We are our word: Stay in the moment for each dental patient

June 12, 2015
I got to thinking, as I was treating a recare patient this week, as to how very important our word is.


I got to thinking, as I was treating a recare patient this week, as to how very important our word is. Doing what we say we are going to do should be an integral part of our heart's core. Let's look at the following examples.

A patient was in my chair for her six-month maintenance visit. Her mouth was very clean, and she had one hypersensitive tooth, due most likely to some exposed dentin just apical to the porcelain crown margin. The last time I cleaned her teeth, she visibly reacted when I touched it with a hand instrument. The tooth was immaculate and the tissue healthy, so fortunately, I did not need to do any real debridement or scaling on the sensitive buccal surface. We sent her home with a desensitizing agent and made a note of it in the patient record. I also told her that next visit I would desensitize prior to any scaling.


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When she came in for this recare visit, she made a point of mentioning how the instrument contacting the tooth made her "jump a mile" when I saw her last. And, would I "kindly stay away from the outside surface if I felt it was clean?" (Note: she tolerated polish/floss). I checked it, immaculate again; so I was, of course, willing to accommodate her. I reminded her that I had planned to desensitize with a therapeutic polishing agent first, but that I would steer clear of any instrumentation if that would make her feel more comfortable. I began her debridement. Because I follow a certain sequence, I kept well away from the sextant of her mouth that contained the hypersensitive No. 30.

The message of today's column is essential. Remember the importance of staying in the present moment during treatment. It's very easy to go into autopilot mode when we are providing some of the routine tasks of care. The danger of allowing our thoughts to drift could be potentially not following through with our word. That particular day, I was preoccupied with matters that were distracting me from the task at hand. As a consequence, I came dangerously close to dragging my instrument, however delicately, across the buccal surface of No. 30, despite having promised this patient that I would not do so! Something intuitive kicked my butt at the last second, and I immediately stated: "I know where I am in your mouth, and I remember what I promised you..." (Saved by the higher part of me!) It was as if my patient relaxed tenfold the moment she heard me utter those words.

Sidebar: Know the reassuring impact your words have on a patient who is worried about you touching a tooth that is hypersensitive. Let her know that you are aware you are approaching it and that you are following through with her request by stating it aloud, in advance. Just saying that you are going to be super careful as you scale that "scared tooth" demonstrates a caring attitude that is second to none. Of course, you know how best to word this to set your patient at ease.

A similar scenario might be taking X-rays on a patient with a very small mouth, for whom I bend the film corners, reducing them in size significantly so that she can tolerate them. Being consistent at every visit with our "special needs" techniques means the world to patients. Hence, the importance of keeping good records that might contain such reminders so that we remember to repeat techniques without the patient having to remind us.

This reinforces the critical message, the crucial importance of keeping one's word, period. If you pledge lo someone that you are going to do something, and then you don't, your credibility turns to crud. Let's say you tell a patient that you will send her home with a certain sample that is beneficial, and you forget to do so because it is located in an outside supply closet, and you are rushing to get her out at the close of the appointment. She arrives home and sees that you forgot to put it in her goody bag; it's such a disappointment to her that you didn't keep your word. Touching the hypersensitive tooth when you promised you wouldn't means you didn't keep your word. Promising to make the X-ray film small and not following through means not keeping your word.

Every time we give our word, we put our honor on the line. Further, we must answer to our own conscience, always. When we do not do what we say we are going to do, those listening lose respect and trust. Not good. We are our word. Making this a consistency in every aspect of our world is something we can do immediately! Onward we go; it is in our heart's core. RDH

EILEEN MORRISSEY, RDH, MS, is a practicing clinician, speaker, and writer. She is an adjunct dental hygiene faculty member at Burlington County College. Eileen offers CE forums to doctors, hygienists, and their teams. Reach her at [email protected] or 609-259-8008. Visit her website at www.eileenmorrissey.com.