Recently, my house was crazy; my graduation, a full-time faculty interview for a position in dental hygiene education, my son’s high school graduation, all in the midst of us moving from our house of ten years. Crazy, may not even touch it! Nevertheless, I was present in all aspects of each event, despite the chaos surrounding us. Being present manifested unexpected feelings, but one consistency was recognized throughout. Relationships were pivotal in all these events. You can catch me saying my coined quote, “Forming relationships is possibly the single most important thing you can do in a lifetime.” Let’s analyze various relationships we can face in our day to day comings and goings in dentistry.
In dentistry, we are afforded the pleasure of developing all types of relationships with patients, referring doctors, labs, co-workers, and representatives that call on our offices. We have no choice but to form these ties, sometimes to our dismay. As I have been growing and changing these past two years, while investing in my personal and professional growth, I find myself speaking to various people about relationships. Am I an expert? I will never claim to be, but I do feel some light can be shed on relationships in dentistry.
Let’s start with patients, preferably new patients. First impressions will be key to forming a valued relationship with new patients. New patients can become the backbone of your practice; very quickly they are no longer new patients, thus becoming the backbone is inevitable. Courting new patients is highly valuable, as these patients, we hope, will sing your praises after their initial appointment, IF they feel as if they were important. How can we offer that feeling? It all begins with the initial phone conversation. If you are employing Witch Hazel to answer your phones or greet your patients, forget it! We all have met Witch Hazel; she hates her job, she couldn’t smile if she wanted, and she certainly doesn’t court patients time after time. Having a friendly voice and smile to greet your clientele can go a long way to garner trust. People need to sense a feeling of belonging.
Once patients have been given a warm welcome, it is vital to get to know them. They are more than a mouth to clean and fix. They come with fears, hopes, desires, and past history. Without gathering this information, we know nothing more than their name and face. Do they have family members, perhaps, that might need your services as well? Taking time to get to know patients prior to entering the treatment room can go far, as it can make treatment less intimidating. Try using your consultation room to have this initial meet and greet with new patients and employees who will be rendering care. Once you have the information, PLEASE work to use it to your advantage; find methods that will meet each individual’s needs.
Once you have developed initial rapport with patients, it means the world you continue to garner their trust. When a patient needs extra help, offer the help. If a patient has fears, ask them how you can help them. If a patient is having a rough day, take the time to listen; they may need your listening ears more than your gentle touch cleaning their teeth that day. I would like to share a story about a patient of mine…
This patient came in for her recare appointment within the past few months; she told me she wasn’t feeling it that day. She was tearful and in the midst of an anxiety attack. Prior to the appointment, she had called her husband to have him bring her some anxiety medication to help calm her. While she loved him and appreciated him for all the help, she felt like she was a burden to him. I recalled she lost her son to an automobile accident within the past year, which had caused additional stress and difficulties.
This woman loved me, and I loved her back; even though she put me behind in my schedule, I took the time to love on her and let her know I was present to her needs. When asked if she needed me to check on her in a week or so, she said I didn’t need to do that; I had done enough for her that appointment. I encouraged her to see a counselor to help her through her feelings. She assured me she had been considering this.
Not long after this appointment, I heard she had passed away, and it hurt my heart. However, I was glad I had taken the time to love her the last time I saw her. The key point here is, I valued her beyond her prophy. I recognized that my skill wasn’t what she needed; she needed me to just care. To me, that relationship is priceless; the memory of what I did to help her that day leads me to share the importance of relationships in our operatories. We are more than cleaning men and women; we are the heart and soul of our dental practices when we put others before ourselves.
Team Member Relationships
Team relationships are vital to demonstrating effectiveness in dental settings. It is known teamwork certainly works best when the leadership at the top is strong. An effective leader values those who support him/her. Employees feel valued differently; it is not one-size fits all. The book, The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman1 outlines every person has a specific “love language” that fuels their “love tank.” Although it sounds corny to discuss “love languages” in the dental setting, the concept of giving your employees what they need to feel appreciated can be paralleled to the “love language” concept.
The five love languages include giving and receiving of gifts, words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, and acts of service. Would it be appropriate to consider physical touch in our industry? No, but the four other principles can be noted. Time and again I speak with employees who are depleted because they give and give in their jobs but receive nothing. No monetary gifts, no praise for a job well done, and no thank you for going the extra mile with patients or staff members. Their “love tanks” are depleted.
Employees who are told or shown appreciation are much more effective in their workplace. Employers truly need to take time to understand their relationships with their employees; by doing this, the bottom line of a dental practice will increase. Believe it or not, patients notice offices that have strong, solid relationships with one another.
At a former practice, I worked with “The Dream Team.” Unfortunately, the doctor did not value his employees and “The Dream Team” dismantled. Because the doctor was selfish and could care less about his team, there were no relationships built. The team felt no need to have loyalty to this person, who only cared about himself. The team was only there for the patients and one another, but there was no strength in the overall team due to the lack of leadership. Since the dismantling, this doctor has had a revolving door of employees, and patients have left due to the inconsistency. It is unfortunate the doctor failed to recognize that building a solid foundation for his business required building strong relationships with his team.
Relationships through Networking
Networking is another avenue to formulate relationships in our industry. In recent years, social media has allowed people from all over the world to reach one another. There are many dental hygiene-related Facebook pages with which to follow. Be sure to pick and choose those that lift you up and not bog you down. For instance, I found one particular page to have constant complaining and negativity, as well as inconsiderate posters/responders. Following that page did not allow me to become better, but rather it made me bitter. Seek out those sites and people who can enhance your professional life.
I have been afforded many new friendships, but one, in particular, is with a hygienist, who had been practicing many years, like myself. She reached out to say she appreciated one of my posts. We have since become professional friends, who are available to one another in times of need and celebration. Without the ability to network as such, we would not have formed a cheerleading-type relationship with one another. Knowing that someone, hundreds of miles away, who understands exactly what you are going through is priceless; it shows that different areas of the country are not exempt to the same day to day issues in the dental office.
Along similar lines, local Facebook pages have connected me to professionals and organizations in my area, and have provided me local opportunities. Some include continuing education events, volunteer opportunities, and a group of like-minded dental professionals seeking similar levels of professionalism. Being surrounded by people of this caliber allows for additional areas of growth. If we aren’t growing, we are dying, I do believe. Not long ago, I was there, and now that I am not, I do not want to go back to my old, dying ways.
Relationship with Yourself
As I have stated, I am no relationship expert, but it is safe to observe that when people experience great relationships in their personal lives, they tend to be generally happier people. I have recognized this in myself. For years and years, I felt pretty miserable; divorced, estranged from family members, struggling to raise respectful teenagers solo, and not finding a workplace “home” that was supportive. All these things seemed to keep dragging me down. Once I found an uplifting workplace, I noticed a change in my well-being and outlook on life. Additionally, once I invested in my own happiness, I saw more positivity in myself as well. I am nowhere close to perfect, but I am finding myself to be better. Investing in a relationship with yourself and loving yourself is probably the single most important relationship you will ever have! You truly are worth any investment you can make to yourself.
While experiencing a life transformation, as I embark on relocation to another state, as I officially head toward being an empty nester, I reflect on the past and project to the future. I recognize the valued relationships I have been a part of over the past several years. My calendar has become fuller and fuller; meeting a former employer, going to lunch with my former Director of my Bachelor of Applied Science Dental Hygiene program, and heading out with friends for a day on the town. I notice how truly rich my life has been because of these trusted individuals who have enriched my life. While I await my new future, I am also networking with those who may bring new richness to my new life. Relationships, I say, are the single most important thing you can do in a lifetime! Keep on keeping on, everyone!
- Chapman, G. D. (2010). The five love languages: How to express heartfelt commitment to your mate. Bhopal, India: Manjul Pub.