Activation Energy

Build your relationships first….then your dentistry. ~ Bob Barkley

Activation Energy

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There is a concept in chemistry which directly applies to the functioning of a relationship-based / health-centered practice, and it is called “activation energy”.

Here is how it works:

In chemistry, activation energy is the minimum amount of energy that must be available for a chemical reaction to occur.

In behavioral dentistry, the activation energy is the energy required to convert a patient from being co-dependent into becoming a collaborating partner in their own health.

When we strike a match, we add the energy of friction and heat to cause the phosphorus and potassium chlorate to ignite a small piece of wood.

When we invest the energy of time, listening, understanding, and truly helping, we start to build trust within a virtual stranger. And trust lowers the threshold required to ignite a “yes” toward proper and complete dentistry. So, trust becomes the catalyst- an element present which lowers the level of activation energy – required to start the relationship toward collaboration.

In this interpersonal reaction equation, trust is key, but this relational catalyst requires much more than being nice, competent, or even masterful at dentistry.

As dentists, it becomes all too easy to forget the amount of courage it requires from our patients to lay their head back in our chairs and -and from their perspective- allow us to permanently disfigure their teeth.

Just think about that for a moment.

Really think about it…because it reveals why so many people can’t say “yes”, because they can’t see the value behind the disfigurement. They can’t see the disfigurement as a constructive and creative process. From their perspective…Why break the only set of 28 or so eggs they have, when they have never even had an omelet?

Dentistry has advanced itself to a mind-boggling level of sophistication since my graduation in 1984, but you know what? Patients don’t know that 99.9% of the time. And worse…much worse really…they have no capacity to see how that fact is important to them.

Bob Barkley told us that we must find a way to make dentistry significant relative to the patient’s LIFE – not just their mouth- otherwise we simply have a transaction…a transaction that any other dentist can provide, and a transaction which will be influenced inordinately and primarily by price.

To succeed in relationship-based dentistry, we must move well past a primary discussion of financial price, because how does that cost relate to the cost of the loss of their teeth later in life due to poor decision-making? And conversely, how can that initial cost relate to the value of them having a beautiful smile for the rest of their life?

Figuring out this inter-personal calculus, is where the activation energy game is played. And it’s something you can consistently succeed at if you make a commitment to understand the interpersonal dynamics more completely.

Paul A Henny, DDS

Thought Experiments LLC, @2018


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