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Emotional Dentistry from the Heart

A New Playbook for Thriving and Success

by Peter Barry

Grow Your Practice – One Relationship at a Time

Dentistry is undergoing a major transformation in the way we practice and do business. In fact, the entire dental community including labs, suppliers, manufactures, and other industry companies are evolving their products & services into a more customer friendly human centered experience.

Despite this trend, technology has paradoxically made it easier to fracture our attention into smaller and smaller bits. As a result, in a time where no one has enough time, our devices allow us to be many places at once but at the cost of being unable to fully inhabit the place where we need to be most; here and now fully tuned in to the present moment and focused on what we are doing, who we are doing it with and what we are doing it for. Patients can feel our level of attentiveness & emotional engagement.  

Today in clinical practice, too many of us are overscheduled, over-connected, and overstimulated by all the digital noise, interruptions, and complexity of our high-tech society. Despite the distracting influences of digital technology, we are evolving into a more people centered, service-based and solution driven economy & marketplace. Today’s greatest achievers or so-called epic performers understand that nothing happens in any field of human endeavor unless you can first influence & inspire people into action. This occurs best when we cultivate strong personal connections that form the foundation of any business relationship. At the end of the day business begins and ends with people.

The average healthcare consumer expects quality & service to be delivered in an honest, caring, and compassionate manner. We could even say that they want their dental experience to be enjoyable & emotionally enriching. Despite this obvious assertion, as a profession we can easily slip into overcommunicating the physical details of dentistry without paying adequate attention to the emotions of the human attached to the teeth. This tends to depersonalize the patients’ overall experience and can leave them feeling like a number that is being processed through a hurried transaction in one’s busy schedule.

Escaping this gravitational trend requires a conscious energetic shift in thinking. “Energy flows where attention goes” which means that what we focus on while we do what we do; “GROWS.” If all we have is a hammer, then everything will look like a nail. Similarly, if all we see is teeth then everything, we say will sound technical & clinical while lacking the of quality–of–life merits patients need to feel value. When you reach for their hearts, patients find it much easier to give you their teeth.  

Everything we do, say or think in the practice must feel like a genuine interaction to patrons! Achieving this level of patient care requires a mindful – almost meditative – emotional focus that comes from one heart sincerely reaching out to touch another through the medium of dentistry.

Rethinking the fundamental way in which we do business means rethinking the fundamental way in which we think, feel, and act when collaborating with patients. It means consciously re-evaluating our relationship with our environment, our schedule, and the people we serve so we can reset to re-engage more deeply for success.

Patients are people whose basic human nature is to want to feel genuinely respected and cared for, especially when it comes to placing their health & quality of life in the hands of professionals. The challenge in dentistry is that after all the technical learning & training we do, some of our focus on human engagement can be distracted.

Is it possible that while vigorously pursuing clinical excellence, we can begin losing sight of the person attached to the teeth? Is it possible that our clinical/medical focus can dilute our human connection and appreciation for soft relationship skills? After years of coaching doctors and their teams, it is my experience that our communication can unknowingly appear cold and disconnected if it is delivered in a very technical manner devoid of feeling or humanity. As a profession if we are to succeed in altering some of the old school negative paradigms society has historically held about dentistry, we must begin to look beyond the instruments we are holding in our hands. In our hands we are in fact holding the lifestyle, happiness and comfort of the people attached to the teeth.

Patients are filtering all decisions they make through their feelings, values & personal life circumstances. Our job is to fit the dentistry into the patient’s life and not just into their mouths. There is a big difference between good clinical dentistry vs. good patient care. Good clinical dentistry is delivered into a mouth while good patient care is that dentistry served into the life of the human attached to the teeth. 

Each new graduate enters the world of private practice with dreams and visions of maintaining that fresh and vital feeling of importance. As dental professionals we are excited to deliver great dental healthcare experiences to happy appreciative patients that value what we can do for them.  Then as patients arrive the realities of private practice set in.

Regardless of the role you play in your office, the hidden barriers to ideal care emerge. Patient education challenges, Insurance dependance, financial barriers and the need for creating value become central markers for success. Throw different patients into the mix and we have a recipe for trust & appreciation or for resistance & price shopping based on the way we come together as a team to touch the hearts & minds of the people attached to the teeth.  

The fact is we can go to 20 different dental offices to have the same tooth filled yet we will have 20 completely different emotional experiences. As the digital world cascades businesses towards sameness, convenience, and price comparisons, your unique approach to cultivating meaningful healthcare relationships begins to play an increasingly impactful role on the patient’s overall perception of how special we are.

This is your brand. Your brand is what makes people choose you and want to come be with you. In dentistry we all do similar things completely differently. Two same service businesses cannot be identical in the people they attract, the work they inspire, the information they pass on, or the emotions & feelings they create. It is impossible! Human beings are too different, and their unique interactions only magnify those differences. We have all walked into a company and immediately detected these forces at work. Compassion, energy, and excitement in a dynamic service company. All these qualities are palpable within the first 30 sec of entering your practice. Patients will feel the DNA of your culture at the front office and find it replicated throughout your entire team. 

If we fail to differentiate our office, then the primary distinguishing feature between us and someone else is reduced to who can do it “cheapest.” On the other hand, if we don’t want to compete on price then we must give our patients something else to value. Each patient transaction must be turned into an interaction of the heart. This step is so very basic, yet often people forget or fail to apply it fully. Especially when the day gets busy.

It is important to remember that without people, dentistry would not exist. Therefore, people should be our central focus going forward. The health of society and the people we serve is what matters most. We are doctors of the body working through the mouth while impacting the entire human condition. Each of us has a mindful opportunity to take the microscope off the mouth as a central clinical focus to shine the spotlight on the overall physical emotional and psychological wellbeing of the complete person attached to the teeth. I often tell my coaching clients to focus on treating the “Whole not the Hole.” Such a simple and subtle statement can have a profound impact on the success of your practice if it is your guiding light while you collaborate with patients.  

The fact is all of us feel more trusting and open to people we like. The more we feel connected to someone the more influential they become in our lives. That’s why the most significant part of your practice isn’t the dentistry. The most significant part of your practice is you. When patients make a decision to accept advanced care, they are making a decision to accept you. Your dentistry gets you into a game where relationships win. We must always strive to find the patient’s heart before looking into their mouths.

Perhaps we are not in the dentistry profession serving people. Perhaps we are really in the people business providing dentistry. Which means that without people we have nothing. But with people we have something much bigger than dentistry. Working from the heart builds a tribe of loyal patients who will not only stay long term but who will also become walking billboards out in the community advocating for your practice.  

In dental hygiene the patient is regularly treated and examined, the relationship with the office is enhanced, their interest in oral health is developed and the patient is kept informed about what they can expect from their mouths in the future. Over the years I have heard many hygienists say that it isn’t easy to stay motivated and passionate when faced with the same seemingly repetitive routine procedures within the same 4 walls each day. With this mindset it is easy to eventually fall into a rut and lose motivation or to become complacent, which is an even deeper professional problem.

The fact is your energetic signature is palpable to patients. What you think in your mind and feel in your heart while you do what you do is central to how inspiringly you come across and how much you enjoy your clinical role. Working with a deeper people centered focus while paying attention to the impact you are having on their lives can turn a seemingly boring routine hygiene day into a vibrant time of unique clinical & emotional care.  

If the global pandemic has taught us anything, we have learned that in the rush to return to normal we need to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to. It turns out that tightly booked busy schedules that look productive do not necessarily allow us to connect with people’s hearts and higher interests. Quality time with patients is vital to building the trust and understanding required to raise their desire towards all that modern dentistry can do for them.

The time we take to build strong personal relationships with our patients will have a massive impact on our overall ability to grow our practices in the future. You must believe you are worth more to your customers than what you sell. Your dentistry gets you into a game where relationships win. Embrace the human condition by growing your practice one relationship at a time! Service to others is the rent we pay for our room on this earth. That’s when the magic happens. 

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