There are times when the power of science is so seductive that we may come to feel that all that is required to serve others is to get our science right, our diagnosis, our treatment. But science can never serve unless it is first translated by people into a work of the heart”
Rachel Remen from My Grandfather’s Blessings
No one can disagree that the technological and scientific advances of the last 50 – 60 years have improved the lives of countless people. And no one can argue that the pace of our advancement is accelerating faster than ever. Let us not forget, however, that compassion and care of another human being can easily get lost in the maze of technological advancements, both inside and outside of our dental world.
A few months ago, I found out that my social security account had been breached. With a sense of urgency, I moved a few patients in my schedule and went to my local Social Security office. What I encountered was nothing less than dehumanizing and nauseating. After a nearly two- hour wait, I encountered a clerk who took my complaint, looked at the co worker sitting next to her and said “we got another one” and proceeded to process my information at a snail’s pace. Not once did she express concern for my well being. Not once did she address me by name, or even “sir”. She even scolded me for politely asking how long the process would take, only responding when I firmly told her that I am a practicing dentist , had been waiting for two hours and that a patient in pain was in my office waiting for emergency help. Civil service is a good thing. Heartless, unaccountable arrogance in any service is not. The clerk failed to realize – or had been conditioned not to even bother thinking of- each human being is a story of hope, fear, happiness, and sorrow. Empathy is clearly not in her job description. But shouldn’t empathy be in ALL of our interactions?
I am reminded of the debut of over-the- counter home tooth whitening products back in the 1990s. A salesman came to my office and touted the wonders of his product , telling me, among other things, that patients will not get the level of whitening from his product that they can get from a dentist and that they will seek additional whitening services once they try the OTC products that we should recommend. He also told me that patients would want to replace their anterior crowns and composites once their teeth become whiter. This phenomenon is an example of Dr Remen’s point. How heartless is it to manipulate a person to do something that could begin a cascade of overtreatment? How can we justify applying the latest and greatest technique or technology without understanding the needs, the wants, the lives of the people who are trusting us AND helping them understand how these technologies can impact their lives both positively and potentially negatively?
As we enter the very exciting digital era of dentistry, huge opportunities are unfolding before us. Scanning, digital smile design, digital recording of Centric Relation, and 3-D printing are here. But how will we use it all? Will we apply the latest technology each time a human being walks into our offices before a thorough evaluation? Will Third Party Payers, Electronic Health Records and algorithms supersede the care, skill, and judgment that only a human being can give?
My team and I are reviewing our core values in the process of updating our Mission Statement to reflect our uniqueness, what we value, and what we have to offer to people with our skills and with our hearts Practicing from the heart brings joy, fulfillment and prosperity to us and gives the people we serve a unique and valuable service unavailable in many other aspects of their lives. Let us never forget to keep this important element in our practices and, I dare say, in as many of our human interactions as possible.