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Understanding no-shows

No-shows can be a significant problem for some dental practices. They can produce a negative impact on both productivity and the bottom line.

While there’s nothing you can do to eliminate the problem entirely, you can lower the number of no-shows and minimize the impact. It starts with understanding why these patients fail to show up, and then implementing strategies to prevent this from happening.

They don’t realize the implications

It’s hard to blame patients for presuming your chair is always occupied. When they visit your office, they have to wait and sometimes it may seem that it’s a long time until an appointment is available. Front office staff can explain to patients why it’s important to show up for appointments or cancel within a reasonable time frame. You can prepare a short explanation to inform patients that no-shows lead to lost time and productivity and can make it harder to serve them well.

They don’t value the treatment

A patient who skips an appointment often doesn’t understand the oral health consequences of delaying treatment. As part of the education process, patients should leave the operatory with an understanding of why your recommended treatment is important. Create a sense of urgency by explaining how procrastination will lead to complications down the line.


Your patients have busy lives with a lot on their minds. Sometimes they just forget. Luckily, this problem is one of the easiest to address. Make sure your appointment reminders are delivered to patients using their preferred method of communication. Ask patients if they wish to be contacted via email, phone or text. Be sure your message includes a quick reminder to call and reschedule if they encounter a conflict.


Combatting dental anxiety is an ongoing challenge. Make a note of patients who are struggling and give them a call before their appointment to talk them through the treatment process. Sometimes a quick rundown of what they can expect is enough to give them the courage to come in.

Cancellation protocol

Your practice needs a clearly-defined cancellation protocol. If a patient knows there’s a cost to missing their appointment, they’re more likely to cancel with adequate notice. Some practices charge a fee for late cancellations and no-shows. When charging a fee, provide the cancellation policy in writing and have patients read and sign as a way of consenting to the fee.