The vast majority of problems we face each day are small in scale, and have little impact on us long term. The grass needs to be mowed…Jenny needs to be picked up after ballet practice…there is a ten minute back-up on our route to work, and we are already delayed because we left the house late.

Many of these problems are familiar to us, along with how to best address them. So much so that we create routines around them which become rather thoughtless…we go through the motions. And as long as we successfully resolve the problems, we don’t think much more about them.

On a neuroscience level, problem-resolution of this type is largely managed by the left hemisphere of our brain as well as our cerebellum – where thoughtless, repetitive behaviors are stored and executed.

And thoughtless is the key word here.

When new patients come to us with a problem…a broken tooth…sensitivity…a filling which has come out…and these problems have been managed in a reductionistic fashion in the past…”We can fix that for you”…”Silver fillings expand and make teeth weak”…”You need to replace that with an implant”… the patient often surrenders to the authority figure…”You’re the Doctor”…and makes a rather routinized, thoughtless decision to defer to the expert, do what their insurance “covers”, or do whatever they need to do so they can forget about the problem and move on to addressing the ten other issues on their mind.

This is how most dental decision are made. They are made based on convenience, immediate necessity, or cost. Much less frequently, are decisions made around the complex value we call “health”.

Yes, health is a value as well as a state of being. And it’s relative, as one person’s idea of health is another person’s idea of being out of shape, or on the verge of a disaster. The smoker who has not yet been diagnosed with cancer, often considers themselves healthy. The person with periodontal disease who still has teeth in their mouth, thinks they are doing just fine.

How do we help our patients make better decisions…decisions which are centered around true health…a “higher” value…instead of around “lower” values such as convenience, expedience, or cost?

That is only possible through a facilitated relationship designed for people to learn more, assign new meanings to what they are learning, create new beliefs about what is possible -or likely- and establish the motivation within themselves to do something about it.

In other words, behavior change occurs through a relationship which supports values clarification, prioritization, and execution.

And that takes time.

That takes patience.

That takes clarity of purpose.

That takes a commitment to help patients develop a new perspective and vision about their likely and preferred future.

Bob Barkley called this type of process ”Codiscovery,” where he strategically, moved patients out of their left hemisphere way of thinking over to their right hemisphere, – the place where visions, meaning, and creative problem-solving happen.

In this way, Bob transitioned HIMSELF from being just a problem-solver, and “Mr. fix-it,” into what he liked to call “a success planner,” who would then help others gaze off into the distant future, and then encourage them to use that vision as a source of motivation to make changes in their beliefs…to make changes in their behavior …to make changes in their health…and to make changes in their life.

Paul A. Henny, DDS

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