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21st Century Hiccups

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    In dental school you will have conversations with patients in which you have to deliver bad news.  It may be a tooth is nonrestorable and needs to be extracted, an area of recurrent periodontal disease requires surgery, or an asymptomatic, endodontically treated tooth your endo professor unhesitatingly determined needs retreatment due to a tiny void in the obturation. Whatever the problem may be, the news is unfavorable for your patient, and you have to sit down and help them understand the change in treatment.  

 

    This conservation is important.  Despite the general public’s skepticism about dental work, you want to maintain the rapport you built with your patient.  You want them to understand you are treating them with their best interests in mind. However, when a patient is told it is going to cost them $1300 to retreat and recrown a tooth that doesn’t bother them, patients tend to get skeptical.  

 

    In order to avoid this, we over explain procedures and the rationale behind them. I have found myself dragging on conversations and justifying treatment well past what is needed. Sometimes I will continue on well after patients have accepted the new treatment plan. More concerning, I found myself using phrases, or hiccups, which steal from the confident and professional chair side manner of an established provider. Upon this discovery, I began compiling a list to help avoid using these phrases in conversations with patients. The more I keyed onto my own hiccups, the more I heard them throughout my classmates’ operatories in clinic.  I was not the only person cluttering my speech these unnecessary phrases. The most notable that made the list are the following:  

 

  • kind of 
  • sort of 
  • probably 
  • possibly 
  • stuff 
  • I guess 
  • I feel like 
 

 

    Standing alone, they seem relatively harmless. However, when you tell a patient, “this tooth probably needs a root canal,” when you just diagnosed irreversible pulpitis and symptomatic apical periodontitis, “probably” isn’t a necessary word. In fact, it leaves the door open for the patient to question the treatment altogether. Most patients will not be skeptical or question your clinical judgment. But, eliminating the habitual use of hiccups will mature your communication skills and force you into thinking about what you say before you say it.