Long Dental Office Wait Time? Here’s What’s Really Going On

Dental Office Wait Time - Dr. Rick Mars

Many people worked in food service or retail at a young age, and those experiences have likely made them more empathetic when interacting with people working in similar positions. But most people didn’t work in dental offices as teenagers, so they don’t know what a day in the life of a dentist or hygienist might look like.

One of the reasons I wrote The Big Smile was to give those outside of the medical field insight into what goes on behind the scenes at a dental practice. I believe that the more patients understand, the more transparent doctor-patient relationships can be. 

So, that brings me to my point: dentists are late sometimes. In this article I’m going to discuss just a few of the many reasons your dentist might be running behind, as well as how dentists and patients should react. 

Some Patients Take More Time

While there may be a set start time to an appointment, there isn’t a specified end time. My staff and I have a pretty good idea of approximately how long each patient should take, but that doesn’t mean that it will pan out like that every time. 

Some people have smaller mouths that are more difficult to work in. Others have high anxiety surrounding dental visits and need more attention and special care than the usual patient. Some people have a particularly sensitive gag reflex. Sometimes a procedure just takes longer than expected, for example if a patient needs additional numbing medication. These are all things that are out of our control. 

Some Doctors Overbook

At my practice, we make sure not to overbook. A constant slam-packed schedule can lead to long wait times being the norm, and patients who have excessively long waits aren’t likely to recommend us to their friends and family. That’s the opposite of what we want!

Nevertheless, some doctors count on patient cancelations to give them ample time in their schedules. If the wait at your dentist’s office seems steep every time you have an appointment, that might be what’s going on. 

Find a No-Excuse Dentist

I never want to bore my patients with the reasons why I’m running late. It’s important that your dentist (or any doctor for that matter) acknowledge that they are running late and apologize for the delay whether or not they could’ve prevented the situation.  

Be an Understanding Patient

I know it’s frustrating to wait at the dentist. But the next time it happens to you, remember what we’ve discussed in this article. Some days just don’t go according to plan. If you’re pressed for time, consider working with your dentist to schedule an appointment time that is less likely to have a wait. These time slots are usually first thing in the morning or right after lunch.  In addition, allow a window of time when you go to the dentist just in case he/she is running behind and your schedule is not impacted. 

For more insights into the world of dentistry, check out my book, The Big Smile. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to learn more about my way of doing things.