In 1972, Bob Barkley in his book Successful Preventive Dental Practices stated, “Only a totally new health-centered philosophy of dentistry at all levels of society can avert a collision with mediocrity on a world-wide basis.”
By this statement, Bob was directly referring to the extreme limitations that our profession has on conveying optimal health to others. In fact dentistry can not convey health at all – and Bob was quite keen to this truth. This realization came after years of his own observation of patients. Bob observed that for some patients, no matter what kind of repairs he employed, they still declined in their dental health condition.
This of course is an observation which we have all made after just a few years of practice, and after some of our idealism-inspired vision of saving the world through dentistry has rubbed off.
And like Bob, we realized that is what the patient does -or does not do- at home that has a much greater impact on the longevity of our work than what we do. We have all seen cases where substandard care survives well due to patient efforts. We have also seen some of our scrupulously fine work undermined by decay in a matter of just a few years in spite of what we say or do for the patient.
Bob further stated in his book, “A preventive-corrective approach can only work if the dentist is able to nurture the patient’s latent sense of responsibility so that he may become independently healthy.”
And this “nurturing of the patient’s latent sense” is only possible through the establishment of a truly helping relationship – one where the care giver understands the patient so well on both an emotional and physical level, that they can fine-tune the patient’s experience each time to better lead them toward greater and greater levels of independent health…health that the patient is ultimately rendering onto themselves.
So that is our charge, laid down to us now some 45 years later. Can we develop and implement a “new heath-centered philosophy” in our practice which facilitates in our patients movement toward health, and to see dentistry as a resource in that pursuit instead of only a place they go when they need to be to be rescued?
It’s not easy – giving up the power and control involved in practicing dentistry in a traditional fashion (and with it the illusion that we can give health to others), but it is indeed essential.
Paul A Henny, DDS
Thought Experiments LLC, ©2017
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