The Patient Comes Last

by Elliot Mechanic, BSc, DDS

Does your patient come last? The public today regards dentistry as being amongst the most exciting, highly visible, and most respected professions. However, many of us do not perceive our own profession this way. We enter our offices as if we were entering a world of misery, a mundane routine of drilling, filling and billing. We leave our offices, go home, knowing that tomorrow will be another day exactly like today. How many days until the next vacation? I can’t wait to be on the golf course! When will I ever be able to retire? Why me God?

What has happened to the fresh-faced youngster who graduated from dental school aiming to be the best? We were idealistic, excited and passionate. Many dentists still have the passion. Do you?

After practicing for more than 30 years my friend the endodontist still has that boyish gleam in his eye when he talks with pride about a procedure he has just done. He still has the passion! Some dentists, on the other hand, seem to enter their offices as if they are coming to their own personal day of suffering and misery. They often persuade patients to do unnecessary work, do not refer to specialists as required, and do not adequately explain to the patient all treatment options and the benefits and consequences of each choice. This dentist lives for everything but dentistry, thinks of his needs before those of his patients and often treatment plans his cases according to what is good for him.

Dentistry is a really tough profession. We are dealing with exacting work on patients who are nervous, salivating, moving in the chair and on tight schedules. We must be psychologist, businessman, artist and exacting craftsman all at the same time. Think about it. Perhaps this is what makes dentistry so much fun. Baseball’s all time batting leader Ty Cobb had a lifetime batting average of .366, meaning he successfully hit less than 37% of the time he came to bat. Dentists must aim for 100% success. This is today’s standard of care.

Education, passion and commitment are the key to your own self-rejuvenation and the ability to rekindle a spark that may have dwindled. Reflect, evaluate, and present to your every patient the kind of dentistry you wish them to have. Should they have clinical crown lengthening when a restoration is too deep to be predictably placed? Should they have periodontal treatment or be offered the option of orthodontics before restorative work is undertaken? Would your patient benefit by being referred to an endodontist? To what length are you going to ensure that your patient is getting the best that dentistry has to offer? There are many outstanding teachers and continuing education programs providing dentists with advanced dental education. Dentists no longer have to search for information. With access to the internet, availability of DVD’s and the many excellent dental publications, access to information is easy.

Knowledge is the key to success! We often hear that education is expensive. How expensive is ignorance? Success in dentistry is no accident. Success is no fluke. Success is based on giving your patients the best that you can give and believing in the age old philosophy “do unto others as you would want done to yourself.”

Dr. Elliot Mechanic practices esthetic dentistry in Montreal, Canada. He received his Bachelor of Science (1975) and Doctor of Dental Surgery (1979) degrees from McGill University. Dr Mechanic is the editorial board member for cosmetic dentistry for Oral Health Journal.