A Thought Experiment for Dentists
Suppose you could review a full set of clinical records and photographs from 10 years ago for every one of your patients. And suppose you put those next to a full set of records and photos from today—a full set of side-by-side “then vs. now” visual evidence for each one.
Now come the hard questions:
- Looking at those 10-year-old records, do you see things differently now, based on what you know today? Would your diagnosis be different now?
- What would you say about the quality of the work you did back then? Do you see where you do things better now, thanks to improved techniques and materials?
- Has the patient’s oral health improved under your care over those 10 years? Has it been maintained? Or has it declined?
That last assessment is really important. Because if the patient’s condition has been just maintained or is on a slow downward trajectory, you have some other questions to ask yourself:
- Did I miss things in the pace and flow of the day?
- Did I diagnose in a tooth-based, reactive way and miss the comprehensive picture?
- Did I do everything I could to raise the patient’s level of awareness of their condition?
- Did I create a picture of what ideal dentistry can accomplish?
- Did I communicate with them in a way that resonates for them?
- Did I hold myself accountable for assisting them in keeping their teeth for a lifetime and revisit that commitment when their condition changed or new procedures became available?
- Did I ask if keeping their teeth for a lifetime was their goal?
- What am I prepared to do now to help them reach that goal?
This is a useful exercise to go through because it lets you see how far you’ve come as dentist, it challenges you to really be accountable for every patient’s current oral health condition, and it gets you thinking in strategic ways about what you can do differently. It’s not about reliving the past—the past is always right, in the past. It’s about what you can do today to get patients on the right track.
For a great advice on clinical examination techniques and how to make your findings real to patients, watch this online course by Dr. Frank Spear. If you don’t have a membership yet, you can still see it by signing up for a 5-day free trial at our Digital Campus.