Why Words Matter in Dentistry

Valarie Caulfied, MAADOM with text, "Real-world insights from AADOM authors"

“Words matter.”

What is that supposed to mean? Why does it matter?

We can each speak using the same word, yet the way we say it can mean so many different things.

Words matter in every situation.

There seems to be a “play” on words with a different perception of meaning to each person listening.

When we speak these, we should be mindful of what people are hearing and perceiving in our words.

When I’m going over a treatment plan with a patient, I always use the word “fee” instead of “price.”

“Fee” is for professional services rendered.

“Price” is what you pay for a gallon of milk.

In the dental office, we are providing a service, not selling an item.

“Cancelation” should really be known as “a change in our schedule.”

You cancel a flight or cancel a club membership.

In our office, cancellation is not allowed. We do, however, allow a change in our schedule.

Otherwise, patients will get the perception that canceling is ok when really it isn’t. We’re glad to reschedule an appointment.

Life happens, and we know people sometimes have a change in plans. Often times if we allow the word cancelation to become common, it can send the perception that a cancelation is ok.

We don’t “book” appointments, but we do “schedule” them.

We aren’t booking a flight; we’re reserving a time in our schedule for our patients to have a professional service. One of which may be the most important appointment our patient will make: their hygiene visit.

“Cleanings” also have many meanings.

A patient may need scaling and root planning during their hygiene visit. We all know and understand this is not a “cleaning.” It’s a therapeutic service to arrest their periodontal condition.

The words we choose can confuse patients. We’re performing periodontal maintenance to keep their tissues healthy.

A better word for a true cleaning would be a “preventative hygiene visit.”

Some may think this is a play on words, and it is. Continuing to educate our patients is part of our mission.

Using the correct words helps build value for the dental services we perform.

Things are coded using the correct verbiage, and the more we use these words, the easier it will be for patients to understand their meaning.

“Just” is another word that is oftentimes misspoken.

We are calling “just” to confirm an appointment.

“Just” lessens the value of something. I don’t have an alternate word for “just.” I prefer not to use it!

Our words should be universal throughout the office.

It’s really a matter of educating or re-educating ourselves.

We have to know that when we use a word, we all mean it. And we should all agree to use the same words at all times.

Confidence in knowing the right words to use is imperative. I think most of us are pretty adaptable.

Keep it simple, keep it consistent, and you’ll start to see that all words matter.

Meet the Author

Valarie Caulfield in black topValarie has worked on the admin side of dentistry since 1984 and has been an office manager since 1991.

She began her journey with AADOM in 2011, receiving her Fellowship in 2015 and Mastership in 2020.

While she certainly loves the numbers and the business side of dentistry, her career has always focused on patient care and patient outcome.

Valarie helped to found the Northeast Washington AADOM chapter… This text opens a new tab to the chapter’s page… and currently serves as their vice president.

She and her husband Ed have been married for 36 years.


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