Sticks and Stones …

Words can be the difference between a complaint, or not ; a good day, or not; self esteem, or not.  You are probably more resilient to sticks and stones than you think, whilst innocently intended words can be devastating.

If you had said that to me as a young dental student, I’d have laughed in your face…”whatever! over dramatise much?” but complaints, bad days in the surgery and self esteem or headspace issues were an abstract concept.  They hadn’t happened yet and sure, whilst these things might be on the horizon I certainly never envisaged that they would significantly affect my love for the job.

We all started out as shiny, brand new baby dentists.  Wanting to fix the world, wow our patients with our knowledge, our skill, our level of care and the difference we would make in their lives.  We wanted to help, not as part of some selfless crusade but because helping people feels good.  Being a dentist should feel good.  So what happens between then and the sceptical, realist that we found ourselves becoming?

Patients! That’s what happened.  So, true fact, turns out patients are people (shocking – I know!) and like us they’re a mixed bag.  They bring with them all sorts of issues that we have no control over, or often forewarning of before they step through our surgery doors. And the negativity … could we have chosen a more hated profession? Hate is a strong word but we hear it on nearly a daily basis: “I hate the dentist”, “I hate coming here”, ” The last dentist ruined my teeth”, “That tooth hasn’t been right since the dentist drilled that tooth too deep.”, “Your filling fell out.”

You can start out as optimistic and shiny as you like, but hear enough of this over the years and it can wear the best of us down.  Throw in increasing life stressors: buying houses, buying practices, getting married, getting divorced, having children, illness, injury, deaths of loved ones and you might just have the perfect storm for those mental health issues that the baby dentist we all used to be couldn’t have dreamed of.

So, the first words we need to be weary of and have coping strategies for are those of our patients, we know it’s only a really small percentage of all the people we help but they’ll dominate our thoughts if we let them.

The next words are ours, both to our patients and the new patients, who’ve all had a ‘last dentist’.  Communication can be the difference between a patient complaining or not, most complaints will arise from how the patient has been made to feel rather than the practical issue itself.

When seeing a new patient who’s bringing a complaint from their last dentist lets be kind and considerate of each other.  Despite a recent promotion of whistleblowing and invitations from some dental councils for patients to report complaints, lets take a moment to remember those less than ideal circumstances we’ve worked in: moving targets, gaggers, super salivators, limited openers, obstructive tongues… the list goes on.  Give ‘the last dentist’ the benefit of the doubt, the same consideration you’d like for the less than ideal bws and paxrs, with less than ideal owners that are seeking their next dentist.

We started dental school all in this together, we shouldn’t feel in isolation dealing with the rest of our career.  Lets look out for each other and together we may just raise the public perception of dentists and keep baby dentists new and shiny for a little bit longer.