Educate or Motivate?



By Guest Blogger Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Barry F. Polansky is author of The Art of the Examination and The Art of Case Presentation. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine in 1973 and has spent the last 40 years in private practice in Cherry Hill, NJ. Much of his professional life has been deboted to helping dentists build successful careers through mastering leadership and presentation skills. He blogs at and


CarrotOnAStickI continually get into arguments with dentists about our role with patients. Many dentists find that they are handling way too many objections. When I ask them how they are presenting cases, they say, “I educate them,” as if this education process somehow leads to more compliance. Well, it usually doesn’t. But it does absolve the dentist because at least they feel they did the proper thing—the right thing—the moral and correct thing. It’s logical.


I suggest that instead of trying to educate patients it might be good idea to motivate them. Many say that’s just semantics. Well, it’s not; there is a big distinction between education and motivation, and a good motivator can save a lot of time and be much more effective.


Also there will be a lot less time spent on fruitless handling of objections. Making the distinction between educating your patients and motivating them will change the way you approach all of your patients. When you take on the role of motivator, it will not make your job easier, just different. You will notice that there is an art to motivating people—moving them from what is to what could be.


The business of dentistry is all about changing people, not unlike gyms and diet centers. Sure, some education is necessary, but to truly be effective we need to motivate. Do I have to mention flossing?


One of the most effective ways to inspiree patients is the use of narratives. Simply select something in that past that is connected to your idealized vision of the future for the current patient and form a story that helps the patient choose the treatment you know is in her or his best interest. Transferring a vision of what can be achieved and the benefits to be gained may be as simple as saying, “Here are close up before and after images of a woman who had problems similar to yours. Her complete treatment took six months, and she says she feels much more attractive and confident. In fact, she says her husband notices a big difference and is always remarking about her pretty smile.”


In a story of less than 50 words, you have just unlocked the desire for a rejuvenated, healthy smile, but have you handled obstacles to treatment?


My narratives become a bit longer because I bring up the most common objection patients have — cost. After showing the before and after closeup case photos, I continue to say, “This patient had a difficult time financially and didn’t know how she was going to come up with the $20,000 it was going to take to fix her mouth, but in the end she realized how important it was to her. Paying on credit was relatively easy because lenders like CareCredit extend credit for dental care with no-interest loans for up to 12 months.”


This works the money question into the presentation without making it a direct question. Many times, the patient will stop and want to discuss the finances even before getting to the end of the presentation. When patients do this, you know they already accepted the treatment. They just have to get over the money issues. The sooner the question is raised, the sooner it is resolved, and the sooner you will get to yes or no.


In the case of no, the presentation takes another turn, and I tell a story about a patient who accomplished similar results through longer-term phased dentistry.


Motivating patients is an “art.” That is why I named my books The Art of the Examination and The Art of Case Presentation. Motivating is more than an art. It is a responsibility. It’s a role we must take on, because if we don’t get our clients to make healthy choices when they must, we have failed them. Tough job, yes, and probably the one role we have that we haven’t been trained to do. But, it’s the one role, when mastered, that will lead to more success than any other.




Dentist Profit Systems will be exhibiting at The Pankey Institute Annual Meeting (September 18-20, 2014) and at ADA 2014 – America’s Dental Meeting.