Empathy - Cat Edney, Dental Hygienist/Therapist

Being able to ask the right questions, make the patient feel listened to and comfortable is, no doubt, at the cornerstone of good practice building. But what you do with the answers to the questions is where “sales’ becomes really very interesting.


Being empathetic does not (always) mean feeling sorry for somebody- the literal definition is to “feel with” another person – feeling the feelings they are feeling. But we can go further with our understanding of empathy and split it into three defined types of empathy.


Emotional empathy – quite literally feeling somebody’s feelings – crying with them, laughing with them… in small doses and at the right time this can bring you closer to your patient but quite often in the dental setting it would be considered overstepping the mark slightly


Compassionate empathy – most people’s understanding of empathy is the compassionate type. Not just feeling concern for a person’s emotions but moving to do something about it.


And finally…


Cognitive empathy – this is the main focus when you are asking your patients about their dental concerns. It is the practice of understanding where they are coming from without necessarily being emotionally connected or taking the same view as they are.


The reason we should focus on our cognitive empathy is because showing understanding for your patient’s perspective and making suggestions that would work for them is key to finding out what is this patient going to spend money on.


As an example –


A lovely lady, Jane, visited the Hygienist for a ‘scale and polish prior to whitening treatment’


The hygienist notices the previous notes were an ortho consultation which seemed to end well with no contraindications to ortho.


Hygienist:      Hi Jane, I am Louise the Hygienist, how are you today?


Jane:              I’m okay thank you


Hygienist:      I hear you are having your teeth whitening done after my appointment- how exciting!


Jane:              Yes, well, it’s the best I can do really.


Hygienist:      Do you mean for your teeth? Was there anything you wanted to do but can’t?


Jane:              Oh, no not really, I am just trying to make them more presentable for my daughter’s wedding – it’s in a month and                 my teeth are stopping me from wanting photos!



Hygienist:      Well whitening is a great way to start! What happened at the consultation with the Orthodontist?


Jane:              Oh, it was silly of me really, I didn’t realise it would take so long to straighten my teeth so instead I’ll do the whitening and change one crown, they will still be crooked on one side but I’m too old to straighten them aren’t I?


Hygienist:      Well it’s certainly too late to straighten them for the wedding BUT you’re never too old! – what about a temporary solution now and then do the permanent straightening after the wedding?


Jane:              What sort of temporary solutions are there?


Hygienist:      Well let’s look closer at your smile and see what the immediate issues you have are…


In this situation the patient ended up with a temporary composite veneer on one lateral for the wedding and then started her ortho journey straight after.


By listening to the patient’s real reasons for turning down a treatment the hygienist managed to find a solution that worked for her and also makes her feel like a valued patient who is listened to and cared for.



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