What’s wrong with this picture?

Dentists learn to look at teeth and find what is wrong. As a result of our education and what patients expect from us, we focus on finding what is wrong, and we are good at it.

Dentists learn to look at teeth and find what is wrong. As a result of our education and what patients expect from us, we focus on finding what is wrong, and we are good at it.

From our first day of oral diagnosis in dental school, we develop our skills in finding pathology. Failing to identify decay or periodontal disease lowers our grade. I don’t remember getting any credit for finding everything that was healthy or right in a patient’s mouth.

With time, we increase our competence in identifying disease. Our comprehensive examinations focus on teeth, periodontal support, occlusion, and the temporal-mandibular joint and surrounding structures. We consider our patients’ histories and symptoms, then throw all the information into our own craniums to come up with diagnoses of pathology - decay, periodontal disease, TMD, or a combination of conditions.

Diagnosing the conditions of our patients is the art and science of dentistry. Solving the puzzles presented to us by our aging patients with their complex histories and medications takes diligence and patience. We attend continuing-education classes, read our professional journals, and consult with colleagues to be as thorough and accurate as possible.

Using magnification, we are able to become even more accurate. Unfortunately, focusing on the minutia makes it easy to lose sight of whole patients and what is best for them.

The effort we put into a thorough, comprehensive examination and an accurate diagnosis, over time, becomes habitual. This is a habit of finding what is wrong with something or some person. We carry the habit into the rest of our lives, much to the dismay of those near to us.

In the people area, we have smart, talented, dedicated people on our practice teams. They have strengths and characteristics that are used to better the dental health of our patients. These folks add to the quality of the lives they touch. They make dentists look good. In short, they are invaluable to our practices. But how often do we focus on their contributions? How often do we notice shortcomings?

Compliments build self-esteem and loyalty. Most of us are too sparing with encouragement and often too quick to criticize. We tell ourselves that constructive criticism is best for our patients and our practice. Instead, focus on what is right with employees and let them know. Soon, those little idiosyncrasies that drive us crazy will become endearing traits. Now, who has changed - the employee or the dentist?

Even worse than carrying this critical mentality to our team is carrying it home with us. The negative effect gets magnified because at the office we are the boss, which by definition makes us right. If we carry this “Queen/King of Everything” mentality home, the domestic situation suffers. (Of course, I never experience this myself, but I hear about it from friends.) Where is the partnership? Where is the mutual care and concern? We often forget to focus on what is right.

Make a promise to yourself: Every time you catch yourself playing Find What is Wrong With This Picture, identify two items that are right. Then, share your discovery with the person near you. Now, if you need to share what is wrong, you can frame it in a positive way.

Dr. Yvonne Hanley has been in private practice for 25 years in Fergus Falls, Minn. She lives on one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes with her husband, Pat, and their pet fish. She is a member of the visiting faculty at The Pankey Institute, after serving on its Board of Directors for more than 10 years. She is active in the Minnesota Dental Association. Reach her at pickerel@prtel.com.

More in Practice