Six pearls for the dental soul

It has been a year since I received my doctorate in dental surgery. I still remember graduation day and the unparallel feeling of walking across the stage to obtain my glossy paper with the official seal. The day solidified the many years of hard work and preparation for a second career that I deemed respectable and enriching.

Dr. Ahmed

During my time in dental school, I had limited experience and was not familiar with the day to day challenges that came with the profession. All I understood were the basic desires to serve my patients to the best of my ability, to continue learning and advance clinically.

My desire to grow professionally led me to pursue an Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency. My AEGD allowed me to widen my skill set as intended, but it also gave me a realistic understanding of some of the conflicts we face in the workplace…after all we are human with flaws.

Here are few things dental school left out that I call my six pearls for the dental soul:

Be open minded.  Dentistry is an innovative field and although the fundamentals are everlasting, it’s important to think beyond a prescriptive manual! It’s important to be resourceful, inquisitive, challenge methods and find solutions.

Our patients are not prescriptive. From their anatomy to their personality, they are unique. When approaching treatment, it’s important to come with an open mind. Every practitioner will have a slight variation in their method and sometimes it may sound mad, but it is what works in their hands.

What works in their hands may not work for you and over time your individual approach will come to fruition. While maintaining an open mind, also be conscious of the treatment you’re providing and consider if its evidence based.

Patients are people. (I’m expecting a ‘duh’). Just like everyone else, they have fears, anxiety, insecurities, misconceptions, beliefs and hates visiting the dentist. You can try your very best to help a patient feel at ease, but if they had years of negative experiences, it’s unrealistic to expect a change in behavior after a single appointment. At times I felt that I was doing something wrong if my patient did not respond positively to my kind approach. I realized to them, I am a stranger and they are vulnerable in my hands. They feel defenseless and judged when I tell them they have cavities, need extraction or root canal. As dentists, our intentions are good. We are not in the business to ‘hurt’ but that may not be part of the patients’ belief system.

Be prepared for criticism.  In the world of digital reviews and ratings, we are more than comments and the number of stars. If the review is constructive, you can use it to better the patient experience, but if it provides unwarranted criticism, that is beyond your control! A patient may have had a bad day or be very difficult to please. Its best to identify such patients early and help them find a more suited dental home.

Expect failures. This is difficult to grapple at any stage in our career, but it’s inevitable. There will be times where treatment may not go as expected or patient exhibits poor compliance which affects the outcome of the treatment. In any case, it’s a learning opportunity. I realized it’s important to discuss the possibility of “failure” with patients prior to treatment so realistic expectations can be set. The success rate and the prognosis of invested treatments should be discussed. We are our worst critic and what we may deem as failure can be viewed as an attempt to give the patient a chance to smile or chew before we render the situation hopeless.

A great support staff is EVERYTHING. I emphasize this because you can’t do it alone! From the front desk to the back office, they are the life source. We may be the star of the show, but they are behind the scene making sure there is a show. In dental school, I rarely had an assistant and was accustomed to working independently. I realized the importance of support staff during my residency. When the staff is supportive and invested there is synergy that can transform the clinic. From my personal experience, a positive staff provided a sense of ease which was easily felt by patients and colleagues. On the contrary, if the staff is disgruntled, apathetic or toxic, that negative energy can hurt the dynamic of the workplace and worst hurt the reputation of the practice. Often time we forget that patient acutely aware of the tone in our voice and our actions. Anxiety comes with the territory and any staff that can bring joy to a room is a gem!

Lastly….it is easy to become apathetic, but always keep learning! I can truly say I have a passion for this field. There are so many facets to dentistry that became more apparent and enriching after dental school. My decision to become a GP was because I wanted to see the whole picture and not limit my scope. I get to dip my fingers into different specialties and do cases that meets my skill set. I also have the option to advance in those specialties with formal training which can lead to possibilities for growth. They say the hardest part of dentistry, is not the actual dentistry itself but everything else. The profession is stressful and can be taxing as you’re forced to manage many expectations. Our unique ability can easily be exploited which can lead to feeling undervalued especially as a new grad. The side of financial pressure, toxic staff, disingenuous colleagues become apparent as you scratch beneath the surface. Dentistry is a delicate balance, but it always starts with the patient and provider.

Dr. Nashid Ahmed is a New Dentist News guest blogger. She is general dentist in Phoenix, Arizona. She earned her dental degree from Indiana University in 2019 and completed an AEGD in Phoenix. During her free time, she likes to explore the city of Phoenix and the great outdoors of Arizona. She enjoys hiking, biking and trying new restaurants. She also enjoys reading and blogging about career development and workplace culture.

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