Dental Office Etiquette

Unless you work in a dental or medical office you most likely won’t understand many of the things that either annoy us or put us off our schedule causing long wait times for others. This is why I thought I’d write a little article about dental office etiquette. To those of you who have committed these offences in the past… we mean no offence. 🙂

1. Not Showing Up For Your Appointment
At any office this is most likely the number one thing that will get you on the naughty list. At our office we are typically booked up a week, if not more, in advance and appointments are scheduled for one hour each. If you do not show up for your appointment we have one eighth of our day with nothing to do. Nothing to do means that there is no money coming in to cover overhead; This will not make the Denturist happy! If you don’t show up for your appointment it also means that we could have scheduled someone in your place who either had a emergency or who needed that time slot to fit their schedule.

Let’s face it though, we all forget or have emergencies that pop up at the last minute, we understand this. Don’t worry, we’re not going to kick you out of the practice for missing one appointment. Miss three or four in a row though and we might have an issue.

The people who really get under our skin are the one’s who habitually miss their appointments and never bother to phone us to let us know they can’t make it. These are the people who will typically only be booked at 4pm from then on(I know there’s someone out there asking “Is that why they only ever have 4pm appointments?). 😉 This way if the person doesn’t show up(which we’re completely expecting them to do, considering their track record) I can go home early or do some lab work. Another thing that will happen, to be perfectly honest, is if one of the habitual appointment missing people calls in and says “I really need to come in and see you, it’s important”, they’re most likely going to be booked for about two weeks from now, at 4pm, when the schedule is completely empty and we don’t have to do any finagling to fit them in.

What would be proper etiquette if you can’t keep your appointment? Pick up the phone and call. We’ll be happy to reschedule your appointment for you! This way you’re happy that you can go to the sale at Target you forgot about and we’re happy that we don’t have a hour of our day with nothing to do. It’s a win/win.

2. Talking On Your Cell Phone
As far as things that annoy me, I think it’s a tie between talking on your cell phone while you’re in the dental chair and not showing up for your appointment. Most people would ask “who would ever answer their phone while they’re sitting in a dental chair?”. The answer is “more people than you’d expect”. Enough people that some offices have to put up a sign that tells you to turn your phone off.

Going back to the one hour appointment thing… I have a hour until my next patient goes into the operatory(unless they don’t show up for their appointment, grr). I have one hour to visit with you, do my charting(writing down all of my notes from our visit together), phone back any referring doctors or other business related calls, and possibly have time to do my lab work(actually making your teeth). This one hour appointment typically leaves me with zero, nada, nilch… no extra time to waste. So when someone pulls their phone out of their pocket while I’m treating them and starts to have a conversation with their BFF right in front of me… that’s when I leave the room. No, really, I leave the room. I’ll go into my office and start doing all of the work I’d do after my visit with you. I’ll start making calls, I’ll start doing my charting and I may even sit down and do some lab work. If it’s been a really stressful day I’m just going to go in my office, turn on my Keurig, make a coffee and sit down and enjoy it. Then, after a uncomfortably long wait I’ll go back into the room with the person. This is normally enough on its own to make most people understand what they’ve done in addition to the fact that I have to tell them “Please don’t answer your phone during our appointment”. After this they typically don’t answer their phone any more on subsequent appointments. However, I did say most people. Yes, there are repeat offenders. I love my coffee.

3. Excessive Talking
Some people are talkers, it’s natural. Some people, however, are excessive talkers. Here’s a scenario that happens often:

“Hello Mr. Smith, I’m your Denturist. Let’s briefly go over your medical history. Do you have high blood pressure?”

“I see Dr. Bob, do you know Dr. Bob? You don’t? He practices at the corner of X & Y streets. He’s a really nice guy that Dr. Bob. My whole family visits him. My wife, she has high blood pressure. I tell her that she stresses too much about the kids and grand kids and she needs to take it easy. Dr. Bob gave her some pills for her blood pressure but she doesn’t want to take them and then I have to get on her back about taking her pills. Even the pharmacist tries to explain to her why she has to take her pills but do you think she listens to them either? She says I don’t know what it’s like to have to take these pills all the time. And she’s right, I don’t, because Dr. Bob tells me my blood pressure if fine.”

“Ok, so you don’t have high blood pressure. Do you have diabetes?”

“Diabetes? I don’t like sugary foods. My wife, she always likes to bake for the grandkids and she’s always making cookies for them. I have four children and seven grand children, so she makes a lot of cookies! My oldest son, he’s 47, he works at Chrysler. He has three children, two girls and a boy. Here, let me show you a picture of them, aren’t they beautiful? The oldest girl is turning 12 in a couple of days and now my wife is baking a big cake too! Oh my goodness, so many sweets that I can’t have because of my diabetes.

Get the picture? This happens all… the… time. And not just when going over someone’s medical history. Some people love to go on about anything and everything. It’s great to chat with people while I’m in the room but there is a limit to how long I can spend with someone. Most people understand this, some people are oblivious to it. I’ve been in the room with someone for forty minutes just… talking… because they literally never took a breath in between sentences for me to say anything. I initially didn’t want to be rude and cut them off but I finally had to cut them off in mid sentence and tell them I had to go.

Please respect the fact that your practitioner typically has a set amount of time with you and has other people to see. We love talking with you, we really do! We just don’t have the time to have lengthy conversations.

4.Showing Up Late
All of us have showed up late for a appointment before. Things happen in life. It’s usually a train or car accident. At least that’s what everyone who’s late tells me. Always that darn train! Either way, it’s not the end of the world to be late. However, if you are going to be significantly late(let’s say 15 minutes or more) the proper etiquette is to call ahead and inform the office.

Why call ahead if you’re still coming in? We don’t know that you’re showing up late. We may simply think that you’ve forgotten your appointment and we’re going to take someone else in your place(perhaps a emergency or a walk in, more on that in a minute). In this case if you call ahead we know you’ll be here shortly and won’t start other work. Or perhaps you were booked for a short amount of time because we were fitting you into our schedule, and by being 15 or 20 minutes late there may not be enough time to treat you. In this case it’s good to call because we can simply book another appointment for you and will save you the time of coming to the office for nothing.

5.Walking In With No Appointment
So you’re in the area and you think to yourself “Hey, I should get my teeth adjusted while I’m in the area, I’m sure they can take me”, and then you come strolling through the door asking to be seen. Here’s the proper etiquette to follow if you do walk in: Ask politely if the practitioner has time to see you. You’ll most likely be told that he/she cannot see you at this moment and you can either wait to be seen(which may be only a short while or could be a hour or more) or you can book an appointment to come back when the practitioner has time to see you.

Here’s what you don’t want to do: Demand to be seen… now. Bug the receptionist relentlessly thinking they’ll “fit you in”(remember… the receptionist is the “gatekeeper” of the entire office. Tick them off and you’re just making it harder on yourself in the future), or in general throw a fit. “Who would do these kinds of things?” I hear you asking. People do this all the time. There was one time that I happened to be at the reception desk as a patient walked through the door demanding to be seen, immediately. I told him I had appointments booked, however, if he wanted he could wait in the waiting room and I’d see him as soon as I have some time. He insisted he should be seen right away. I then told him that I’d take him right away, on one condition. All he has to do is ask each person who has been waiting to see me(there were two other people waiting to see me) if it is OK if he went ahead of them. If they said it’s ok I’d take him in right away. He booked an appointment.

For whatever reason, which is beyond my comprehension, some people think that I do nothing all day except for wait for them to walk through the door. Personally, if I walk into any business which is based on appointments and expect to be seen on a walk in basis I know that I’m going to have to wait. They’ll see me when they can see me. What do you think happens when you go to the emergency room at the hospital? It’s the same thing. If you want to walk in it’s fine, just be prepared to wait.

6.Not Having Any Money
This seems like a obvious one to most people… it costs money to have work done or to buy things. This phenomenon doesn’t just happen at a Denturists office! It happens everywhere in the entire world! You want to buy a loaf of bread, you pay for it. You want to buy a car, you pay for it. You want that cup of coffee on the way into work in the morning, you pay for it. You drop your kids off at day care, you pay for it. You want someone to paint your house, you pay for it. You get dental work done, “What? You mean I have to pay for that?”

Believe it or not it happens; People have a treatments performed and get to the front desk and say “I don’t have any money”. And I’m not just talking about a unexpected emergency here. I’m talking about people who I’ve gone through the entire process of making dentures for(who were made well aware of the cost of treatment before we even began the dentures) to end up at the front desk with the receptionist saying “Ok Mr. Jones, that will be $xxx.xx”. Mr. Jones then replies “I don’t have that kind of money” or “I can give you a post dated cheque for next month”. Just to be clear… the proper etiquette common sense is to inform us that you cannot pay for your treatment before your treatment starts.


So there you have it folks. To me, these are some of the more annoying and troubling issues that we run into each and every week at our office. Different offices will have different issues and different views on the issues I have put forth. But I hope this has helped you learn a little bit more about office etiquette and why that seemingly little slip of the mind was a big faux pas in the office. 🙂


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