Building trust with our patients

As dentists, we have taken a professional oath to take care of our patients. We entered the profession with the ideological conviction that we can and will make a difference in the lives of our patients. We are hopeful, excited and will do everything we can to ensure their needs are met.

dr. Ahmed

We are sincere in our efforts and in this selfless endeavor we seek appreciation so that we can feel “good” about our decision to be a servant physician.

So when we walk into the operating room to meet our patients, we are excited and full of optimism. We hope to charm our patient so that they like us. We ask “how are you?” but sometimes a patient reacts with a cold attitude or just says, “Doc, nothing personal, but I hate the dentist.”

They grab the chair and are defensive in their tone. You take the usual exam and review the findings. You ask if they have any questions and they say, “How much is this going to cost? Because I can’t afford this. I have a steady income.” Or they say, “My last dentist said” [this and that]…and I came in to see if she was right. Why are you telling me different things? Don’t you think it’s a problem that you don’t have the same diagnosis or treatment?”

These are examples of psychological barriers that I was not prepared for outside of my dental training. I realized that there is an unhealthy amount of cynicism and skepticism in our patients as a result of past negative experiences or stereotypes of dentists.

Hollywood often portrays the dentist as wild, gray-haired men who cause pain, and our capitalist society assumes being a dentist is a get-rich-quick scheme.

If patients think you exist to hurt them or take their money, where in their mental space does the word “help” fit? You can’t, because it’s contradictory.

During my dental training and residency, I invested my time and energy to be a great clinician. I wanted the quality of my work to speak for itself. I quickly realized that it takes more than just clinical skills. Unlike some of our healthcare counterparts, dentistry required other types of skills that are essential to our success. Such skills are necessary to help our patients overcome their fear, anxiety, mistrust and suspicion of our services.

One of those skills is listening. By listening, I began to understand the cause of my patients’ disdain when they said, “I hate the dentist.” I heard about their traumatic pediatric experience or traumatic surgery. I learned about the priorities in their lives that led to neglect or the series of dental visits that led to frustration.

No matter how angry or combative a patient may be with their previous dentist, I believe it’s important to empathize without critically reviewing the healthcare provider. You have to remember that we are only hearing one side of the story.

As practitioners, our approach to treatment is more shaped by our experiences, especially as we mature in our profession. Our postgraduate training (informal or formal), the practice model (for profit vs. non-profit) and our personal risk tolerance help shape our treatment philosophy. Such influences can lead to disagreements between dentists, which can lead to multiple diagnosis or treatment choices.

But a caries is a caries … right? A simple cavity has many stages and depending on the life cycle, one dentist may choose to intervene early (why not take care of it if it is small) or another may choose to wait (it can be arrested) .

I like to believe that most of us became dentists because we genuinely want to help. Therefore, it is imperative to maintain integrity, educate and listen carefully to our patients. By doing so, we can restore confidence in our profession and ultimately change the pessimistic narrative for generations to come.

dr. Nashid Ahmed is a guest blogger for New Dentist News. She is a general dentist in Phoenix, Arizona. She received her dental degree from Indiana University in 2019 and completed an AEGD in Phoenix. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the city of Phoenix and the wildlife of Arizona. She enjoys walking, cycling and trying new restaurants. She also enjoys reading and blogging about career development and workplace culture.

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