Board Certified Periodontist

68 – The Hardest Part of Periodontics

Hi and welcome, or welcome back. You are listening to the Perio Hygienist Podcast, a podcast for my professional colleagues to include dental and dental hygiene students, dental residents, practicing dentists and dental hygienists and anyone else who cares to listen. My name is Dr. Ben Young and I am a periodontist in private practice in San Antonio, Texas. This is Episode 68 and the title is The Hardest Part of Periodontics. I have been on a little hiatus from this and my other podcast, The Perio Patient Podcast, primarily because of old slow computers. I had to upgrade my systems in order to work through all the programs and files that I manage in my office. Now that things are, once again, efficient enough to write and produce at a reasonable pace, I’m back to putting out content I hope you will find both interesting and useful. Periodically I am asked primarily by dental students what the hardest thing I do in periodontics is. And of course, it makes sense that they want to know what technical, primarily surgical, procedures I think are most difficult or challenging. The fact of the matter is, once anyone has performed the same procedure about a hundred times it becomes routine. So here is a tip if you want your work life to run smoothly, at least in dentistry, don’t do procedures that come so rarely in your practice that you won’t develop the depth of experience necessary to make them routine and predictable. For example, it isn’t difficult to place a dental implant in bone. It can be taught over a weekend. The problem comes when the implant becomes infected or doesn’t integrate with the bone as the lecture seemed to indicate it would. How do you fix problems? And this is why it is good to place many implants routinely or pass on placing implants at all and concentrate on other procedures you enjoy and are best equipped to handle. If you think the new procedure will be useful enough to be performed routinely going forward, then go through the necessary learning curve – and don’t beat yourself up just because at first it seems difficult. Otherwise, refer. The riskiest procedures that you might perform are the ones you do rarely, or you lack the equipment (usually expensive) to reduce the difficulty and risk. A smooth and productive work environment all has to do with workflow. Taking too much time to perform difficult tasks is less productive and rewarding, at least as far as I am concerned, than performing routine tasks almost effortlessly. Now back to the question about what is the hardest thing I do routinely in the world of periodontics? There isn’t even a close second in my mind to being able to effectively communicate the practice of periodontics to levels each person I must communicate with needs. And if you think about it just a little, it is probably the same for you when it comes to communication with others about what it is you do and why you do it. And this isn’t about selling anything to anyone. Selling people things is about convincing them to do what I want them to do. It’s talking people into things. All of us have been sold stuff only to realize that the stuff wasn’t either what we needed or that there were other things that would probably have worked better. Then we begin to see that the reason we were sold what we were sold mostly had to do with what the salesperson wanted out of the deal. And that’s why we often find it is good to shop around. Now in healthcare, it is a big problem that some don’t feel the need to communicate clearly. It seems to them to take away from what they have been trained to do – the procedures. This is how you get doctors, nurses, dentists, and the rest who believe that patients need to just accept what we have to give them – essentially, no questions asked. Those who believe this then justify their inadequate communication skills by saying to patients, each other, and to themselves, what we do is too complicated for them to understand anyway, they just have to trust us. Have you had patients come into your practice already mad at you? Why, generally, is this? Because they have had a bad experience or many with people just like you and me – people who pushed and got them to go along with things that later they had questions about. In other words, the treatment recommendations might have been good ones, but the way they went about strong-arming acceptance eroded trust. So now, they are seeing you, and it might be that you pick up on the chip they have on their shoulder and conclude that they were born unpleasant. I can’t tell you how many – likely in the multiple of hundreds by now in my career – who have said to me that I was the first person who took the time to explain things in ways they could understand. The funny thing about this from my perspective is I simply have a standard approach to communication. In other words, I have made my professional communication practices like all the other procedures I perform. I sequence when I will say what to patients. I also schedule time to listen carefully to patients up front. If they have had bad experiences in the past, I will give them time to tell me all of this in their own words. And if, after I have given them a lot of time, they still have more to say, I don’t cut them off, I invite them to come back for a review of findings so far and to complete the examination process. It is an extremely rare event when I can’t listen to everything a patient wants to tell me upfront and still complete my examination, but I have it built into my systems that this might happen and I will accept this in order to establish the necessary trust they are expressing to me that they need. So, this is what I would like share with you – my systems of communication. And obviously, if this is the hardest thing I do in periodontics it isn’t possible to explain it all in just a few minutes. Moreover, I have learned based on my own listening skills or lack thereof, that slower is better. The objective is not to sell but to establish trust. And this doesn’t come easy. It is earned. Also, in communication, repetition is our best friend. It turns out that people, including ourselves, will finally understand what they have read or what others have told them, not when they read or hear it for the first time, but after they have digested and assimilated the information into their own actions and activities. So right now, I think I have a couple of competing ideas for this podcast as we wade into communication skills – primarily in periodontics. First, I will mostly use myself as my own example — good and bad. I will tell you what works for me and try as best I can to explain how I came to my conclusions. This is because I think stories help comprehension. Secondly, I will try to be brief to respect your time and to compartmentalize concepts. Each podcast will have just a few points to think about – possibly just one. I think it will be useful if you can listen to them in the order they are produced but I will make sure they stand on their own as well. And finally, I will work to do a better job of setting up a series of future seminars on social marketing. This ties into this series on communication. Many of you received an announcement from me in an email inviting you to come to a series of seminars on website development and better understanding things like X (formerly Twitter), Meta (formerly Facebook), LinkedIn, Instagram, and other social media outlets and how they impact the practice of dentistry. Most importantly, I want to show you howr you can effectively communicate using your website as your own platform. Unfortunately, I didn’t give it enough lead time to enable me to first discuss it here on my podcast. In addition, I plan to record these sessions so even if you can’t come to one or more of them as they come out – likely in the fall of this year – you will have access to the information. Again, the purpose of all of this isn’t about sales. I’m not into sales. Rather the purpose of all of this is to improve our ability to communicate with our patients, with our team members, and with one another working with the same patients but out of different offices. Frankly, I think we owe this to our respective professions – to become the best communicators and teachers we can be, to improve our particular aspect of healthcare in order to benefit all patients we serve. Well thanks for listening. More to come shortly. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast so you can hear future episodes as soon as they come out. And share this content. Invite others to listen as well. You have been listening to The Perio Hygienist Podcast and I am still Dr. Ben Young. Bye for now.