An open forum for our readers to express their valued opinions (May 01, 2000)

Re: Editorial “The Eighty-Five Percent Myth,” Oral Health, January, 2000Let us look at the idea that 15 percent of a dentist’s success comes from technical expertise and the remaining 85 percent from people skills. If one is to discount the importance of people skills when dealing with patients, one should therefore have no problem having patients accepting 100 percent of the treatment prescribed 100 percent of the time by merely hanging our University degrees on the wall.

I have only practiced dentistry for 14 years, but I have yet to experience myself or meet anyone I know experience this situation with a patient: “Gee doctor, I couldn’t help noticing your degrees on the wall. Would you please do whatever dentistry you deem necessary with the material of your choice? Oh, and don’t bother about what my insurance covers. I’ll pay for it regardless.”

The fact of the matter is that we need people skills to help people make up their minds as to how they would like their dentistry done and gear them towards informed choices. If one does not have the technical ability, there aren’t enough people skills in the world to hide incompetence.

In this age, with patients being very astute consumers on every aspect of their lives including dentistry, there is no way a dentist can survive solely on marketing. The dentist must have the technical expertise to back up what they say they can do. Not being able to convey to a patient what you can offer them and what is available in terms they can understand is far more detrimental to one’s success. You may be the best dentist, but guess what? Your patients won’t know that unless they are told it in ways other than a piece of paper hanging on the wall.

What dentists have always lacked is the ability to share with our patients what we can do for them and for the patient to see the value in the dentistry we have to offer them. That is why it is paramount that dentists learn how to relate to patients. If taking management or motivational courses helps dentists learn those skills, no one will suffer and the patients will start expecting high quality dentistry. We as dentists will seek out courses and mentors that help our technical expertise surpass our verbal skills. The patient will receive the best dentistry available. Everyone wins.

James Trofimuk, DDS Calgary

I was most interested to read “The Eighty-Five Percent Myth” by Dr. James M. Kerr in your February 2000 issue of Oral Health. It seems to me that he has misinterpreted the significance of the Carnegie Institute study. I would be inclined to think that its findings are probably close to the mark. You can have the best clinical skills and expertise on the planet, but if you can’t relate to people then you will fail as a businessman. I have seen that exact scenario happen in real life. I don’t think that Carnegie’s findings should be interpreted as Dr. Kerr has done.

They DON’T suggest that you “rely mostly on ‘people skills and advertising'” at the expense of progressing with your knowledge and technical expertise. Rather, I think that the message is; Yes, absolutely ensure that you can provide the best clinical service your hands and your mind are capable of BUT pay attention to the “people side” of your business.

At the end of the appointment, those beautiful crown margins will be appreciated by you and those who follow you, but the patient EXPECTS that certain degree of technical competency. The success of the appointment to them will be determined by how they were treated as a human being from the moment they picked up the phone to make that first appointment. I believe the point of the Carnegie Institute’s finding is that you ignore the patient’s perception of your practice at the risk of your own business.

Mark Antosz, DMD, D. Ortho


Editor’s note

The Carnegie Study most certainly states that 85 percent of a dentist’s success comes from people skills. Please take time to re-read the editorial. Do you really think that 15 percent of your success as a dentist comes from your clinical expertise? God help our profession if this is true.

Re: Article entitled “If we had only known… Reactions to Dental Water Contamination”, December 1999 issue.

The above captioned article suggests the following information “…that only after flushing each line for 20 minutes does dental unit water approach the potable drinking water standard of 500 CFU/mL.” As a co-author and one of the investigators from the study 1 used to reference this statement, I wish to offer a clarification. We found that after 5 minutes of “flushing,” 7 of 11 dental units did not show any CFU/mL. The mean CFU/mL count in the remaining 4 units was 490.

Edmund Peters DDS Infection Control Officer, Department of Dentistry, University of Alberta

1.RLS Whitehouse, E. Peters, J. Lizotte, C. Lilge. Influence of biofilms on microbial contamination in dental unit water. J. Dent 1991; 19: 290-295.