Most dentists are good dentists; you have to be in order to get licensed. True, not everyone graduated top of their class, and it is possible you’ll end up in the chair of a dentist who attended a dubious dental institution (think Dr. Nick, graduate of the “Hollywood Upstairs Medical College” from The Simpsons ), but the chances are unlikely. Dental school is a rigorous weeding out process, so you can rest assured that at the very least, your dentist is competent enough to drill and fill a tooth. But is competency the extent of what a good dentist is? Probably not. At BSDA, we think that competency is only the starting point of good dentistry. But what are the other elements that a good dentist has that separate them from the ‘good enough’ dentist?
A few years back we did an in depth study of our patients to help us answer this question. What we discovered helped us model a practice that was directly shaped by patient feedback. The questionnaires revealed some interesting (but maybe not so surprising) things. Almost to a person, patients are afraid to question their dentist. And who can blame them? Dentists are supposed to be the authority, the experts, the people who know what they’re doing. And let’s be honest, most dentists do not exactly lend themselves to being questioned. That’s probably because there’s a kind of austerity surrounding anyone with the title of ‘Dr.’ However, when a patient is not actively part of their own treatment (it is their teeth after all) it creates an unhealthy dynamic of separation between a patient and their dentist. Rather than being part of the plan to keep their teeth, patients become passive supplicants completely at the mercy of their dentist. This setup is doomed to fail. It’s bad for the dentist and worse for the patient.
Unsurprisingly, besides being afraid to ask questions of their dentists, the second most common theme that popped up in the survey was traumatic experiences at the dental office. It’s not that there’s a lot of bad dentists intentionally traumatizing their patients, but the horror stories are usually the result of patients not asking questions or being invited to be a part of their dental treatment plan. For instance, there’s stories of patients going in for a filling and leaving with braces. The dentist didn’t even bother to tell the patient he was taking a rather serious detour; he just slapped the braces on and rescheduled the filling for a later date. The patient was probably too afraid to ask the dentist what he was doing, and based on previous experiences, they trusted that he knew what he was doing. Needless to say, that patient probably never returned to that dental office.
One of the biggest, and too often easiest, blunders a dentist can make is to omit the patient from their own treatment. In order to involve the patient, a dentist has to make themselves accessible, and not hide behind a curtain of dental authority. Think of the previously mentioned patient who went in for a filling and came out strapped with a mouth full of metal. They very well may have needed braces, and the orthodonture work may have been flawless, but that is all besides the point. The result was that the initial problem wasn’t fixed and a bigger problem was caused. In turn, the dental office lost a patient, and the patient was left forever wary of dentists.
So far, we’ve been painting a picture of a good dentist through negation, but it should start to be pretty clear what we think a ‘good’ dentist is. At BSDA our picture of a good dentist goes beyond being excellent at the craft; the secret ingredient to our entire approach is to build great relationships with our clients and involve them in the process of keeping their teeth. If you read our last blog, the difference shows: what people feel and experience here is different.
We’ve written in past blogs extensively about how our aim is to be “dental friends” with our clients, but what about the actual dental part of our enterprise makes us different? We’ve been hinting at it this entire time, and it’s probably pretty obvious by now: we involve the client in the plan to keep and maintain the teeth they have. That starts with making the client comfortable enough to ask questions. In fact, we encourage questions, (and questioning); after all, we’re dentists, not geniuses. That means we’ll never come across as sterile, unfeeling, icy dental divas. If you’re ever getting that vibe, tell us! Our aim is to inform and encourage our patients each step of the way. We never want to dive headlong into procedures that will become traumatic events in the annals of a client’s dental history. If something scares you, just say it; there’s no judgment here.
We’ve said it multiple times already, but the best teeth you’ll ever have are the ones you have now. By involving the client in the process, together we figure out how best to achieve the goal of keeping their teeth. Patients have often complained that other dental offices will recommend radical treatment right off the bat without looking for alternatives (have you ever gone in for an oil change and the mechanic recommends a new transmission?). That’s a problem. We don’t think that storming the beaches of Normandy should be the first resort. We’ve found that there’s often simpler solutions to maintaining a client’s teeth. But creating the right course of action for a patient only happens when they feel comfortable with the Dr. and if they’re part of the process of keeping their teeth.
In a nutshell, this is what we think a ‘good’ dentist is. It’s the ideal we constantly strive for and we’re getting better at it every day. If what we’re describing tickles your fancy, and if you’ve been wounded in the trenches of the dental chair, think of this as an open invitation to become a BSDA friend.