Emotions in the Dental Practice

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What is the price we pay for our sensitive, caring ways?

As far back as I can remember the vast majority of dental teams have been made up of a group of females lead by a male dentist/provider. Over the years the dynamics have changed a bit, with many more female dentists at the helm and a number of males comprising the auxiliary team. However the team structure is divided, the one thing that is still constant is that the majority of the team is comprised of females. The reason we see this in our “patient treatment” industry is that the caregiver and nurturing side tends to be more prevalent in females than in males.

With this said, it should not be a surprise to know that often the blending of females in the workplace can get tricky. Emotions can run high, and insecurities will show up loud and clear. The sensitivities that exist amongst a team of females can be great, and many tend to thrive on acceptance and appreciation.

The “story lines” that come from this environment have been of great interest to me. The situations that I’ve personally experienced have been mindboggling. From the assistant who was really distraught after the patient refused to have x-rays taken, to the front office manager that could not a get a grip after the patient with her bill in hand yelled, “And you will adjust my balance NOW!”. The assistant left work early and the front office manager sat at her desk and cried for hours.

So how do we work to focus on staying cool, thinking things out and making things right before everyone’s day is ruined?

First, we must realize that “people will be people”. Then we throw in the inherent stress of a dental office environment, plus the concern the patients have for the treatment they require, and then, “And we have to pay for this?”

We now have a true dichotomy here; a double edged sword if you will. In dentistry we must be caregivers- kind, sympathetic, understanding and calm. These are all wonderful qualities that comprise the majority of all dental professionals. With this comes a sensitive, emotional, “wanting to please” persona.

Of course, these traits are not exclusive to females. Males within our industry tend to be wired much the same. This is why so many dentists “fear” telling a patient that they see a hairline fracture in the upper right first molar, and may say “Let’s just put a watch on that” rather than explain the ramifications that can occur from ignoring it and waiting for things to get worse until the tooth cracks entirely, or becomes exposed and now requires a root canal and build-up.

Why would they not take the proactive approach? Because they don’t want to be the bearer of bad things. They don’t want the patient to not like them, perhaps not keep future appointments, and most of all, leave the practice altogether.

Why? Did you cause this tooth to fracture? Was this your fault? Of course not, but their “sensitive” antenna immediately goes up and they feel the need to lessen the blow.

The dynamics and emotional blend in a dental practice is fascinating, right down to the team member that will sooner blame someone else than to admit their mistakes. I always found it refreshing to see someone raise their hand and say “Oops, I forgot to empty the garbage”, or “Yes, it was me that neglected to confirm Mrs. Smith for today.”

Honoring one’s mistakes is a great advantage when it comes to maintaining harmony and respect within a dental practice. The balancing of our emotions will not necessarily change, and mistakes will continue to be made. But how we recognize and respond to them is what will help to manage the stress we put on ourselves and the fall-out that results from the delicate emotions that we bring to the rest of the team and to the practice.

7 thoughts on “Emotions in the Dental Practice

  1. Excellent blog, Deb! As one who has been helping dentists and their teams communicate effectively, I would add that knowing how to express oneself in any emotionally charged situation changes the way people react, changes the way you react, lessens the fallout and enables both parties to articulate their feelings and needs. Choose your words, change the game. Everyone has the ability to acquire these skills. I applaud you and others for working to improve communication skills in dental teams; tools as necessary as explorers and mirrors!

  2. Thanks so much…..Yes, a major problem in our industry and I am so wanting to change the way the team interacts during these events. The fall-out that occurs as a result is equally stressful. And you are so correct Kristen, much can be attributed to poor communications skills.

  3. Great article Deb! The unique, close-quarters mix of predominantly females can be challenging on a good day! Understanding how to control a situation through skilled communication takes lots of practice and study. Thank you for being a champion in this subject!!

  4. Great feedback Cyndee 🙂 We all know the importance of maintaining a healthy line of communication and certainly environment and outside pressures can add to making this quite challenging at times.

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