"I'm not telling you how to do your job, but the last three fillings you did were ... ."
How do you react to that statement? Have you heard this before? We have. Just last week, a relatively new patient came in and was discussing some issues she had with dental work that we did and work that was done by other dentists. The woman was letting us know that the "old" fillings she had were just perfect and the new ones were "too low," "not full enough," and "my cheek is falling into the tooth now." The list was interesting.
It was almost like Goldilocks -- this one is too high, this one is too low, and this one is not right. The discussion continued with the acknowledgement that every doctor-patient relationship does not work and if I wanted her to leave our practice, she would.
So, what to do? I explained the proper anatomy of the tooth and the defects in the previous restorations. She was not interested. We did rerestore one of the teeth she was discussing and she was happy, for the moment. Of course, we had a choice to refund her money and help her find a new dentist, but that wasn't what she really wanted. She wanted to stay. Had she wanted to leave, she never would have shown up to the appointment. She actually asked how much she owed because she had her credit card. This was not an issue of cost; it was an issue of her wanting something slightly different than what she had.
We all have patients who do show up and do pay their professional bills, but may not be the best fit for our practice. Some people are not happy, no matter what you do. She was discussing a crown done by a former dentist that was too "curvy" rather than straight up and down. She wanted it replaced. That situation will be fraught with issues, especially if she doesn't like the new contours or the shade, and the list goes on.
Every patient is a potential referral source. Turning away business is not a smart move. But, if there are continuous "dislikes" or complaints from a patient, even though they do show up and pay, there may be a time to ask the patient to seek a new dental care provider.
It is not a healthy environment for the practice. Not only are the complaints and criticisms uncomfortable for the dentist, they are also uncomfortable for the team. We don't want to have comments such as, "Oh, Mrs. Smith is coming in today -- better watch out," even if they are in private moments of team discussion of the upcoming day.
The woman scheduled for future restorative. We will have to assess if she is still complaining about the restorations. For the moment, she was satisfied that we did what she requested. We will wait and see what happens next month when she returns.
Sheri B. Doniger, DDS, practices clinical dentistry in Lincolnwood, IL. She is currently vice president and president-elect of the American Association of Women Dentists and editor of the American Association of Women Dentists "Chronicle" newsletter. She has served as an educator in several dental and dental hygiene programs, has been a consultant for a major dental benefits company, and has written for several dental publications. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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