I had an interesting conversation recently with a friend from dental school which gave me the topic for this blog. When we finished dental school, he entered the US Navy as a way to repay dental school tuition and gain great experience, and he worked that way for 8 years. Afterwards, he worked in private practice, as I have since graduation 21 years ago. We spoke about the differences between practicing in the Navy and private practice, the number one difference being that in the Navy, all of your patients take treatment recommendations seriously, and act on those recommendations. In private practice, we spend a huge part of our day explaining to patients why we recommend certain treatments, and then “chasing” patients to do what is really in their best interest.
I told my friend today how much I still love dentistry, and that I only wish when I diagnose work to be done for my patients, they would just make an appointment, show up for the appointment, and let me do my best for them. If all of these parts were present 100% of the time, I would be so incredibly fulfilled, and could continue to work as long as my eyes, brain, and back hold out! However, this is NOT the reality of dental practice. Instead, there often seems to be doubt, mistrust, and fear associated with dental treatment…all of which keep patients from their best dental health.
I cannot speak for every single dentist in practice today in the world, but I can speak for the majority of them. We are working in this field because we really DO want to help you be healthier. We all first attended university to gain a bachelor’s degree, and then dental school for four years, for the privelege of improving YOUR health. Dental school alone at the time I graduated (1994) commonly left students with at least $100,000 of debt (I had almost $130K of debt), and I can’t imagine what that cost is now. We are required by our licensing boards to continue, at our great expense, to attend dozens of hours of continuing education each year to stay up-to-date with an ever-changing field of practice. We spend our days bent over in weird positions using loud tools to fix very small things inside a 4-inch wide dark, spit-filled cave attached to a living, breathing, emotion-filled being. That same being has likely informed us more than once how he or she would rather be anywhere else but here to receive our services. And from this, we make a living.
Let me tell you who I see when I meet a patient, examine a patient. For those in my age range, I see my brother, my friends, my spouse; in younger patients, I see my children or children of my friends; in the elderly, I see my parents or my in-laws. Every time I meet a patient, every time I look at an X-ray or a photograph or teeth, I diagnose disease and recommend treatment as I would for someone very special in my life. For me, and the majority of my colleagues, there is no other option. And yet…there is doubt. There are articles written about the dentists, likely “money-grabbers”, who recommend “too much treatment”, while others (the “good” ones) recommend little or no treatment. I would argue that each dentist diagnoses and recommends treatment based on his or her knowledge and experience rather than by the money potentially earned. Online, I’ve read sickening comments about dentists “only recommending treatment to buy a new fancy car or go on vacation”, and I am appalled. Are there some like this? Sadly, there probably are, just like in every other business out there. But…I drive a Ford, my husband (an orthodontist, by the way) drives another Ford much older than mine, and I can’t remember the last time we went on vacation.
And yet, I diagnose and recommend treatment in the most comprehensive whole-body manner possible. My team and I take dental health very seriously, probably more seriously than many of our patients. We walk our talk. We DO brush, floss, use a Waterpik daily. We’ve had braces, fillings replaced, root canals, gum surgery, and many, many crowns placed. We’ve balanced our bites and whitened our teeth so it is very clear we mean business. And it hurts us inside when our patients don’t feel the same way, that our patients don’t always view bleeding gums or the potential loss of a tooth…even one in the back that no one can see…as horrific and destructive as we do. When you come to our office (and the majority of others), lay back in our chairs, and entrust your care to us…we are honoured and give your our best advice. The best way to reciprocate that relationship? Believe we really DO want the best for you, and let us help you get there.
Dr. Andrea Stevens is a cosmetic and family dentist in practice in Kanata, Ontario. If you have dental questions, you can call her at 613-271-7091 or visit her at kanatacosmeticdentist.com Please also feel free to leave comments or questions below, and Dr. Stevens will be happy to answer!