Doctor and Patient having a discussion and wearing PPE

Have you ever had something break? Of course, you have. So, the question now becomes why did it break? Scrutinized, it usually comes down to two explanations — something we did or something the patient did.

Then I got to thinking, what would you rather have break — a biologic thing, a.k.a. the patient, that cannot be 100% regenerated, or a manufactured thing, which can be remade and re-engineered?

If by now you’re contemplating, “Well, I don’t want anything to break.” I couldn’t agree with you more, and yet the fact is things break no matter how well we do our job.

Encouraging dental patients to have the right mindset

To help ease the inevitable disappointment we and our patients will feel when something breaks is to have the right mindset. Having the right mindset and helping our patients have the right mindset is key for when something breaks or fails.

For example, airway is one of the fastest evolving areas in dentistry right now and more and more patients are getting an appliance for at least a part of their treatment. Sometimes appliances break and, of course, this is frustrating for both dentist and patient.

As a result of this frustration, many manufacturers and labs have worked hard to develop stronger materials and devices. Some even make devices out of cast metal. While it’s good that manufacturers and labs are working to make better and stronger devices, we have to be careful, at least to some degree, and remember to ask ourselves, “What would I rather have break — the patient or the device?”

Imagine an indestructible appliance made of cast, inflexible, unbreakable, unobtanium. What would happen if a patient exerted enough force to break a reasonably strong and break-resistant regular device?

The patient might break. For instance, they could loosen a tooth or teeth, inflame their muscles or joints, or worse — they could break a tooth or teeth. This same principle or thought process can be applied to many different aspects of dentistry, including our restorations. 

Start the conversation with your patients

So, if we, as dentists, agree and understand this logical mindset when it comes to things breaking, who else might need to buy in and understand this way of thinking? The patient.

It’s very important to help patients understand and come to the same mindset because it’s always best to have everyone on the same page working as a team with common goals and mutual understanding.

Luckily, I’ve found it’s simple to get patients on board with my way of thinking when it comes to breakage and failures. I explain it in simple and easy-to-understand terms, like I did above because it’s logical and easy for anyone to comprehend.

Start a conversation with them along the lines of, “Wow, I’m really glad this broke instead of you,” followed by, “Let’s look at what we can do minimize failure in the future while still protecting you.”

You’ll find that when you and your patient share the same mindset it takes the sting of disappointment out of any breakage or failure that may occur. It also results in effective patient communication, an improved patient experience and an overall better relationship for the both of you.

John R. Carson, D.D.S., is a member of Spear Visiting Faculty and a contributor to Spear Digest.


Commenter's Profile Image Mary Lynn W.
November 9th, 2020
Great verbal skills Dr. Carson!!!! Thanks for sharing! ML Wheaton
Commenter's Profile Image John C.
November 11th, 2020
Thanks ML!