In dentistry, we’re clear about the connections among the teeth, the muscles, the bone, and the joints—and how all these pieces are related to esthetics. We understand how those pieces fit together. Unfortunately, most patients don’t come to us with that understanding.
Dr. Bob Barkley used to talk about patients not understanding “the web”—the connection of how all the pieces come together.
Just as with a delicate spider web, if you touch any one aspect of it, you change everything. Bob Barkley would say to his patients, “I know you are concerned about that one tooth. That’s your job to be concerned about that one tooth. My job is figure out and to help you understand how what’s happening with that one tooth is related to everything else that is going on in your mouth.”
The exam is a process by which we can do exactly that. We can help our patients understand the connections in their mouths. The exam is also an opportunity to encourage our patients to have confidence in us. Confidence building starts with the new patient exam and continues in subsequent interactions. The more thorough the examination we do, the more in touch we are with what is really happening in our patients’ mouths and the more confident patients will feel about our ability to help them.
Our thoroughness and knowledge aren’t the only aspects of the exam that develop patients’ confidence in us. The gentler we are in our touch and the more careful to include the patient or others in the room during exams are important. These aspects of the exam communicate our character and the way we tend to approach our work. Patients anticipate our care and approach will be similarly open and comfortable during future consultations and procedures.
People don’t take risks when they don’t feel confident. Unfortunately, many patients do not have confidence in making decisions for themselves when they sit in a dental chair. They think of significant dentistry as a risk. For best long-term results and positive relationships, we always want the patient to feel as strong and confident about their choices as they can.
Repeated comfortable interactions are needed for them to develop their confidence. Every time we find something good in their mouth, every time we point out health such as healthy gum tissue or a beautiful restoration, and areas not needing restoration, we are reinforcing healthy choices they made in the past. This can be a confidence booster to help them move forward in making next choices.
The examination process is an opportunity for the clinician to:
- Understand what the patient is experiencing emotionally and physically,
- Provide sensory learning experiences (see Art of the Examination: Part 1),
- Help the patient draw connections for deeper understanding of their health
- Explore options for what the patient might choose to do.
The examination is an opportunity for the patient to develop understanding of:
- The clinician’s ability to help them.
- The current condition of their teeth and other oral structures.
- The impact on them of what they are learning.
- The choices they can make to improve their health.
Every examination is a next opportunity to develop our patients’ confidence in us and in their ability to make healthy choices for themselves.