What Does That Patient Really Want?
I have been working in dentistry for over 25 years and I am a huge fan of dentists! I have spoken with dentists and staff around the country and worked directly with great dentists in a general office setting. I have seen first-hand what wonderful services a dentist can provide for those in their care.
In a busy practice it is easy to forget what it means to a person to be able to receive gentle, appropriate, and sometimes life-changing treatment. We are used to seeing patients in pain leave the office relieved and on their way to health. We are familiar with the blessings of nearly painless injections and fast, efficient treatment. We are accustomed to the beautiful cosmetic changes that our patients can receive, often altering their whole concept of comfort and attractiveness. Modern dentistry is a marvel and dentists are at its’ heart.
I have the pleasure right now of working with a dentist who is adept at putting patients at ease, and responding to questions and concerns that are challenging and difficult. He has mastered the technique of addressing what is actually the patient’s main issue; even when the way it is expressed is far from being plainly evident and may be rather “off-the-wall.” Yesterday I had a patient of record who was insistent in pursuing just what it was that can be seen in diagnostic radiographs. He was in my chair for a standard adult prophy and recall appointment and began our time together by telling me that he mistrusted all dental product advertising and would never use any manufactured toothpaste. In addition he told me that the ADA had been lying to patients for decades, and that most dental treatment was unnecessary and even dangerous! He asked me if I could see “crawling bugs” in the radiographs (4 BWS) taken of his teeth, and wanted to know if I could point them out to him. While he had several broken down and decayed teeth, he said that he had no pain and doubted he needed any restorations.
You can imagine that working with him was somewhat of a challenge. As someone who claimed to be in no discomfort, and who obviously distrusted dentistry in general, I was at a loss as to what had prompted him to return to our office. I began by telling him that “crawling bugs” would not be evident in an x-ray, even if a bacterial infection was present. I told him we would need a microscopic sample to view bacteria. He was skeptical. What is the point of an x-ray then, he wanted to know. I explained that x-rays show us structures and damage inside, around and under a tooth that are not visible from the “outside.” I used a favorite example of mine that a mechanic cannot figure out what is wrong with a car engine by just looking at the hood of a car.
We then progressed to the prophy. He had many large decayed areas in his teeth, of which I took photos. I expressed that I thought he would need several fillings and at least two crowns. I showed him these teeth in the photos, setting the stage as I always try to do for my dentist. In general his periodontal condition was not alarming. He was not difficult to work on, and we got along fine.
I was interested in what my dentist was going to say to him about his needed treatment, and the focus on “crawling bugs” my patient seemed to have. I talked to him in the hallway prior to his coming in to the treatment room to let him know what had been transpiring. Here is what happened:
My dentist greeted the patient with a hearty handshake and sat down facing him eye-to-eye. “It’s good to see you. What is going on?” he asked. My patient proceeded to talk about the “bugs” and the ADA, how none of his teeth hurt, and asked what might be recommended for the “holes” in his teeth.
“I see that you have had several amalgam fillings,” my dentist began.
My dentist mapped out a treatment plan, and the patient agreed on the spot. I was amazed! Instead of focusing on some of the more questionable issues the patient had, my dentist got to the heart of the matter. The patient wanted tooth-colored resins, not amalgam. He did not go into the pros and cons of how amalgam is viewed by the dental world. He did not argue about the existence or non-existence of “bugs” in amalgam. He did not try to change the patient’s worldview. Instead, he was able to see what the patient was really concerned about, and focus on that.
Dentists everywhere are accomplishing similar feats. Caring for patients is not just about the treatment itself, but also about what patients need and want. I am impressed by their ability to do so with skill, care and judgment. I work with a great dentist and am proud to be a part of a profession that makes such a difference in so many people’s lives.
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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