I remember clearly the first week of dental school. It was like they were speaking a foreign language that I couldn’t begin to decipher. A time when I wondered how I slipped through the cracks of the admissions committee (they must have missed that C I got in Biochemistry), deliberated on whether the microscopic oral cavity is worth this huge investment in time and money, and simply questioned my existence in this world altogether. Yeah, that was me. BUT, if there was one tidbit I took away from the week, it was that there is a person attached to that mouth!
You see, I’m OCD—about EVERYTHING! My marketing programs, phone call scripts, treatment planning, restorative protocols, room setups. The whole bit. I’m sure it makes me a tough doc to work with (you’ll have to ask my staff on that one). With this comes a desire to do good dentistry, to make sure that mesiofacial line angle is perfect on my composite restoration or the implant is lined up just right, or we’re doing it over. I sometimes lose track of where I am, what I’m doing, or that there is a living, breathing person beyond that miniscule field of view I see through my loupes.
This concept is fresh in my brain because of an experience I had last week in my practice. I work out of several locations with four other doctors, so it’s fairly often that I get to see a patient who’s not “mine.” I’m fairly familiar with that awkward 30 seconds of flipping through the chart to see if my signature is anywhere on it from previous appointments because I don’t remember a face; we’ve all been there (please tell me I’m not the only one!). I sat down for a hygiene check, shook hands and introduced myself. But the patient had already met me. Oops! I was halfway through the exam when I saw it. That fractured mesiobuccal cusp on #14.By golly, I’ve seen this before. I shouted out in exhilaration, “I remember you! I remember THAT TOOTH!”
Are you kidding me?! I’m so crazy that I recognize a tooth, but not a human face? Why, yes, yes I am.
Again, please tell me I’m not the only one. But it’s true; we get so caught up in line angles, prep dimensions, working lengths, etc. It’s pretty cool when you step back for a second and think about what it is that we do. We’re working on real living people, but in a space so small that much of the work we do is measured in millimeters.
It sounds crazy, but it’s probably the single best point of advice I can give to the young dentists I encounter: treat the patient, not just the tooth. That’s what changes patients’ views of our profession as a whole, and keeps them coming back to see us. It makes it personal. So next time you shake hands with a patient, make a point to learn their name and remember their face. It’s a lot more beneficial in the long run than remembering the tooth! Take my word for it.
Donald Murry, DMD