Lessons from a Dentist

So, like most people, I loathe the dentist. Recently, I’ve come to loathe them even more. To avoid a long-winded post, here’s the gist: about 10 months ago I went to my regular dentist and had a very deep filling done. It continued to hurt. 3 months after that, I went back because the tooth was still so sensitive. I as told that the sensitivity would decrease over time. Instead, I just stopped chewing on the left side. A week ago, I went again. This time complaining of a horrible toothache. Apparently nothing was wrong, but the dentist said a sealant would help. Hah! For the last two nights I’ve been in agony. I don’t think I am a big wuss when it comes to pain, but this hurt like a mother-f. Last night I got all of 2hrs total of sleep – maybe. It was also the first time I’ve considered going to the ER – anything to stop the pain. This morning I decided to get a second opinion and went to a new dentist.

Apparently the previous diagnosis of “it’s nothing” wasn’t quite right. Instead, I have an abscess and need a root canal. Yay for me. Thankfully I’m now on antibiotics and although I dread the root canal, at least I know what’s wrong and what needs to be done.

So, what lessons did I learn? Well, I did learn that although a dentist is trained and you’d like to trust them, they make mistakes and a second opinion is always a good thing. But that’s not the lesson I want to talk about. Instead, I want to mention the lessons I learned that can be incorporated into all businesses.

The second dentist (and the dentist who will now become my regular dentist) sold me by doing two things (other than actually pin-pointing the issue of course):

1. He listened attentively

He quietly listened as I told him the history of the tooth and the various symptoms I’d been having – including the different types of pain (from shooting to throbbing), to the different things I’d noticed (gum swelling when I laid down etc.). He then confirmed things I’d said, making sure he understood what I meant, and asked some further questions to get more details. He was attentive. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated this – the simple act of actually listening.

Listening is key to all levels, and types, of services. As a designer I know how important it is to listen to your clients to really “get” what they want. It’s also a matter of listening to what is not being said as well. Just like the dentist who listened and then asked questions for clarification and details, I have to do the same. I have to ask further questions to make the client think about other details that may be important to the project, but they may not realise. It’s about gathering even more information from them to get a full understanding of the scope and expectations of the project, and, as the expert, I need to cover all the necessary bases.

2. He explained everything in detail

What I really appreciated was how much time the dentist spent explaining everything to me in great detail, and as simply as he could. He even drew a few diagrams so I’d know exactly what was going on. The idea of a root canal is scary (and the cost is another fright!), but having a full explanation of what to expect helps. I now know what is wrong and what plan of action we’ll be taking.

Dealing with clients who don’t know what is involved in creating a website is a common occurrence. Why should they anyway? That’s why they hire us right? So, it’s important that we communicate with them about the entire process and explain exactly what to expect, when to expect it and what everything entails. This way, we are all on the same page, and the client can feel confident in knowing exactly what steps we’ll be taking.

At least I feel confident in my new dentist. If you are in Oxford and need a recommendation, may I suggest Aaron at The Dental Clinic on Queen Street. The root canal is not going to be fun – both physically and for our bank account – but it’s a solution to this heinous pain. For now, I’ll take my antibiotics and hopefully tonight, get some sleep.


  • cosmetic dentistry guide
    October 30, 2009 at 10:43 am  - Reply

    Hey Lorissa, its refreshing to hear positive dental experiences especially when so many people have a phobia of visiting the dentist. I myself deal with a lot of dentists but id be interested to hear your perspective as a designer, as to how dentists could communicate with their patients through the web or design before meeting the patient. As its often difficult to find the “right dentist”.

    Iv subscribed to this post so i look forward to hearing your thoughts

    • Lorissa
      December 30, 2009 at 1:06 pm  - Reply

      I’m really so late in responding to this (my apologies), but better late than never right?

      Thank you for the comment. It is definitely difficult to find the “right dentist”. In my case, it was about finding a “competent dentist” I feel, but perhaps that is a little harsh. A lot of the time, I think with both dentists and doctors, we as patients need to feel comfortable with them. To get to this comfort level, we need to know a little more about the dentist and how he/she works. Not an easy thing to gauge until you’ve had an appointment, typically, but I think the web and social media allow people to become more personable and reach more people before they’ve even met face to face. Perhaps more dentists need to set up a Twitter account and feed their tweets on their sites. Getting to know dentists as people – and granted, people who can also make mistakes – allows patients to feel more at ease, and perhaps less tense and nervous when going to a dentist office. I wonder at times how much of what we fear of dentists is just the unknown and the horror stories?

      My recent root canal is a prime example. I’d heard absolute horror stories about the pain. I, magically, had virtually none. I was even concerned at the lack of pain. For my second appointment, I wasn’t even nervous. An odd experience for someone who is (or was) always nervous when having to go to the dentist.

      Having a good web presence is always a good idea for any professional. I’ll admit that I am a bit of a website snob. If I visit a website for a company and it’s really really bad (circa 1998 bad), I simply click to the next company offering the same thing. Having a good website will go a long way. It should also have good content though. Perhaps more dentist sites can simply detail procedures more. I was very grateful to my new dentist for explaining what he was going to do in “normal”, every day language. It helped take the fear of the unknown from the equation. Having a site that details, and illustrates, some of the common procedures may help more people become more comfortable with what they are going to experience. Not seeing what someone is doing with a bunch of buzzing tools in your mouth is a little disconcerting.

      My dentist was also great about being very willing to field any questions I had. This is where time would be involved, but if more dentists open themselves to social media avenues where they can field questions from patients and potential patients, they will earn a lot more trust, and no doubt form better relationships with their patients. If I see a dentist blogging about a procedure and answering any follow-up comments and questions, he/she has already put themselves ahead of the other thousands of dentists in my mind. Twitter is a great avenue for this as well.

      I’m not sure if this is even helpful, but I hope so. I’d love to hear your thoughts. I promise to respond in a more timely manner next time 😉

  • cosmetic dentistry guide
    December 31, 2009 at 3:32 am  - Reply

    Wow thanks for the response i guess its in line with what i think, well detailed explanations of what the step by step procedure will involve and a well designed website that is clean and easy to follow, I guess one of the problems i find with dentists is that many of them say they don’t have time to blog or twitter but there is a select few who do take the time to do this.

    I also think its very important that dentists communicate that they can deal with nervous patients online, through patient testimonials and the use of video on the web. Does cost play a major factor in your decision on finding the right dentist or would you rather meet the dentist before finding out the fees (ie do you think its a good idea that all dentists should display a fee guide on their website?

    • Lorissa
      December 31, 2009 at 11:41 am  - Reply

      Yeah, finding the time to blog and/or twitter can be difficult – I more than understand. If dentists can find the time though, it would be well worth it.

      Yes, a very good idea to have patient testimonials and the use of video would be great. Testimonials are a must really.

      I think cost is an important element for people in making their decision. People do have to take that into consideration and having the basic fees up front would be good for both potential patients and dentists. If someone can’t afford the services of a dental practice, it’s probably best that both parties know that immediately before going too far into anything. I’m sure most practices do this, but if not, it would be good to also provide people with information on any payment plan options as well. I have no doubt that patients will appreciate the flexibility of payment options, as well as the transparency of the practice to display that information upfront. Admittedly, when finding my new dentist I was in too much pain to care about costs. My dentist did explain to me that if I signed up for a plan with them, I could get a 15% discount on all work. He didn’t try to hard-sell the plan, but he mentioned it since he understood that a root canal was costly. I signed up for the plan because it did save some money, but also because I didn’t feel like he was trying to sell me anything. He mentioned it briefly and as a way to help me, but didn’t push it.

      I don’t think cost is the most important factor when making a decision about a dentist/dental practice, but it definitely does factor in, whether we like it or not.

  • Robbyn Hans
    March 16, 2010 at 6:02 pm  - Reply

    Helpful info ! I am writing a blog entry on cosmetic dentistry and what you wrote is very helpful.

  • Bulah Dakin
    April 8, 2010 at 1:48 am  - Reply

    Nice article. I was able to send this to a doctor I know that could use this on their website..

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