Dentistry/life in perspective.

For my last appointment today, I saw a new patient who was attending for a consultation. A 46-year-old male, he was booked in as a “New Patient” and for a Denplan Assessment. I was handed his completed medical history form just before he entered the surgery and I quickly scanned it to see who had referred him to the practice as I/we are always keen to note where our new patients come from. He had simply written “Denplan” in the “who referred you?” box. I also noted that he hadn’t put anything in the “employment” box. 

After introducing myself to him and both of us taking a seat, I asked him what he meant by Denplan having referred him. He said that actually some local family and friends, who were all patients and on Denplan, had referred him. We then had a discussion about the merits of the different Denplan schemes. One of the things I mentioned was the encouragement for long-term regular monitoring and care. 

We then moved on to my next question, which was, “Are you having any dental problems?” He said that he had had lots of work in the past but everything seemed okay at the moment. He stated that he had returned to the UK in the last 12 months after 15 years working in Luxembourg. He had been receiving regular care abroad but nothing for the last 12 months since he had returned home. 

After a few more questions and a short discussion I then moved to my next topic, which was “previous medical history”. At the same time as saying, “Okay, let’s have a look at your medical history”, I glanced down at his form whilst he started to say, “I’ve just finished some chemo and I’m waiting for some radiotherapy”. He had simply written (against “are you receiving and medical treatment?”) “Chemo/Radiotherapy” followed by a short list of drugs. 

I was slightly taken aback but, in a matter-of-fact (but hopefully understanding) way, I asked what the chemo was for. He stated “prostrate cancer”. Further taken aback, I then asked what the prognosis was. Answer: “3-5 years”. Hopefully, the second or two it took for me to gather my thoughts didn’t show. 

Looking back, the remainder of the consultation was a little surreal but I hope I showed the correct amount of empathy and dealt with the situation in the fairly matter-of-fact way that he was doing. We continued to cover his consultation and examination as I would any other patient but I tried to relate everything I was saying in the context that he only had 3 to 5 years to live. 

We actually had a very good and open two-way conversation. One of the subjects we covered was about when people complain about minor things and sometimes don’t put life in perspective. 

He left after 45 minutes, simply needing to book a visit to see our hygienist followed by a recall with both of us six months later. 

Reflecting, this really brought it home to me what general dental practice is all about. I often state that healthcare is a unique business and that dentistry is unique within healthcare. We offer invasive one-to-one care to our patients, but general practice is actually 50% understanding and having empathy with our patients – who are all unique individuals – and 50% delivering their healthcare. 

Caring is the first requirement to be a dental professional. Personally, I follow this in both my clinical practice and the business I run, which is aiming to drive a new future for dentistry in the UK. 

Simon Gallier

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