Dental treatment can sometimes involve a series of unfamiliar procedures that can easily be misunderstood by the patient. These misunderstandings regarding the scope, expectations, and the potential for discomfort during or after treatment can weaken the dentist-patient relationship. For the most part, the dentist must take responsibility for patients who seem confused or upset concerning both dental treatment as well as potential complications after treatment is rendered.
I will provide two common examples to illustrate this point. The first situation involves root canal therapy. When a tooth requires root canal therapy, it is infected, and the patient is usually in pain. After the dentist completes the treatment, the patient may still be having pain after three days. If the dentist has not said anything to the patient about this potential for pain, most reasonable people could assume that the dentist did not do a good job, the wrong tooth was treated, or a wide variety of discouraging thoughts. If, however, the dentist told their patient that there would most likely be discomfort for several days and in some cases up to a week or more after the procedure (pain medication given as a precaution), the patient would feel much more confident with their dentist and the treatment received. (If pain persists for several weeks after root canal therapy has been completed, that may indicate a potential problem with the procedure that may need to be corrected.)
The second example is with the patient who needs dentures, especially if the patient is getting them for the first time. After dentures are made, the dentist should tell the patient that they might need to come back to the office for several more short appointments for adjustments. If the dentist omits this information and the patient gets several “sore spots”, they will most certainly lose confidence in the dentist, and think that the dentures were poorly made. What every denture patient should know is that almost every new denture will cause a “sore spot” or two that can be easily adjusted, often in less than a minute or two.
As you can see, communication is the single most important element for a successful treatment experience for the dentist and the patient. You may notice that I often bring up the communication issue in my columns, largely because so many problems can be avoided if proper communication exists. In my office, I routinely explain all the treatment that I provide and also contact my patients with a phone call after any involved treatment to ensure that the patient knows what to expect, and if what they are experiencing is normal.