Professional Courtesy: Three Meals or 100,000 Smiles by Dr. Thomas Giacobbi

Dentaltown Magazine

Lessons in dentistry learned from the auto shop’s floor

by Thomas Giacobbi, DDS, FAGD, editorial director, Dentaltown magazine

My recent adventure with my 8-year-old GMC Yukon was remarkably similar to a dental appointment and certainly drove home a number of important lessons. (Pun intended.)

The story begins with an innocent leak on the garage floor. My knowledge of cars is probably as limited as most patients’ knowledge of the inner workings of their teeth. The pinkish color led me to believe it might be transmission fluid. I called the dealership, but the next appointment was six days away.

It’s hard to accept waiting for an appointment when you feel an urgent need to solve your problem.

While on the phone, I asked when I last had the transmission fluid flushed; the answer was one year ago. I hung up the phone thinking that couldn’t be the issue.More investigation led me to the empty overflow/“burp tank” connected to the radiator. It took about 1.5 gallons of fluid to get the radiator back to its proper level with a cold engine.

Additional investigation over the next few days led me to some fluid residue in the back of the engine compartment. Two radiator hoses entering the firewall were clearly the source of the leak. I was confident in my self-diagnosis, and I knew this would make my appointment the following day go smoothly.

I dropped the car off the night before, because I’d already be at work during my 7 a.m. appointment time that morning. I provided a detailed note of my findings that included a photo of the problem location. I hadn’t heard anything by 11:30 a.m., so I called the shop but had to leave a message.

The return call compounded my disappointment. The service adviser said they hadn’t gotten around to my car and that he’d call back later with a final diagnosis.

If you make an appointment with someone, you should always communicate problems keeping the appointment in advance. Nobody likes a surprise, because it sounds like an excuse.

My diagnosis for the location of the leak was confirmed. There were two faulty connections that needed to be replaced and they should probably change the hoses, too, because they “didn’t look too good, either.” I paused to digest the recommendation.

Providing a clear recommendation that includes the necessities as well as the options is critical in building trust.

My initial thought was to opt only for the absolute necessity, but I thought better of it. In my mind, I had worked up a price for this minor repair, given the easy access to the hoses and connections. At that moment, $450 sounded like a lot of money for this job and I love to fix things around the house and at home.

I quickly realized how ironic it was to be shocked at the price for something I don’t fully understand. A service adviser may not think about building value, but it can help anyone in a service business.

My car was not finished until the end of the day and a series of transportation issues had me in the waiting room earlier than necessary. When my car was finally finished, I was eager to go home. I paid my bill and started to drive away when I noticed the dashboard display read “Oil Life 13%.”

Part of my service that day was supposed to include an oil change. When I looked at the top corner of the windshield, there was no sticker to remind me of my mileage for the next one. I made a U-turn right back to the dealership.

“Did they even do an oil change?” I asked. “The oil life is not reset and there is no sticker in the window.” He checked if there was a new oil filter attached and then promptly had a sticker made for the window.

You never want people leaving your office feeling like they paid for services they didn’t receive. It’s often the small details that make a long, expensive procedure a success in the eyes of your patient.

Take the time to identify the details in your practice where you can do better! Great clinical dentistry is always at the top of the list, but don’t lose sight of all the things that happen before and after that procedure. Those are the things that let the patient know they received quality care.

If you have a comment or a story to share, please post under this article online at I’m on Twitter @ddsTom or email:


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