Boundaries in Dental Practice (Part 1)

June 24, 2024 Paul Henny DDS

By Paul A. Henny, DDS 

Today, I am revisiting the value of personal authenticity and its transformational power within truly helping relationships. We know can’t evolve into becoming more authentic with our patients until we first “know ourselves,” which is another way of saying “until we’ve developed a lot of personal insight.” 

Personal insight is the beginning point of understanding what tends to drive our behavior and thinking, therefore, it’s the beginning point of change. But there’s another key variable in the facilitation-of-change process that’s often overlooked: What is the level of personal insight within the person we are attempting to help?  

What happens when we and our patients share similar values? 

We’ve all had experiences with patients with whom we easily and almost automatically connect. The conversations flow smoothly, and there’s a lot of agreement regarding what needs to be addressed, how and when. It happens because these folks share similar values and priorities, and likely, they’ve had some personal experiences that strongly support those beliefs. 

But let’s be honest. Those moments are rare for most dentists who have undifferentiated practices. 

What happens in undifferentiated dental practices? 

When I use the adjective “undifferentiated,” I mean the practice has a lot of patients who come for reasons other than shared values, agendas, and purpose. A patient’s dental insurance is a prime reason patients go to a particular dentist. Nearly free new patient exams and limited x-rays offered by many dentists is another reason. Being accessible for emergency dentistry in the patient’s local neighborhood is yet another. 

PPOs are likely the most common reason a patient sticks with an undifferentiated dentist. Patients with “insurance” don’t really have insurance. They have a minimal and limiting benefit plan disguised AS IF it were insurance. Consequently, misconceptions occur due to the intentionally confusing language. 

Additionally, insurance causes people to naturally focus more on their benefits (a reductionistic concept) than on their health (a holistic concept). So, in a very twisted and often dysfunctional way, dental insurance can cause people to make bad decisions that negatively influence their health as they psychologically prioritize money over their health.  

The Scarcity Bias 

The human brain has a bias toward scarcity thinking unless it’s actively circumvented through more right-side prefrontal cortex involvement. This scarcity bias occurs as most dental patients make treatment choices, and when this happens, we have a choice. 

  1. We can play along and rationalize it. “It is what it is.” We can take the checks and focus on economy-of-scale strategies and production. 
  1. We can actively work to remove insurance carrier influence from the patient decision-making process while facilitating greater patient involvement and problem ownership. 

Put another way: We either accept the codependency relationships (and all the anger, confusion, disappointment, and frustration that it brings along with the insurance benefits), or we actively work at creating interdependent relationships with patients, wherein they become the co-creators of their health future and share responsibilities associated with that goal. 

The Violation of Personal Boundaries 

When we actively participate in dependency-centric relationships, we violate interpersonal boundaries.  

On this, Avrom King brilliantly commented, “Dependency is the word we use to identify an individual who, for whatever reason, cannot claim and develop their latent personal power; instead, they negotiate psychological contracts with other people whose ego needs are served by accepting responsibility for the dependent person’s outcomes.” 

The minute we start to take responsibility for other people’s responsibilities, we begin a journey down a road that commonly leads to dysfunction, conflict, and frustration. 

Heath-centered dentistry is only possible through interdependent relationships, which means that ALL codependent relationships aren’t health-centered. They are centered on other things that are often associated with insecurity.  

To be continued in Part 2… 


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About Author

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Paul Henny DDS

Dr. Paul Henny maintains an esthetically-focused restorative practice in Roanoke, Virginia. Additionally, he has been a national speaker in dentistry, a visiting faculty member of the Pankey Institute, and visiting lecturer at the Jefferson College or Health Sciences. Dr. Henny has been a member of the Roanoke Valley Dental Society, The Academy of General Dentistry, The American College of Oral Implantology, The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and is a Fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantology. He is Past President and co-founder of the Robert F. Barkley Dental Study Club.

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