• June 4, 2020

Breaking down barriers



Dentists have always had a hard time of breaking through to their patients – to open wide, to brush their teeth, to have a particular treatment.

But today’s barriers are real, physical, visceral.

In COVID-19 times, the dentist is garbed with a face shield, glasses, mask and gown. The reception has social distancing stickers on the floor. The front desk has a “sneeze” barrier.

In what has been a “high-touch” line of work, the touching is out, thanks to this infectious respiratory disease.

When they started out, many general family dentists treated whole families, which morphed into multi-generational patients as that once five-year-old became a 30-something dad who then returned with his family.

More pointedly, these patients actually became like family. When they came into the office, there were hugs and animated chit-chat to catch up on family news, almost more of a reunion than appointment.

Pointedly again, these would be pre-2020 days.

It’s been said repeatedly, but the coronavirus pandemic has changed everything, at least until a reliable vaccine is developed. Until then? No touching.

Instead dentists need to “touch” their patients emotionally. We are all humans with different capacities for anxiety, happiness and courage. We crave connection to others, and there is no better time for that sentiment to carry the day.

ADA New Dentist blogger, Dr. David White of Elko, NV, wrote about his surreal, rocky return to work in May with extra PPE, new infection control steps and patient questions. But he zeroed in on an important point:

“I came to find that when you have a systemic and abrupt change of this magnitude, we must revert to people first and systems second,” emphasizing the “people aspect of our industry.”

“A simple ‘How are you doing?’ or ‘How is everything going?’ could start a conversation that can make a world of difference,” he wrote.

Olaf Acker, a writer for global business magazine strategy+business, identified a key finding for our times: “We all become more human when we’ve gone through pain, and we all become more deeply connected when we’ve suffered together.”

He goes on to counsel business owners not to focus on revenue recovery just now. “Your most pressing question should be, ‘How do I support my customers (patients) right now in a meaningful, human, and relevant way?’”

While the pandemic has caused you incredible stress and income loss, its effects on your patients are likely just as profound, though different. Relatives died, jobs were lost, bills were unpaid; life was upended in ways that will take years to completely process. We need to share these communal loses and support each other – like family.

CDS presents Front Desk, a column addressing issues facing dentists and staff members experience in the office.

Front Desk is prepared by Stephanie Sisk, Assistant Director of Communications for the Chicago Dental Society.

Photo by LightFieldStudios /


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