Explaining Dentistry in a Way Patients Understand

February 14, 2024 Clayton Davis, DMD

Explaining Dentistry in a Way Patients Understand 

Clayton Davis, DMD 

Here are some of the ways I communicate with patients to help them understand dentistry. I hope some of these will be helpful to you in enabling your patients to make good decisions about their treatment.  

Occlusal Disease: In helping patients understand occlusal disease and the destruction it can cause, I have long said to them, “The human masticatory system is designed to chew things up. When it is out of alignment, it will chew itself up.” I tell them, “Your teeth are aging at an accelerated rate. We need to see if we can find a way to slow down the aging process of your teeth.” The idea of slowing down aging is very attractive to patients, and if you relate it to their teeth, they get it.  

Occlusal Equilibration: Typically, I come at this from the standpoint of helping them understand that teeth are sensors for the muscles, and when the brain becomes aware our back teeth are rubbing against each other, it sends the same response to the muscles as when there’s food between our teeth. In other words, the brain tells the muscles it’s time to chew, and this accelerates wear rates on the teeth. Equilibration is really a conservative treatment to reduce force and destruction of the teeth.  

Diseases of the Jaw Joints: Regarding jaw joints and adaptive changes and breakdown, patients understand that joints have cartilage associated with them. Saying there has been cartilage damage in your jaw joint gets the message across simply. 

Treatment Presentation: When patients say, “I know you want to do a crown on that tooth,” I jokingly say, “Oh, don’t do it for me. Do it for yourself.” I never say, “You need to get this work done.” Instead, I say, “I think you are going to want to have this work done.” 

Conservative Treatment: I have always enjoyed John Kois’s saying that no dentistry is better than no dentistry, so when talking about conservative dentistry, I’ll tell patients, “No dentistry is better than no dentistry. We certainly don’t intend to do any dentistry that doesn’t need to be done.” Another way I speak about conservative dentistry is to say, “Conservative dentistry is dentistry that minimizes treatment. In the case of a cracked tooth, a crown is actually more conservative than a filling because it minimizes risk.” 

Moving Forward with Treatment: I love Mary Osborne’s leading question for patients after they’ve been shown their issues and treatment possibilities have been discussed. The question is “Where would you like to go from here?” With amazing regularity, the patients choose a really good starting point for their next steps toward improved health, steps that feel right to them. Always remember, people tend to support that which they help create. 

Dental Insurance: I typically speak of dental insurance as a coupon that can be applied to their dental bills. I’ll say, “Every plan sets limits on how much it pays. The way dental insurance works, it’s as if your employer has provided a coupon to go toward your dental bills.” 

Presenting Optimal Care: If I want to present optimal care to a patient who is ready to hear it, I ask permission by saying, “Mrs. Jones, if I were the patient and a doctor did not tell me what optimal treatment would be for my problems because the doctor was concerned that I couldn’t afford it or that I would not want it, I would think, ‘How dare you make that judgment for me. You tell me what optimal care would be, and I’ll decide for myself if I want it.’ So, with that in mind, Mrs. Jones, would it be okay with you if I presented you with the optimal solutions for your problems?” 

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Clayton Davis, DMD

Dr. Clayton Davis received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina. Continuing his education at the Medical College of Georgia, he earned his Doctor of Dental Medicine degree in 1980. Having grown up in the Metro Atlanta area, Dr. Davis and his wife, Julia, returned to establish practice and residence in Gwinnett County. In addition to being a Visiting Faculty Member of The Pankey Institute, Dr. Davis is a leader in Georgia dentistry, both in terms of education and service. He is an active member of the Atlanta Dental Study Group, Hinman Dental Society, and the Georgia Academy of Dental Practice. He served terms as president of the Georgia Dental Education Foundation, Northern District Dental Society, Gwinnett Dental Society, and Atlanta Dental Study Group. He has been state coordinator for Children’s Dental Health Month, facilities chairman of Georgia Mission of Mercy, and served three terms in the Georgia Dental Association House of Delegates.

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Understanding Smiles Part 3 

August 30, 2023 Bradley Portenoy, DDS

Give patients opportunities to discover what lies beneath their smile

Ewelina is part of my office team. She’s from Poland. She’s beautiful but early in our doctor-patient relationship, I realized she had a closed-smile grin. One day, I asked her if she was aware that she was guarding her smile. She wasn’t but the question made her curious. Later, she came by and said, “I realize it now.”

So, I raised another question, “Now that you notice this, what do you think about your teeth? Were you guarding them subconsciously?”

She thought momentarily and said, “I wasn’t happy with their appearance. I think I unconsciously I do guard my smile.”

So, I raised one more question, “At what point in your life did you say to yourself, I wish my teeth were more attractive?”

Her answer surprised me: “I thought about it when I got married and bleached them, and after I had kids, I thought my teeth looked more unattractive than they did years ago.”

I spoke to Laura Harkin, a dentist I admire, about this. She said that it’s common for women to become more critical of their appearance after having children. Their bodies have gone through so many changes. Ewelina seemed to guard her smile long before she had children so I wondered if there may be cultural differences between her old and new adopted home. I asked her if she became more self-conscious about her teeth after coming to the United States. She answered in the affirmative, “People’s teeth generally look better here than in Poland.”

I loved that there was a long thoughtful pause before her answer. I intentionally gave her time to think between questions. I offered to give her a smile makeover, which she readily agreed to. In doing my case workup, we found she had a two-step occlusion that needed to be corrected. When I got to my wax-up, the anterior changes were minimal and I did an equilibration on the wax-up to try out the results. This set the stage for the changes we would try out in provisional.

Provisional restorations are something I always do to test if the speech will be affected, whether the new occlusion is comfortable, and if the patient feels “good” psychologically about all the changes — not just the aesthetics.

While wearing the provisionals, she began to smile with a Duchenne smile. In photos, I could see a postural difference, too.

My ceramist did an amazing job duplicating in ceramic the provisionals that I created. When the case was completed, I asked Ewelina how she felt. She said, “Great, happy, healthier, cleaner, brighter, very happy.” Cleaner, brighter, healthier, happy – that was a huge learning moment for me! Not once did she mention her teeth, just the feelings around her treatment outcome. It began to dawn on me how much we not only change teeth, but we can change lives!

“I’m happy,” she said. “I think I smile more and I feel like they’re my natural teeth. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like these are the teeth I’ve had all along.”

“How does your bite feel?” I asked. “Were you surprised how the small adjustments made big differences?”

“Before, I felt a little muscle soreness and dull pain back here, but after a day or two of the adjustment, I felt nothing. I feel great,” she said with a big, broad smile.

I think if we spend a lot of time with our patients and develop relationships, it’s ideally like psychological therapy. We give patients opportunities to discover what lies beneath their smile, show them a vision of what could be, and lastly, help them to reach their full potential, as described in Part 1, with a beautiful, confident Duchenne smile.

We have a unique opportunity to not only restore teeth but also change lives through our efforts.

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Bradley Portenoy, DDS

Dr. Bradley Portenoy earned his Doctorate of Dental Surgery with Thesis Honors in Behavioral Science from SUNY at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine in 1985. Dr. Portenoy practices comprehensive relationship-based family dentistry in Rockville Centre, NY. He was one of the first dentists to complete the Pankey Scholar program at The Pankey Institute (2002) and has been on the Visiting Faculty of the Institute since 2005. Currently, he also serves on the advisory board of the L.D. Pankey Dental Foundation, Inc.

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True Listening in the Pre-Exam Interview

June 2, 2023 Paul Henny DDS

An essential technique in effective listening with new patients involves an interviewing discipline known as “bracketing.”

Psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck described bracketing as “the temporary giving up or setting aside of one’s own prejudices, frames of reference, and desires so as to experience—as far as possible, the speaker’s world from the inside, stepping inside his or her shoes.”

True listening requires a setting aside of ourselves. It also requires acceptance of the person as they are in the moment.

In his book Ways of Being Unconditional, Carl Rogers defined “unconditional positive regard” as accepting and supporting another person exactly as they are, without evaluating or judging them. At the heart of this concept is the belief that every person has the personal resources within to help themselves. They simply need to be offered an environment of acceptance that can foster their own recognition of this.

The goal is to create a safe psychological space where the patient senses acceptance, and therefore feels less vulnerable and thus more inclined to open up to share their fears and concerns regarding dental issues. This is challenging, particularly in the middle of a busy schedule, as most of the time, we lack the capacity to truly listen while other responsibilities and distractions are present.

We need to set the environment with intention.

To do this well, uninterrupted times in the schedule must be established as well as a comfortable non-clinical location. The battle seems to always be between structuring our schedule for efficiency versus creating more open-ended opportunities for trust to develop and knowledge conveyed.

We need to truly listen.

Are you able to turn your focus to orchestrating an interview in which you actively listen? Yes, well, then good but how easy is it for you to maintain that focus?

Even though we may feel we are truly listening, what we are often doing is listening selectively, with a preset agenda in mind…thinking about what we want to happen next…procedurally or financially, wondering as we listen how we can achieve a certain desired result by redirecting the conversation in ways more satisfactory to us.

Even though we may feel we are truly listening, we often respond to what the patient is saying by assuming our interpretation of the question they ask or the concern they relate is actually what the patient is attempting to say. And this is why Mary Osborne’s Staying in the Question Part 3 blog is so on point that I recommend others read it. 

True listening, no matter how brief, requires effort and total concentration. This means we cannot truly listen to another person and do anything else at the same time. While in the middle of a busy day at the office, this is challenging—very challenging.

The first step is willingness.

Our willingness to truly listen is the most tangible form of esteem we can give to another person. And if we give a new acquaintance our esteem, they will feel less ashamed or embarrassed. Consequently, they will start to feel less threatened and more valuable. And it’s those who feel valuable to themselves, who are most likely to be interested in taking better care of themselves through fine dentistry.

Carl Rogers helped us see there is no better way for our patients to learn they are valuable (rather than deficient or flawed) than by our valuing them first through careful listening.

  • When we offer no judgement, they feel less fearful, and they can share their thoughts and emotions more freely.
  • As we accept them, they feel encouraged to find self-acceptance and think for themselves.
  • As we invite them openly to share, instead of asking questions designed to illicit certain answers, we give them space to think for themselves, and with such space, they can begin to cultivate their inner resources and rise to our expectations for what is in their best health interest—on their own.

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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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Tips for Being More Present with Patients 

May 29, 2023 Kelley Brummett DMD

Tip 1: Develop the Habit of Clearing Your Mind as Your Move from Patient to Patient

One of the hardest challenges in dentistry is moving from room to room and being able to refocus and give each patient your full and undivided attention. Here’s a little trick I do to increase my presence as I move between rooms and patients.

As I move down the hall between operatories, I habitually self-talk. I silently say to myself, “The patient I just left will be fine with my dental assistant.” I intentionally turn off thoughts about the patient I left, and as I cross the threshold of the next operatory, I am interested in only that next patient. It is not easy, and the more intentional I am at bringing it into my consciousness, I believe the better my focus can become.

Interruptions of this type occur throughout the day as I need to stop what I am doing with one patient to check in on the patient in the Hygiene room. Fortunately, I have a long enough hall between my operatory and the Hygiene room to “practice” my little self-control meditation.

Tip 2: Identify an Analogy that Is Understandable for the Present Patient

I know I am not the only dentist who has patients who are not moving forward with the treatment I have recommended. Recently when interacting with a patient who was not moving forward with occlusal therapy I got to watch his understanding shift about the recommendation I had made. The difference was in explaining it in a language he understood. I credit Dr. Rich Green for mentoring me through this understanding. I related it to a real-life experience he already had.

The patient had been in my practice for a little while. We had identified that he had some occlusal disease. He had wear on teeth, some clinical attachment loss, abfractions, teeth that ran into each other, awareness that he brought his teeth together, and at times muscle tension.

One day I asked him, “Can you help me understand why you are not moving forward with occlusal therapy?”

He said, “You know, I just don’t know if it is going to benefit me.”

I happened to look down at his feet and notice he had good running shoes on. I said, “Those are fancy running shoes. They’re pretty cool. Do you wear them because you like how they look or because of another reason?”

He replied, “Actually I wear them because they are very supportive. I often have back muscle tension, and I need to wear really good shoes.”

I said, “You know, the dental orthotic that I’ve been calling an occlusal appliance is no different than wearing really good running shoes. Wearing a dental orthotic is like putting inserts in your shoes to create balance, decrease fatigue in the muscles, and provide me with the opportunity to learn what’s going on at the tooth level, the muscle level, and the joint level. Wearing the dental orthotic is likely to help you understand why you are experiencing discomfort at times, what those patterns are, and when they occur. And it just might be therapeutic in relieving muscle tension you have been experiencing and protect your teeth while we discover what is going on.”

He nodded and said, “Okay, I get it. I understand now. When can we start?”

Tip 3: Ask a Well-Crafted Question

Asking well-crafted questions allows us to better know the patient and get more complete information. Asking powerful questions also makes patients more aware that some of what they are experiencing is not healthy…is not normal.

For example, I often notice patients are not reporting pain as we do risk assessments on their muscles and joints. So, I ask the patient to rate the level of pain at which they take pain medication when they have a headache. “On a scale of 1 to 10, when would you pick up the bottle of Advil and take a pill to treat the pain?”

There are people who will take Advil when pain is at a 1 or 2 and others who will only take it when pain is at a 12. I’ve learned that there are people who have low pain tolerance who will call whenever they have pain in a tooth and other people who tolerate higher pain for months because they think it is normal.

By asking patients to rate their pain tolerance level, they become self-aware of symptoms they might be experiencing that align with the signs you observe and are discussing. They become more aware of what is normal and abnormal. If they have the tendency to not move forward with treatment until they are in acute pain, they become more aware that delaying treatment is not in their best interest. They realize the discomfort they have been experiencing is abnormal and they do not have to…should not tolerate it.

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Kelley Brummett DMD

Dr. Kelley D. Brummett was born and raised in Missouri. She attended the University of Kansas on a full-ride scholarship in springboard diving and received honors for being the Big Eight Diving Champion on the 1 meter springboard in 1988 and in 1992. Dr. Kelley received her BA in communication at the University of Kansas and went on to receive her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. After practicing nursing, Dr Kelley Brummett went on to earn a degree in Dentistry at the Medical College of Georgia. She has continued her education at the Pankey Institute to further her love of learning and her pursuit to provide quality individual care. Dr. Brummett is a Clinical Instructor at Georgia Regents University and is a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Dr. Brummett and her husband Darin have two children, Sarah and Sam. They have made Newnan their home for the past 9 years. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, reading and playing with her dogs. Dr. Brummett is an active member of the ADA, GDA, AGDA, and an alumni of the Pankey Institute.

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A Meditation on the Personalities of Dentists

January 2, 2023 Paul Henny DDS

Introversion and extroversion are psychological preferences first outlined by Carl Jung and then implemented in psychological models such as the Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI). The terms introversion and extroversion share the Latin root vertere meaning to turn. These preferences enable individuals to relate to the external world in different ways

Extroverts gain a significant part of their sense of self via feedback from others. Consequently, they thrive on interaction, which is energizing to them. They find more isolating situations stifling.

By contrast, introverts tend to develop their sense of self individually through reflection and clarification. They thrive in quieter and less stimulating environments, such as small gatherings with others whose thinking and values are aligned with their own. (I think this is why introverts tend to thrive in small person-centered practices that are values-driven–where their values are commonly shared by team members and patients alike.)

A Pankey Institute study in the 1980s showed that most dentists lean toward introversion. This makes sense because the profession requires full attention to small details all day—both physically and psychologically. Consequently, most dentists will say something like, “I love the technical aspects of dentistry, but I’m constantly frustrated with my staff and patient management responsibilities.” And in response, they will delegate the latter to others, creating a psychological wall between doing what they enjoy and the responsibilities they find too frustrating.

On the other hand, dentists who are more gregarious and outgoing tend to build up practices more quickly but struggle to stay on task because they thrive on social interaction. Consequently, these dentists tend to benefit from consultants who help them create systems where they “stay at the chair” and produce for the team.

If you lean toward being an introvert, you will likely discover that your practice grows more slowly, but with more intention. That can be a good thing and a strength if you learn how to leverage it. Why?

  • The more conservative approach introversion brings to decision-making is more values-driven. Consequently, it’s not as heavily influenced by the environment and emotions as it is by personal insight. Thus, behaving more like an introvert helps us to identify smart risks that are worth taking because they have long-term, values-aligned potential.
  • Additionally, Introverts are very sensitive to the environment. They tend to spot “warning signals” from team members and patients.
  • Running a dental practice is a long-term investment, much like what Warren Buffet said about stock investing, “You need a stable personality. You need a temperament that neither derives great pleasure from being with the crowd nor against the crowd because this is not a business where you take polls. It’s a business where you must think.”
  • Additionally, introverts can be more creative IF they structure their work environment in such a way that it tends to support their creativity. That’s because it is the nature of extroverts to mimic the opinions and behavior of others. Having a more solitary thinking style allows a person to tap into more creative solutions.

Introverts can learn to be more extroverted and many adults become ambiverts as they experience life. Certainly, in my case, I grew in my ability to engage in both patterns of listening and talking more equally—and effectively, despite being an introvert at heart.

From my blogs, you probably have ascertained that I am drawn to human psychology. I agree; both the psychological and clinical aspects of dentistry interest me. One of the benefits of lifelong learning is that I have learned to enjoy the business and social operations of my practice more over the years, and any psychological wall I started to build (between them and the clinical side) has been intentionally torn down.

Workplace environments are more enjoyable when there are variety and balance. If you are an introverted dentist, I recommend that you have extroverts on your team to encourage conversation and draw out the group’s perspective on various challenges. If you are an extrovert, I recommend hiring introverts in key positions whose instincts and intuition you deeply trust, so you can listen to their thoughts before making final decisions.

Susan Cain is the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Cain says weighting our teams to having everyone be like us is “a colossal waste of talent.” It’s my opinion that businesses, dental practices included, are better served by taking a yin and yang approach to team hiring to create a balance of the two personality styles.

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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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Staying in the Question – Part 3

June 13, 2022 Mary Osborne RDH

Ask One More Question

One of the ways I have learned to Stay in the Question is to practice asking one more question before I give information. Learning to ask one more question has helped me to be more effective in several ways

1. The practice of asking one more question helps us save time.

My experience is that we spend a lot of time giving patients information they may not want or need. We can waste our time and theirs by giving information they have not asked for.

There was a time when if a patient asked me if x-rays were “really” necessary, I would go on at great length about the value of the radiographs, what we could see on them, and what we might miss if we didn’t take them. But I learned to respond, “It sounds like you might have some concerns about having x-rays,” and ask, “What is your concern?” By asking one more question, I was able to answer the patient’s question or concern very precisely and quickly.

2. Staying in the questions helps us understand what the patient wants from us.

Patients don’t always know how to communicate with us to get their needs met. They ask what they know how to ask. Sometimes their question is “Will my insurance cover that?” Sometimes their question is “How long will it last?” or “Will it hurt?”

Asking a follow up question to any question or concern they express allows us to better understand their needs and expectations. If a patient asks, “Will it hurt?” I could reassure them I will be as gentle as possible. Alternatively, I could say, “It sounds like you are concerned about the pain of this procedure. Have you had a painful dental experience in the past?” Responding to a specific fear will always be more powerful than a general reassurance.

3. Asking one more question allows us to give information clearly, to give information that is useful to them.

After seeing patients over years, it is easy to fall into giving the same information repeatedly. We all have our scripts we fall back on that describe a particular disease or procedure. Having a ready-made script may seem efficient but in the long run it can cause us to miss opportunities to be more effective with our patients. We can spend a lot of time giving them reasons why we think they should have treatment instead of providing more precise information relevant to their needs and their wants.

Aristotle said, “The fool persuades me with his reasons. The wise man persuades me with my own.” We don’t need to guess how to persuade our patients. I’ve learned that, when I stay in the question, patients tell me exactly what they need from me to be able to make decisions.

4. Asking one more question creates an opportunity to build trust.

There was a time when I thought having all the answers for my patients would make me seem competent and gain their trust. I’ve come to understand that I will never have all the answers and that, in dentistry, it is just as important for patients to trust our motives as it is for them to trust our competence. When we take their questions and concerns seriously, follow up with genuine curiosity, and listen deeply to their responses, they are more likely to feel our care and concern. They are more likely to trust that what we want is what is best for them.

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Mary Osborne RDH

Mary is known internationally as a writer and speaker on patient care and communication. Her writing has been acclaimed in respected print and online publications. She is widely known at dental meetings in the U.S., Canada, and Europe as a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. Her passion for dentistry inspires individuals and groups to bring the best of themselves to their work, and to fully embrace the difference they make in the lives of those they serve.

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What Type of Patient Relationship Distinguishes a Health-Centered Dental Practice?

April 8, 2022 Paul Henny DDS

I think all dentists would agree that mutually beneficial and enjoyable relationships with patients are key to a dental practice’s long-term success. But what does that “relationship” look like in a health-centered practice?

To some, a good relationship represents two people who get along and perhaps enjoy being in each other’s company. But I would argue this is not enough to build a successful health-centered dental practice. Getting along and even enjoying the presence of another person alone doesn’t go deep enough. It only addresses good rapport, and good rapport is only the starting point of a truly helping relationship. We need more to help patients achieve optimal oral health.

The More We Need

We need shared values, shared understanding, and shared goals. And to a large degree, we also need a shared vision of a preferred future so that all the goals are oriented in a specific mutually agreed upon direction. That vision must largely originate from the patient because it is their water to carry, and not ours. We can facilitate the development of the patient’s vision, but we cannot realize it for them.

This type of relationship is often called “patient-centered” or “client-centered.” And it is only possible through mutual trust — and a lot of it at that. We must have enough trust present within the relationship to allow for open and transparent communication to occur. This type of communication is much deeper.

The Deeper Communication We Need

Communication that is deeper includes discussions around:

  • concerns,
  • personal challenges,
  • barriers,
  • fear,
  • short-term agendas, and
  • longer-term goals.

When a patient trusts us, they are essentially allowing themselves to be vulnerable to our actions, which could, if something went wrong, harm them physically, emotionally, and/or financially.

A first sign of trust is the willingness to have these types of discussions.

Some patients will trust us quickly because we have big capital letters after our name, but this de facto trust is becoming rare. We must EARN our patient’s trust through the quality of the relationships we build, our attitude, our philosophy, and our actions that lead to deep communication and development of shared understanding and goals.

I would argue that meaningful conversations around important issues are what distinguishes a “health-centered” or “patient-centered” dental practice from one that is an attractive and pleasant place where dental services are provided in exchange for money. A key metric to monitor in each patient record is whether the deeper discussions are taking place. A key objective is to schedule time to gently have those discussions.

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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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Trusting Dental Patient Intuition

April 4, 2022 Lee Ann Brady DMD

I had a great reminder recently while I was working with a patient that listening to patients’ intuitions and beliefs about their own dental health and care can be valuable. I’ve had this experience with many of my patients. Sometimes that value is clinical, and sometimes it is in increased patient understanding and relationship development.

I treat a lot of patients who have chronic TMD…oral facial pain…occlusal muscle disorders. You have them, too, in your dental practice. We try to help them understand that there is no “treatment,” but we have management strategies. Even when patients know this, it is frustrating for them when they have flare ups.

My patient had been comfortable and symptom free for the better part of a year, which was a long period for her. Recently, though, she had started waking up with headaches and muscle tension in her masseters and temporalis. She came in to talk about “What now?” And the answer to “What now?” is always “What has worked in the past?” We walked back on our options.

She wondered, “Can you add some material to my appliance? I always feel better at a slightly open vertical.”

The question didn’t surprise me. She’s been a dental patient for a lot of years and knows the meaning of “open vertical.” My first gut reaction was to dismiss her suggestion because it ran counter to what I know about the science and my clinical experience with other patients. I honestly didn’t want to change her appliance. But I intentionally put a pause on that resistance and sought clarification from her about what she has experienced.

Over the years, it has amazed me how knowledgeable patients are about their own dental health. They are receiving physiological data that so often they don’t know how to describe. Assessing the validity of what patients describe can be a challenge, but I’ve learned the value of acknowledging the information and asking the patient to tell me more. I ask, “Why do you think that? What have you experienced in the past that has led you to that belief?” Often, I can access the data and understand the validity of the information to help the patient.

When I don’t have a really good idea of what to do next and the TMD patient has an intuitive idea, I’ve come to respect their intuition and do what they suggest. Many, many times I have no evidence to explain why it works but their intuition works. And when it doesn’t work, it’s still okay because the patient has been validated. We’ve demonstrated we’re in a partnership in their care, and we move on to try something else.

I’ve learned to stop and recognize there must be something behind intuitions patients share. Seeking to learn more about their intuitions has led to trying new types of care and always deeper relationships with patients.

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Lee Ann Brady DMD

Dr. Lee Ann Brady is passionate about dentistry, her family and making a difference. She is a general dentist and owns a practice in Glendale, AZ limited to restorative dentistry. Lee’s passion for dental education began as a CE junkie herself, pursuing lots of advanced continuing education focused on Restorative and Occlusion. In 2005, she became a full time resident faculty member for The Pankey Institute, and was promoted to Clinical Director in 2006. Lee joined Spear Education as Executive VP of Education in the fall of 2008 to teach and coordinate the educational curriculum. In June of 2011, she left Spear Education, founded leeannbrady.com and joined the dental practice she now owns as an associate. Today, she teaches at dental meetings and study clubs both nationally and internationally, continues to write for dental journals and her website, sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Cosmetic Dentistry, Inside Dentistry and DentalTown Magazines and is the Director of Education for The Pankey Institute.

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My Patient Ron

April 1, 2022 Paul Henny DDS

We had another interesting week at the dental office when a patient (I’ll call Ron) came in. Ron has been a patient of mine for over 20 years and is nearing 80. Whenever I saw him, we would have interesting conversations about what he was doing and thinking about doing next. He was the kind of person I love to be around, always positive with a “can-do” attitude.

This time was different. I hadn’t seen Ron in over three years, because he suffered a heart attack which led to some other complications. He came in using a cane.

When it was time for my hygiene check, Julie came to me and said, “I don’t know what’s going on with Ron, but he was really hard for me to work with today. I tried to get as much accomplished as I could. I’m sorry.”

Ron was previously very health-centered but now he was behaving like he wasn’t. Do values change in that short a period? No, but a person’s priorities might, particularly when they have developed a distorted perspective due to some traumatic events.

When I entered the room, Ron’s attitude perked up. He was positive and respectful — he was honoring our long history of mutual respect. He updated me on what happened and how he was doing. Not only were his physical disabilities frustrating, but he had rarely left the house for over a year.

Following my exam, we discussed an area of decay and several cracked teeth — all restorable with crowns. He responded that he was old and wasn’t sure how much longer he would be around. He asked, “Is there an inexpensive way to fix this? I don’t want to spend a lot of money on my mouth.”

Dentists hear this every day, but in this case, I knew the REAL Ron. I knew it was his depression speaking to me. I told him it would make sense for us to develop a Phase 1 plan, meaning, “Let’s remove the decay and get everything stabilized like they would do for you in the ER if you had an emergency, and then we can talk later about restoring things back to the way they need to be — strong and secure.”

“I don’t think I want any restoration work,” he replied.

Then, I said, “Ron, I know how much you love to eat fine food, and it would be tragic if, in your last decade, you were limited to eating only soft food or you had to fumble around with a partial denture that catches food around it all the time. Like I said, let’s focus on Phase 1 and then talk about restoration later. We have time on our side.”

“Ok,” he said, “I can go along with that.” He needed to feel like he was in control.

I finished by using words that would resonate with him, “You know Ron, despite these things that need to be addressed, you have great bone around your teeth and a great smile, so there are good reasons to restore things and finish out strongly. If you were an old, uninspiring ‘84 Oldsmobile, I’d say there is no point in restoring things, but you’re like a 1956 Corvette barn find that’s still in good condition. You’re worth it. Let’s save the conversation about restoration for another day when you are feeling better. I’m so glad that you came in, I miss talking to you.”

Ron’s eyes lit up. He smiled and said, “Yea, maybe you’re right. I can’t move like a Corvette any longer, but I understand what you are saying. I really appreciate it.”

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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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The Wonder of Relevant Examples – Part 2

March 21, 2022 Richard Green DDS MBA

One evening I was seated next to a new acquaintance at a dinner party. As we began the conversation, I learned Bob was a retired CFO of a manufacturing company with $250 million in sales. He had traveled extensively and had had many experiences in dental offices.

In our conversation, Bob discovered I was a dentist teaching at The Pankey Institute. I thought I would move the conversation off of dentistry and have the opportunity to climb into the mind of a CFO of a $250 million dollar company, so when he asked what I taught, I responded with “I teach Finance.” He looked surprised and a bit disinterested, but he said, “You know, the thing that impresses me most, about dentists, is how quickly they make decisions.”

Trying to find the compliment in the statement, he had just made and hoping he thought dentists to be of high intelligence, I queried, “Quick decisions?” He went on to tell me, and sometimes show me between bites of food, the crowns I had already noticed. He said, “It always impressed me, when I went into the dental office with a broken tooth, how the dentist would have a quick look around and then tell me I needed a crown. Sometimes he was ready to do it on the spot!”

Other things had come out in our conversation. He was an accomplished golfer with a six handicap. He had three homes, and each home had an identical set of golf clubs. All were recently updated, matched, swing-weighted custom sets. My mind was spinning as I thought about the gap between those matched sets of clubs and his unmatched set of teeth! How could I get his attention?

Doctor Pankey would often say to me, “Communicate with others by making your examples relevant to the other person’s experience or frame of reference.” The light bulb came on, and I said, “Tell me about how you made decisions as a CFO in your business.”

“Well, I take a good look at the short and long term impact of the decisions, the cost of capital necessary – both short and long term, and the risk/reward potential to the bottom line of the company.”

Now I was in full swing, “Sounds like you study the problem and/or opportunity with reflection and quite a bit of detail. You slow down and take the necessary time to uncover the best decision.”

“Well, yes, of course, they would be important decisions, and they would take time!” Bob replied.

“Quite honestly, Bob, that is exactly what I and others are attempting to teach dentists at The Pankey Institute. We are asking dentists to intentionally slow down and become more reflective, affective, and effective with their patients.” I could see he was thinking about this.

“Bob, let’s compare you and your teeth to your sets of golf clubs.” He was intently listening. “It’s as if, when you were a young man, God gave you a set of new golf clubs. We, as dentists, call them teeth. You used them through the years as you refined your golf game and in time you broke the 9-iron. You went to the pro shop and tried to get a new one. It was a 9-iron, of course, but the grip, the shaft and the swing weight were not quite the same as your original set. It was okay, because you knew how to adjust if you remembered to accommodate for the differences.

“As time went on, you had the same experience with your 7-iron, the 4-iron, the pitching wedge, and your favorite wood. In time, you were adjusting your swing and muscles every time you swung a club. You noticed there were times when certain muscles would get sore and even the soreness would get in the way of your swing chewing. Finally, you decided to get refitted with a whole new set of clubs. You went to a professional who put you through a whole series of tests and thorough evaluations to diagnose and plan the best solution, which fit your uniqueness. And, you not only got one completely new set of golf clubs, you got three.

“Many dentists would see you as a very busy man who wants to get out of the dental office with dispatch. They respond in a crisis mode to your crisis events. But, like clubs, teeth need to be customized and “matched” to work together so you aren’t constantly accommodating as teeth break and are restored. What we are encouraging dentists to do is to slow down and be as thorough as you would be in your decision making in your business. It’s better for you—actually better for all concerned.”

Bob’s face lit up, “So that’s what you teach?” “That’s what I teach,” I responded

With that “aha” smile, Bob said, “Would you be so kind as to give me your business card with the name of a dentist who thinks like you do? In fact, I’d like three – one for each of the locations of my golf clubs!”

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Richard Green DDS MBA

Rich Green, D.D.S., M.B.A. is the founder and Director Emeritus of The Pankey Institute Business Systems Development program. He retired from The Pankey Institute in 2004. He has created Evergreen Consulting Group, Inc. www.evergreenconsultinggroup.com, to continue his work encouraging and assisting dentists in making the personal choices that will shape their practices according to their personal vision of success to achieve their preferred future in dentistry. Rich Green received his dental degree from Northwestern University in 1966. He was a early colleague and student of Bob Barkley in Illinois. He had frequent contact with Bob Barkley because of his interest in the behavioral aspects of dentistry. Rich Green has been associated with The Pankey Institute since its inception, first as a student, then as a Visiting Faculty member beginning in 1974, and finally joining the Institute full time in 1994. While maintaining his practice in Hinsdale, IL, Rich Green became involved in the management aspects of dentistry and, in 1981, joined Selection Research Corporation (an affiliate of The Gallup Organization) as an associate. This relationship and his interest in management led to his graduation in 1992 with a Masters in Business Administration from the Keller Graduate School in Chicago.

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