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The 5 worst things overheard at a dental practice


Do the walls have ears? Perhaps eyes? Are you surprised to think that your patients are listening and watching everything you do? That’s a scary thought for some. There are five things I have overheard first-hand at dental practices that have made my toes cringe. Even scarier is the fact that some of them I have heard over and over again.

 Have you said any of these things or heard a colleague say them?

She is such a drama queen.”
Your voice travels. You don’t have doors and these rooms aren’t soundproofed (do you really think I am not eavesdropping while reading about whether or not Brad and Angelina got married?). Don’t ever, ever talk negatively about your patient while he or she is still in the office. For that matter, don’t do it when ANY patient is in your office. It makes us wonder what you say about us after we walk out the door. My guess it is something like, “I hope THAT episode doesn’t end up in one of her dental articles online!

“That dental probe didn’t fall on the floor, I swear.”
As a chronic dental patient, let me share something with you. I was at the Midwinter Meeting of the Chicago Dental Society. While there, I received a “thorough” education on how reusable contaminated tools are cleaned (a little education is a TERRIFYING thing). What patient has ever heard of a central instrument processing area? So please, don’t argue about this. If there is ever a doubt, just go and get a new one. Save me from unnecessary angst! (The good news is that most your patients don’t think about this nor do they hang out at your kaleidoscope of trade shows.)

“This isn’t going to hurt me at all.”
How many times have I heard that one before? Yes, you have a warped sense of humor (so do I!). But, sometimes, humor falls flat, depending on the delivery as well as the recipient. Know your patients. Just because you think it is funny to say doesn’t always work out that way for the person in your chair. Here’s another secret your patients lie. You are in a power position. Face it, YOU can inflict pain. (I know, these aren’t words you want to hear, but it is the truth.) We do not want to trigger your passive aggressive behavior so we stay quiet. (My editor is probably going to take this out, because I am definitely touching a nerve here.) But, it is an important point. Humor is something you should do with caution.

Editor’s Note: I left the point in because this is a common perception among dental patients. Think about Steve Martin in “Little Shop of Horrors” and know that this is a battle your profession and practice will always battle.

I hate my job.”
You are sitting in a cozy dental chair and overhear staff venting to each other. This is the last thing you want to hear. Suck it up people! You need to get another job if you hate it so much. If that isn’t an option, make some changes so you will not dread going to work every day. No one wants to be around someone who is that unhappy.

“I can’t make you numb. I don’t know what to do.”
When my periodontist said this at the beginning of getting an implant, I was dumbfounded. How am I supposed to know what to do? He is the one with the degrees, right? (Memo to self look on the walls for proof that he is a board certified whatever.) I am the innocent patient here. He is the expert. His solution was to offer to have a man with a funny bag of tricks (a visiting anesthesiologist) come to the next appointment or send me to an oral surgeon to knock me out. Oral surgeon? Hello! Just don’t ask me to make difficult decisions because you don’t know what to do. I trust you and your expertise. Don’t let me down now. If you don’t know what to do, get on the phone and consult another specialist. Give me answers not paralysis.

Hearing these statements killed my confidence in those dental professionals I trusted and even led me to leave a few practices. Think about it how you talk and what you say is really important. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying keep your frustrations inside until you feel like a volcano ready to erupt. Instead, vent to your family and friends outside of work. Do it in a private setting and protect people’s confidentiality.

If you have witnessed firsthand some of the things that should never be said in a dental practice, please email me at diana2@discussdirectives.com. As always, I love to hear about your experiences.

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