What I’ve learned from my patients

As published in the Buck’s County Courier Times on Friday, April 10, 2015

When I reflect on my more than two decades of dental practice, there are many lessons that I have learned about my patients and my approach to their care. Some of the most important lessons were often the simplest, although they did not seem that simple in the beginning. Here is what my patients have taught me:

Patients don’t care how much you know, but they do know how much you care.
Patients are deeply tuned into how much empathy a dentist has, which ties into how they perceive their experience during treatment. Although I completely agree with the sentiment, I would take it one step further. What a dentist knows does matter too. Dentists with greater skill and experience can improve their patient’s treatment experience and outcome.

Give your patients all of the options available to them.
A common example would be when a patient has an infected tooth, which might be treated with a root canal or extraction. If the tooth were extracted, treatment options would include no further treatment, a bone graft, an implant, permanent bridge, or removable denture to fill the space. A dentist should not only give the option for treatment that he or she is comfortable with or feels competent doing, but should also take into account what the patient wants, can afford or has tolerance for.

Listen to the patient.
It sounds simple, but is not always followed. Dentists perform complex treatment that can be stressful, especially in a busy dental practice. In the course of the day, time to really listen to what the patient wants and needs can sometimes be marginalized. This is why communication between the dentist and patient is perhaps the most important part of the dentist-patient relationship. Poor communication can lead to false expectations for treatment and increased stress before, during and after treatment, especially if complications arise.

Be upfront about the cost of treatment.
Most people know that dental treatment can involve a significant financial investment. The situation gets complicated when you factor in dental insurance and all of the different treatment options available. The dentist may not know exactly how much your treatment will cost out-of-pocket, but should be able to give you a rough idea. For a more precise estimate, the office manager should be able to help you. If you have dental insurance, a pretreatment estimate can be submitted to your insurance company, but it may take a few weeks to get the estimate back.

Under promise, over deliver.
I have observed over the course of my career that patients who are most dissatisfied with their treatment experience are those who either expected or were promised a better result than actually occurred. That is why it is essential that the dentist be completely honest with the patient about the course of treatment and typical results. No treatment can be guaranteed to work out favorably 100 percent of the time. Treatment failures and complications can and do occur, even when treated by the most competent dentists. Fortunately, a great majority of dental treatment does work out well, especially when the patient is given realistic expectations and treated by a skilled and compassionate dentist.

These are some of the main lessons that I have learned over the course of my career. The best part is that you never stop learning, that’s why it’s called the practice of dentistry.

Dr. Jerry Gordon can be reached at (215) 639-0571. Comments, questions, and second opinions are available at The Dental Comfort Zone, 2734 Street Rd. Bensalem, PA 19020 (across from the Giant supermarket). To learn more: https://dentalcomfortzone.com/, E-mail: drjdmd@comcast.net