I feel compelled to respond to Dr. Jack Bynes' article on fearful patients (Dental Economics, March, page 139). His conclusion is right on: "U there is no greater reward than having a patient tell you that you made a significant difference U" But the way he reaches this conclusion is my topic. He states that "dental fear is still a problem in this age of painless dentistry." I would strongly disagree; dental pain in the dental office is a result of the tooth not being properly numbed, a rough, indifferent dentist or hygienist, or both. It has nothing to do with the period of history. Local anesthetics have been around for decades but, unfortunately, so have insensitive dental personnel. I hear all the time from new patients about their bad experiences in a dental office (most of which have occurred fairly recently — in our "painless age"). Doctors, we have produced the vast majority of these fearful patients.
I submit a quote from my soon-to-be-released book by Vantage Press, titled, "Acid Attack," which will be available in the next couple of months.
"I once attended a dental seminar where the subject of nervous dental patients came up. The speaker wanted the audience's input on how they routinely handle them. The answers ranged from 'just ignore it' to 'tell them not to worry about it.' I spoke up and said that I always tell these patients that it's normal to feel that way and that I don't blame them a bit. The audience's response was laughter! If most dentists can't relate any better than that to someone who has had bad dental experiences, no wonder they laughed; they just don't get it. Patients are usually fearful because a dentist has hurt them in the past. Their fears are normal, not irrational. In many dental articles on this subject, these people are labeled 'dental phobics' — how demeaning. Look in your local Yellow Pages and you will find ads by dentists who 'cater to cowards.' I'm sure their motives are good, but how do you think that makes the patients feel about themselves?
"When a dentist sees these feelings as normal and affirms the validity of the patient's fears, they are in a position to really help these people. Making the patients feel that their fears are irrational or childish is belittling and further compounds the problem. Those of you who have these fears, based on past experiences, need to know that you're not being childish at all. Your fears are normal. What you need to do is find a dentist who understands and who will accept your feelings about dentists without taking it personally. Look around — there are dentists out there who really do understand."
I hope every dentist and hygienist who reads this magazine really wants to help their fearful patients. To do that, you must understand that we, as a profession, helped create these patients' fears. Understanding why people feel this way will give you real insight into how to really help. I tell my fearful patients that they won't have bad experiences in my office, but that they will likely always have their fears of dentistry based on their past experiences. I also tell them they are OK.
Jeff Wilcox, DDS
A standard of office excellence
Congratulations on the excellent "Office of the Month" article featuring the office of Dr. Marie Durflinger in Auburn, Wash. (Dental Economics, February, page 22). What a wonderful surprise to see Marie on the cover of the magazine.
I have visited hundreds of offices of Loma Linda University School of Dentistry alumni, and visited Marie's office in October of 2002. I was impressed with Marie and her office and have cited it when talking with other dentists. I was so impressed with the office that I took a number of photos. It was one of those situations where the subject makes any photographer look great. The exceptional features are the reception area with falling water, floral bouquets, and artistic lighting; the waiting room with its soothing colors, leather chairs, and blazing fireplace; the restroom that surpasses anything I have seen in any other dental office; the serpentine floor treatment leading to the operatories; the stylish break room; and Marie's office that transforms diplomas into an art form.
I have often told dentists that patients can't judge the quality of their work, however, I feel the ambiance of an office is indicative of the quality of the dental work. A distinct impression is made in the office suite, and perception is reality.
Marie has set the standard for harmoniously combining personality, ambiance, and dental specialty.
William M. Allen, PhD
Special Projects and Planned Giving
Loma Linda, Calif.