The Articulate Dentist - A Blog by the Metro Denver Dental Society

Words Matter

By: Dr. Allen Vean

As we make our best attempt to recover from the last three years, one important aspect of our society has been misplaced. Personal interactions, personal conversations, and respect for one another need a tune-up. How often do we see people buried in that handheld device known as the cell phone paying little or no attention to anyone or anything? The patients in your waiting room and operatories constantly looking at their screens as you try to establish a conversation. The disrespect that is shown when you or your staff member tries to get their attention and they just keep talking. And then, they are upset you interrupted their conversation. Whoa! Let us back up here.

I was always taught to look someone straight in the eye, have a firm handshake, treat them with kindness, think before you speak and choose your words carefully. Recently, I was a substitute instructor at a local dental hygiene program. The students are remarkable. Most have college degrees, prior dental experience, or are changing careers as they see the opportunity dentistry offers. These past experiences range from an Air Force F-16 mechanic to a culinary school graduate who was a pastry chef at a Ritz Carlton Hotel prior to a COVID layoff. As I was preparing for my clinic assignment, one of the students approached and said, “My patient wants an exam.” Excuse me. Who are you? Would it not be appropriate to introduce yourself, and ask that we review the patient’s medical and dental history, radiographs, and any other pertinent information prior to the examination? My first reaction was total surprise. I am not sure if this behavior was taken for granted or if the student treated other instructors in a like manner. I took a deep breath and took the student aside out of the hearing range of others. We had a serious discussion about how we speak to each other whether it be a student or instructor. I informed the student the only person in my life that gave orders was my mother. As we continued our discussion regarding personal interactions, the student apologized, and we were able to have a positive clinical experience.

I recently initiated a ChatGPT account. My fears regarding artificial intelligence were somewhat lessened when I searched, “Words matter in conversations.” I was surprised and impressed with what followed. In summary, “Words that we choose can have an emotional impact on others. It is also important to be mindful of our tone of voice. Words that are hurtful, disrespectful, or dismissive can cause harm and damage relationships, while words that are supportive, empathetic, and validating can foster connection and build trust. In short, the words we use in conversations matter a great deal, and it’s important to be intentional and thoughtful in our language choices. By doing so, we can create more productive and positive interactions with others.”

As we all are aware, the shortage of dental support staff in all areas of our practices will continue. Please remember your practice is only as good as your weakest link. I have heard many stories of hygienists, assistants, and office managers leaving practices not because of pay, but because of the culture of their work environment. There is no need to keep a staff member who continually creates disruptions. This not only applies to staff but also to patients. Why do we allow patients to demean our staff and create havoc within the office? I know we all have had patients who fit the criteria. The dark cloud in the office when these patients and staff members are in your practice, turns into sunshine when they are dismissed. There is an immediate sigh of relief from everyone.

When I spoke with the hygiene student mentioned previously, I reminded the student there are three words that we need to use more often. They are “please and thank you.” You would be surprised how effective they are. Please remember a quote from a speech by the infamous Arnold Palmer, “ Tears are 99% feelings and 1% water.” Think before you hurt someone. Thank you.

And, thank you for supporting organized dentistry. Your comments are always welcomed and encouraged.

The Articulate Dentist is a blog by the Metro Denver Dental Society, providing members with insight into the dental industry, practice management tips, tech trends and best practices as well as Society news and updates.