Whether you’re a dentist, hygienist, or patient, small talk during dental appointments is a hotly debated topic. How chatty should you be? While some of us are naturally gregarious, others of us may find it hard work to engage in idle conversation, especially with a new patient in our dental office.

Introverted dentists, dental hygienists, and patients would typically prefer to cut to the chase and focus on taking care of that cavity instead of discussing the weather, the latest headline news story, or the local sports scene. That often-dreaded casual conversations can have a significant impact on the provider-patient relationship, though.

A study ¹  by psychologist Elizabeth Dunn noted that even brief interactions between a coffee shop patron and a barista could create feelings of happiness, positivity, and belonging. As such, dental appointments offer even more opportunities to build relationships through conversations, thanks to the length of each visit.

It pays to do your research before you begin talking your patients’ ears off, though. Rather than blurting out the latest family update or diving into a hot-topic political discussion, you can strategically use small talk to build relationships, enhance communication, and learn more about your patients’ healthy – or not-so-healthy – habits. Then check out our case study on how dental offices can prioritize the patient experience here.

What Is Small Talk?

Before diving into the most creative ways to talk to your dental patients, let’s determine what small talk is. More than likely, you already know if you don’t like it. At the very least, you know someone who’s said, “I hate small talk. It feels so forced and pointless.”

In reality, small talk helps bridge the gap between strangers or casual acquaintances. The light conversation allows each party to warm up to one another. It improves listening skills and even helps minimize social anxiety. Most importantly, it makes your patients feel seen, heard, and valued.


With this in mind, small talk may not seem so unnecessary after all. Officially known as “phatic communication,”² small talk is a type of informal communication that people use to connect, bond, and build relationships with people. Small talk forms the foundation of virtually every personal and professional relationship and helps facilitate additional business transactions in the future.

The Benefits of Small Talk with Dental Patients

Many people believe that small talk isn’t as important, meaningful, or valuable as deep conversations or informative discussions. However, casual conversation does more than merely putting an end to awkward, silent dental appointments.

Informal discussions are a critical component of many service industry and health care relationships. Consider chats in hair salons or barber shops, between clients and sales reps, ³  between physical therapist and patient, even between store clerks and customers.

In dentistry, this interpersonal communication ritual can build trust, reduce anxiety, and help patients find common ground with the men and women behind the surgical masks and scalers. In addition, small talk can reveal clues about the patient’s health and lifestyle. Other benefits to a dental practice of small talk with dental patients include the following.

1. Improved Relationships

As a dentist or hygienist, small talk enables you to do more than pass the time. It helps you build trust with your patients. Pleasant conversation and active listening ensure that patients know you are on their side. It says, “I’m friendly, I’m knowledgeable, and I’m here to help.” As a result, your patients will feel more comfortable sharing important details regarding their health and well-being.

2. Better Reviews

Informal conversation leaves customers feeling engaged and valued. Engaged customers are more likely to recommend your dental practice to their friends and family or leave positive reviews online. In turn, better online reviews result in more clients, 4 more revenue, and more opportunities to engage with the patients in your chair.

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3. Happier Patients

Even a brief interaction between a coffee shop patron and a barista can create feelings of happiness, connection, and belonging. By prioritizing friendly, authentic small talk with your patients, your staff can help boost the overall mood of your office.

10 Creative Ideas for Small Talk with Dental Patients

You don’t have to be an extroverted wordsmith to chat with your patients. In many cases, your patients won’t even focus on the topic of conversation. Instead, they’ll simply feel more comfortable because you’ve made an effort to connect.

You can still refine your skills as a conversationalist and carry on seemingly effortless, relaxing conversations, though. No matter if you’re a dental hygienist or a dentist, you have the opportunity to create a positive first impression and build a trusting, long-term patient-provider relationship.

Rather than starting each appointment with a cursory greeting and getting straight to work, take the time to consider your interactions and try out a few of our top ten creative ideas for conducting small talk with dental patients.

1. Set the Tone

We know how busy your dental office is. Even so, make it a priority to enter each examination room calmly. Hectically rushing in can intensify nerves, agitate patients who are also in a rush, or make quiet patients feel even less inclined to speak. Don’t bring the last case with you into this exam room. Instead, be present for this patient.

2. Say Hello

We know that you worked hard in dental school. Still, clinical studies often fail to prepare new dentists and hygienists for interpersonal connection. Most professionals learn the skills they need to converse easily with patients over time, but you may feel stiff and uncomfortable at first.

Minimize stiff communication by greeting your patients warmly as you enter the room. Be sure to position yourself so the patient in the chair can see you. Introduce yourself, smile, make eye contact, and offer a passing comment about the weather or another topic of general interest to get the ball rolling smoothly.

3. Get on Their Level

Many dental hygienists lean their patients back in the chair before they begin speaking. Instead of immediately placing your patient in a vulnerable position, sit down in the chair next to them like you’re having a casual conversation with a friend.

Make eye contact and ask if they have any questions about their appointment. Give your patients a moment to express their concerns in an upright position before leaning their chair back and getting to work.

4. Calm Their Nerves

Nearly 50% of the population 5 suffers from moderate to extreme dental anxiety. In some cases, intense dental fear can prevent patients from attending appointments, potentially resulting in decreased oral health.

Small talk won’t eliminate dental anxiety, but it can help soothe your patients and assure them that they can trust you. Explain each step of the cleaning and examination at a conversational level, reducing the amount of jargon you use. You may mention minor concerns, such as a possible cavity, and reassure your patient that the dentist will examine it later.

5. Focus on the Patient

When you interact with reticent patients, you may feel tempted to talk about your life, family, travel plans, or other topics. Some patients may love to hear about your life. However, always err on the side of caution when it comes to small talk.

Ask your patients about their lives, families, and travel plans. If they ask about yours, you can quickly answer their questions before refocusing the conversation on them.

6. Choose Your Topics Wisely

You’ve probably heard that you should never discuss religion or politics at the table. The same goes for the dental examination room. Avoid touchy subjects like finances, religious beliefs, or political views. Instead, discuss neutral, positive topics, such as:

  • The weather
  • Sports
  • Families
  • Jobs
  • Travel
  • Pets

7. Read the Room

Despite your best efforts, some patients may not want to engage with you. If you notice that your patient responds briefly or seems more interested in their phone or the TV screen, take note of their nonverbal cues and minimize the chatter.

8. Be Friendly, But Efficient

Unlike the patient mentioned above, some clients may enjoy small talk and want to know more about your summer vacation, your dog, or your new baby. If so, you may find that you’ve chatted for ten or 15 minutes without ever touching a cleaning tool.

If you notice that you’ve struck up a new friendship, kindly mention that you need to start the cleaning or examination process to avoid keeping them too long, but offer to pick the conversation up again at a later time.

9. Prioritize Relationships

Small talk helps build relationships, but effective listening solidifies them. Pay attention to your patient’s comments, address their concerns, and find ways to show that you heard them. Whether you offer them an extra toothbrush for their travel kit or send a few stickers home for their children, your patients will feel valued and seen by you and your staff.

10. Facilitate a Seamless Examination

Finally, ensure an effortless transition between cleaning, examination, and checkout. You may leave notes for the dentist to review before the examination, walk your patients to the checkout counter when their visit is over, or ensure that they’ve booked their next appointment with you. Your patients will appreciate the seamless, stress-free close to their appointment, no matter how you do it.

Connect with Patients Before, During, and After Appointments with Weave

At Weave, we know that relationships are at the foundation of every successful business. That’s why we make it so easy to attract, engage, and retain customers using our unified communication platform. Chat with patients, collect payments via text, manage online reviews, and streamline your operations with the top communications platform for dental practices.

For more information on our services please schedule a free demo.

  1. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550613502990