attitude and, more importantly, you’ll have to change the minds and attitudes of your team. You’ll be amazed at how resistant they are to allowing parents to be with their children during an elective, non-invasive treatment that they are paying thousands of dollars for. The good news is that you trained the staff to be this way and you can train them to be the way they should be. Every time I’ve converted an office from “no parents allowed” to an open-door policy I’ve had to fight the staff to the point of usually letting a couple go because they were sure that “the way they used to do it” was “correct”. We humans are funny animals.

But while you’re making this change I want you to take it a couple steps further than just opening up the treatment area to parents. I want you to make it welcoming and encourage patients’ families to get involved in the treatment bay. As an added bonus, if you do this you won’t have to offer those silly family discounts anymore!

Here are a few examples:

  1. Put seats or benches at the foot of each treatment chair if there is room. If there is not room then make room. If you can’t make room, get someone who doesn’t work in your office to come and advise you on how best to make room… I hope you get the point. Often times we use benches with a hinged lid and they become storage boxes.
  2. Put up a sign in the reception area that says parents are welcome – a large, good looking sign that takes some effort to make!
  3. When parents ask questions while you’re working on their child, even questions you don’t like or appreciate, answer them with a smile and say, “I’m so glad you asked! We love when parents are involved in their child’s treatment. This is why we encourage you to come sit with your child. What other questions do you have?” It doesn’t cost anything to be nice and accommodating and you’ll be surprised by how well this is received.
  4. Don’t Piss Momma Off – My dad taught me how to use a present parent as a tool to get better compliance while getting the parent on my side. Magic. Learn it. Live it.
  5. Modernize your office music. The music is not for us, it’s for patients and parents after all.
  6. RUN. ON. TIME. Seriously. How can you expect patients to show up on time if you don’t run on time. YES. YOU. CAN. Saying you cannot run on time for any reason is just an excuse. If you need to redo your schedule and simplify your mechanics then DO IT. If you need help creating a schedule template then come hang out with me and Bridget in the Orthosynetics booth at the AAO Annual Session in San Diego. We will be putting on a little seminar to help doctors create a custom schedule template for your practice – not just a generalized idea of how to do it.
  7. SMILE, be nice and make sure your team is nice as well. One of the things I get the most comments on when I open up an office is “Doctor, you and your team are always so nice to one another.” Of course we are… and when we are not I spend my time reminding everyone to say please and thank you instead of demanding, to smile instead of frowning and to move with purpose instead of dragging. What parents observe in the treatment area will directly impact how many others they refer to your practice.

Look, this isn’t rocket science and you can do whatever you choose to do in your practice. But if you’re going to be at work, why not maximize the number of patients you help get the smile they want? It’s easier than you think if you’re willing to maintain an open mind and implement.

3 thoughts on “No Wonder We Act This Way

  1. I agree 100% with your assessment Ben. I have moved and worked for many practices and the biggest change I’ve made is Letting Parents and siblings into the tx area.
    It’s fun to talk to other kids in the family and the parents! You get to know so much about your patient from them that can potentially help u to them better and they love being able to ask anything. I KNOW I’m Doing everything to the best of MY ability for each and every patient and am proud to show it!
    You made some excellent points

  2. Not sure where the photo is from, but both my dental school and residency allowed friends and family in the treatment area. I even remember a mom blowing up at me for daring to say “oh! I was expecting you an hour ago.” She ranted as I worked on her daughter and 20 minutes later told me how hard it is to be a single mom and thanked me for listening.

    Friends and spouses, I think, are best for word of mouth.

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