Could Phone Skills Be the Key to Increasing Your Dental Practice Profits?

Your dental team's phone skills can help them convert calls into patients. Investing in phone skills training for dental receptionists can help dental practices increase profits.

Print & Go GuidanceBy Theresa Ahearn

The front desk receptionist who answers the phone is usually the initial point of contact for a potential patient. A disorganized phone system or an unfriendly/unskilled employee could contribute to lost patients. If you engage in training for your front desk workers, they will be well-prepared to make a good first impression by employing proper phone etiquette, which will increase appointment volume.

Here are some simple phone techniques to consider that could help your team convert callers into new patients.

Answer by the Second Ring

Though dental offices can be extremely busy, train staff to respect the caller's time by picking up the phone as soon as possible. Any call should be answered on the first or second ring. While answering before the third ring can be difficult, it will demonstrate to the caller that you are available to assist them. Managers should have a policy in place that not only instructs employees to answer by the third ring but also directs staff on how to answer the phone so that everyone in your practice responds the same way. For example: "Good morning, John Doe Dental - this is Linda, how can I help you?”

Relax and Smile

Before picking up the phone, staff should take a deep breath. Dental practices are extremely busy places, answering the phone in a rushed or anxious state will not only upset the caller but could also lead to losing track of critical information. Another tip is to teach staff to smile through the phone. Smiling as you speak can convey a cheerful and pleasant tone, and tone of voice can be just as important. To help remind staff to smile, place a mirror near by so they can see their reflection and be reminded to put a smile on.

Identifying Patients and Asking Questions

There are four different types of patients who will call a dental office.

How staff handle a call may differ depending on the type of patient who calls. For example, the recipient of a standard new patient call may not recognize them as such. Staff must be taught to ask questions early on to clarify the type of patient who is calling. Staff should ask about the reason for the call, as well as the patient's insurance information and how they found out about your practice. Asking questions is a fantastic opportunity for staff to not only identify the type of patient but develop rapport with the caller, which is especially important for new patients.

Emergency Callers

A caller with a dental emergency may reach a receptionist. Receptionists should be well prepared to handle calls like this. Dental practices may choose to set aside time in their schedules for urgent appointments so that people who call with an emergency are given priority. Front desk staff should be instructed on what to do if a patient calls with an emergency, including how to determine if it actually is by asking follow-up questions or inquiring about the severity of pain or other symptoms. Receptionists should be able to use their best judgment to assess whether the patient should be scheduled or referred to the emergency room.

Avoid the Word “Insurance”

At the front desk, avoid using the word "insurance." Patients sometimes confuse their medical and dental insurance coverage. Instead of asking about insurance, receptionists should be trained to offer an appointment and tell the patient that they can talk about costs during their visit. Even if a patient isn't ready to commit to treatment, bringing them in to see the dentist can help them clarify their needs while also bringing in new patients to the office. If a receptionist is overly concerned with insurance on the initial phone call, a patient may assume that they will not be covered for needed care when they may be eligible for reimbursement or reduced expenses.

Develop an Action Plan

An action plan can assist employees in developing the specialized skills required to assist dental patients over the phone. Managers should create an action plan that includes the following:

  • A phone slip and script to maintain employee consistency
  • A system for determining who answers the phone
  • Training on how to block new patient time
  • Practice for team members on standard protocol and reminders


As previously stated, most new patients will contact your dental clinic by phone. This means that the way your front desk receptionist communicates on the phone has a significant impact on the success of your practice. Training dental staff on proper phone etiquette like stating your name when answering the phone, using the patient's name during the conversation, establishing a rapport, answering the phone promptly, asking good questions, avoiding phrases about insurance or cost, and setting up reminder calls will help ensure patients who are calling have a positive experience. If your patients or potential patients continually have a positive experience while calling your dental practice, there's a high likelihood they will become loyal patients who feel heard and understood.


Author: Theresa Ahearn is a freelance writer, currently residing in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. She received her Bachelor of Arts from the New York Institute of Technology and Master of Science from Central Connecticut State University. When not writing she can be found fishing or traveling someplace new.

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