January 30, 2021

7 pieces of advice for young dentists that really work and are worth listening to!

Guest Author: Dr Karen Tindall BDS, WPCC, ACC - Balanced Doctor


Guest Author: Dr Karen Tindall BDS, WPCC, ACC - Balanced Doctor

After all the years of hard work through undergraduate studies and dental school you’ve finally made it! You are now the dentist! Yet still there are plenty of people out there who will offer you advice whether or not you ask for it!

Dentistry is a lifelong learning process which will just keep going as long as you keep practising. Everyday you will learn new things about your patients, procedures and the human body. No patient is the same and that is one of the fabulous things about this career. One thing that you will build on every single day is your level of experience and this comes with time. 

With all the advice that you will be given along the way here are my favorite and most valuable pieces of advice that I was given and have used throughout my dental career. 

Your patient is like an iceberg!

When we meet a patient in the dental chair we only see the tip of the iceberg of a whole person. An iceberg in the ocean is 90% hidden below the surface of the water and only the tip is visible to the outside world. The same applies to our patients. When they come to see us we are getting to see them for a snapshot of their day. Unless they tell us we don’t know what happened before their appointment or will happen after. We don’t know what pressures they are facing or what their beliefs and values are. 

Conversation and listening is vital in uncovering more of the patient iceberg. Dental anxiety can mean patients appear irritable or aggressive. Being able to ask questions will help us empathize with them. It’s valuable to understand that the patient’s behaviour may not be directly linked by anything that we are doing. 

I was given this advice when I had just started Ortho and a teenage patient of mine always had such poor oral hygiene no matter what we told her. I was probably being too tough on her. My mentor at the time asked me to consider what could possibly be contributing to this. It turns out that she had been kicked out of her mom’s house and was having to stay with an aunt. She was having an incredibly hard time just surviving, that most likely how she brushed her teeth and braces was the least of her worries. 

Your dental appointment is memorable!

It may be that you will see 30 or more patients in one day. That’s a lot of people to interact with. For your patient this may be their only appointment of the day, maybe even their only interaction with anyone else outside their home. It is certainly likely to be their only dental appointment for a few weeks or months. They will remember their interaction with you and your team. 

Treat every patient with the same enthusiasm that you would give to your first patient of the day. I can guarantee that they will think so much of you for being really interested in them. When you have time, go that extra step for a patient. They will feel honored and special if you go and collect them from the waiting room or if it is you personally who calls them for a follow up at home to check on them. They’ll know that it doesn’t normally happen that way and that’s why it will make the difference to show them that you care.

Your assistant doesn’t need to be your BFF!

As a young dentist you may find yourself being a similar age to your assistant. Regardless of your ages you will be spending a lot of time together. A strong and friendly working relationship with your assistant will make your life so much better. A great assistant is worth their weight in gold! Someone whose brain knows what you want or need before you do is invaluable. That’s what we miss our assistants so much when they are away on vacation or worse still they leave!

Be careful not to overstep the line to social BFF’s. This can be a little too close for comfort. When the line is blurred the professional relationship you have at work can sometimes start to work less well. BFF’s tend to have equal relationships with each other but at work when the dentist needs to delegate this can cause friction. I’m not saying that it cannot be done but on the other hand just be cautious. 

The other side to this situation could be a young dentist who is given an experienced assistant with a very strong personality. Luckily this hasn’t happened to me but I've heard the tales from friends who were assigned experienced dental assistants who tried to run the show. Admittedly they’ve probably seen it all before and have seen many newly qualified dentists sit in the chair you’re in now. Know when to benefit from your assistant’s expert knowledge (because I can tell you they have lots of great things to share and things that you’ve yet to discover) and when they are overstepping the boundaries. 

A great assistant and dentist partnership is a pleasure to be a part of. Look after your assistant and they’ll look after you.

If it’s not written down in the patient’s notes then it didn’t happen!

This is a dento legal one here. The chances are that one day in your career you’ll need to refer back to your patient records in order to defend yourself against litigation. 

Keep careful and comprehensive notes. The most accurate notes are written at the time of the patient’s appointment. Avoid getting into the habit of writing them all up at the end of the day  - you will forget something! Write them down when it is fresh in your memory. If you retrospectively need to come back to a patient’s appointment a year later if something is queried and you didn’t write something down, no matter how much you insist it happened unless you put in in the notes it didn’t happen!

Protect yourself and write your patient’s records at the time. I can personally vouch on this one. Comprehensive record keeping saved me from a potential legal drama!

Say thank you and mean it!

If I could only pick one piece of advice that I was given that made the biggest impact for me this has to be it.

Saying a genuine thank you to your team of reception staff, assistants, hygienists and lab technicians goes a long way. At the end of a day’s work I would make a point to say thank you to them for their efforts and I would genuinely mean it. Don’t underestimate what your gratitude will mean to them. 

Here are a few words from my team that I worked with in England:

“You are the only person who says thank you to us every day and we really appreciate it. It’s a busy place to work but it’s so nice to know that we are appreciated.”

When I left my Ortho job in England to move to the USA these are the words one of my receptionists said to me;

“ We are really going to miss you! You are always so grateful for the work we do out here on reception, dentists tend not to notice everything that we do but you always say thank you! We’ll miss chatting with you at the end of the day!”

Apologize even if it’s not directly your fault

From time to time we will all come across a patient who is unhappy for whatever reason. It may not even be something that you are directly involved with. In these situations remember to do two things. 

Firstly, empathize with the patient and express how you hear what they are saying and that you understand why they are unhappy.

Secondly, say you are sorry that they experienced whatever it is that has upset them. This is the important bit. Offering your apologies does not mean that you accept guilt or blame for what happened. It just means that you are sorry that something has happened to result in their displeasure. Saying sorry will help the patient feel heard. It’s a great way to diffuse a situation and to prevent it escalating. 

If you ever receive a complaint the same thing applies. Express your regret for what has happened. It can calm a situation very quickly and reduce the chances of things going any further 

Go the extra mile

When you have the time, do something that your patients will remember you for. This might be that you go to the waiting room to call the patient in. It will give you time to have a personal chat with them. The patient will know that the dentist doesn’t usually come to collect them and they’ll appreciate the extra attention. Perhaps you could be the one to make a phone call to check in on them after a procedure. The personal touch will be recognised. 

There are two good reasons for doing this occasionally. Firstly, people like to share good stories and experiences. Your patients will be spreading the word all over town that you are a fabulous dentist who really looks after their patients! Word of mouth referrals are powerful and great dentists are highly sought after. Secondly, interacting with your patients in these ways can reinforce the reasons why you chose to be in a caring profession. Being the dentist can mean that we don’t get to do these tasks but when we do it’s really rewarding to see how we are making a difference firsthand. You’ll hear how much your patients appreciate the personal touch every now and then!

Where to find Dr. Karen Online

  • Website: www.balanceddoctor.com
  • Email: DrKaren@Balanceddoctor.com
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/drkarenbalanceddoctor
  • LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/DrKarenBalancedDoctor
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