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View From The Chairside

View from the Chairside: What are the benefits of listening in on each others’ discussions with patients?

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By Dr. Joel Antel

Dr. Joel Antel is a general dentist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He graduated from the University of Manitoba, Faculty of Dentistry in 1979. Dr. Antel has written, consulted and lectured on practice management / patient communications and is the chair of the Manitoba Dental Association Communication Committee.

The dentists in our office have found it helpful to listen in on each other’s discussions with patients.

In cases which involve multiple treatment options, which require extensive treatment, or cases where the patient’s level of dental knowledge suggests a need for extra explanation, a discussion with the patient takes place during a dedicated appointment.

It is beneficial to approach this appointment fully prepared and to follow an organized format. However, it is also important to make this a spontaneous conversation and care should be taken to avoid being contrived.

Often during these conversations, an effective comment carrying a particular impact is made by the dentist, but they do not notice it because they are focused on the patient and the patient’s treatment needs. Having a colleague overhearing the conversation offers the opportunity of identifying what we have come to call “the gold comments” which allow us to improve future patient-dentist conversations. Conversely, if the discussion is inadvertently undermined, the mistakes made can be brought to our attention and avoided in the future.

An early example came from the experience of one of our dentists. He was asked about the durability of the proposed options for reconstructing damaged dentition. The dentist began by explaining that although we (dentists) have wonderful materials available and wonderful techniques to use them, none of these are as strong as healthy natural teeth. Then, he pointed out that the patient had managed to damage his/her healthy natural teeth. When debriefing the appointment the dentist was unaware of the impact of these words.

This relatively brief description of a complex idea was a turning point for the patient. They came to appreciate the value of the treatment options being presented, but with an appreciation for the limitations associated with treatment. The result was acceptance of the treatment recommendations based on an informed decision.


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