Many people frequently skip their dental appointments, often without officially canceling. No-shows may not seem like a big deal, but they leave dentists high and dry. To a dentist, a no-show is a waste of time and lost income. Those appointments could have been used for another patient with specific scheduling needs.
Like any other business dealing with clients, dentists can prevent some no-shows by tracking repeat offenders and sending automated reminders. For new patients, those reminders should be personal phone calls. However, there will always be a small number of people who don’t show up to their appointments.
So, why do people skip their dental appointments? There’s more than one answer.
1. Fear from previous bad experiences
Approximately 36% of people fear the dentist, and that fear isn’t unfounded. All it takes is one negative experience to make someone fearful of going back, even for a cleaning.
For example, people routinely have bad experiences with root canals, oral surgeries, and implant procedures. While these bad experiences are usually a reflection of the dentist’s capabilities, it’s hard to convince someone that another dentist wouldn’t make the same mistake.
It’s similar to people who have had bad experiences with medical procedures who end up fearing a visit to the doctor or ER. All dentists can do to work with fearful patients is talk to them, address their concerns, and reassure them.
2. People have heard horror stories and are afraid
Many people fear the dentist, even when they haven’t had bad experiences. These people are afraid because of what others have told them about their bad experiences with dental procedures.
One horror story of a dental procedure gone wrong can make a person afraid for a lifetime. Sometimes people don’t even realize their fears are unfounded or that their friend went to a dentist with a poor reputation. It’s hard to recognize a highly skilled dentist through their fear.
Fear is one of the toughest objections to work through with a dental patient. However, when those fears are based on other people’s experiences, it’s a little easier.
3. Some people don’t like the feelings or noises
For some people, there’s something unnerving about having your teeth worked on, even just to get a cleaning. It’s odd having your mouth open for long periods of time, awkwardly trying not to swallow your saliva, and feeling your teeth being scraped and poked.
For some people, these sensations and noises are nerve-wracking and make them want to jump out of their skin. For others, it’s simply uncomfortable or awkward.
For those who can’t handle the sensations of a dental appointment, skipping out at the last minute is often the end result. Many of these people will call to cancel their appointment, although it’s usually too late for the dentist to fill the slot.
If your patients are averse to the sensations of having their teeth worked on, it’s important to stay in communication with those patients. Just hearing from you a couple times prior to their appointment can help provide the boost of confidence needed to follow through without canceling or not showing up.
4. They have PTDA
Taking fear one step further, some people develop posttraumatic dental care anxiety (PTDA). This is just like PTSD, but is specific to traumatic dental experiences.
Research has shown that people who have had painful dental procedures who also feel out of control in a dental chair are 14 times more likely to report intense feelings of fear. These people were also 16 times more likely to refuse to go back to the dentist.
In some cases, appointments for people with PTDA might have been set by friends and family who are trying to get them to go to the dentist.
5. They’re irresponsible
A small number of people won’t show up for their dental appointments because they decided to do something else. They’re not afraid; they’re just irresponsible. All you can do with these people is create a cancellation policy that charges a fee for appointments not canceled within 24 hours.
Dentists can help patients keep their appointments by reducing fear and anxiety
The majority of dental appointments are skipped out of fear. While you can’t remove everyone’s fear, you can soften that fear by connecting with patients personally prior to their appointments.