I just returned from a great continuing education course on Bone Grafting for Restorative Success. The speaker was Dr. Tara Aghaloo, DDS, MD, Ph.D. (wow!). She’s a professor in Oral Surgery at UCLA School of Dentistry. Although the surgical material was excellent, there were some great non-surgical takeaways that stood out. It’s so common to have a terrifically difficult day and forget the little things that can become big things on another day. These were great reminders to past lessons of my own. I’d like to share them here.
1) Dr. Aghaloo was confident enough in her skills that she shared not just her most successful cases, but cases that could have gone better. One of the cases she considered a failure, she reported wasn’t treatment planned well. Although she did a great job on the focused area, she failed to look at the teeth on either side of the treatment area.
Lesson One: Always, always plan complete, full-mouth care. Do this even when the patient is in your chair for a specific dental problem. So many dentists are afraid to present complete care to their patients. If I could just spend 30 minutes with a dentist who treatment plans a couple of crowns at an exam, I could teach them what to say and how to provide better, more rewarding dentistry.
2) This Professor talked about as a young dentist, she’d neglect to give patients all the ifs, ands and buts. Giving a patient all the advantages of doing the treatment and the disadvantages of not doing it, is critical.
Lesson Two: To avoid malpractice and Board complaints, patients need to have all the information. They need to have the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers they understand. All this information falls under Informed Consent: financial considerations, advantages, disadvantages, risks, and benefits.
3) Patients forget what we tell them. All dental professionals who have any experience know this to be true. You can apply all the skills you have in explaining the procedure, the alternatives, risks and answer their questions, just to have them come back and report “I wasn’t given that information”.
Lesson Three: Document, document, document! I caught Dr. Aghaloo at a break and asked her if she documents a lot. She laughed and said: “A lot!” I shared with her my project for developing a C.E. course on documentation; she stressed the importance of taking intra-oral photos as part of your treatment presentation, mostly because patients forget.
4) It’s not your fault. This was the greatest takeaway for me and I think many of us forget this. There are situations that move beyond our control. Patients with medical complications will/can affect the outcome of the best and most skilled dentist. Medical limitations such as diabetes, osteoporosis, and poor vascular health are beyond your control. Refer to lessons two and three and remember:
Lesson Four: Their medical issues are not your fault and there may be limitations to the desired outcome. Be careful of deferring to the patient’s wishes. If you’re not comfortable doing a procedure you are being pressured to perform, refer it to a specialist and explain that it is the best interest of your patient.
“Wisdom is the lesson learned, applied.”
Dr. Deborah Marynak is the owner of DentalStaffing.org, a dentist with over 30 years experience, and is committed to helping Dental Professionals find the right fit for both employees and employers. She also works with Dental Offices to help them streamline their clinical systems and teach Dental Teams how to effectively document to avoid risk.