Sheri's Solutions: The elephant in the treatment room

2016 08 09 11 38 33 962 Doniger Sheri 2015 400

"Hey, doc, what do you think about ...?"

Well, there it is. No, they aren't asking about the new connected sonic toothbrushes or a natural, antiplaque mouthwash. They are talking about the reality show that is the U.S. election in 2016. What to do when the conversation swerves from the ravages of oral bacteria to what your opinions are of the candidates?

Sheri B. Doniger, DDS.Sheri B. Doniger, DDS.

One of the best ways to distract patients while we treat their oral conditions is the art of "chair chat." We have covered various topics, ranging from gardening, recipes, weekend visits to Michigan to see the color changes, or the Chicago Cubs (much to the dismay of our patients who are White Sox fans). Another set of talking points is what is happening in the world at large. This conversation is usually on a generic basis, as we do not want to offend anyone. The fluctuation of gas prices, the weather, the predicted horrible winter we are expecting, and the construction on the highways. These are all safe topics. Patients love to be distracted and would rather hear us banter about traffic and the newest addition to the restaurant scene than what is going on in their mouths. Although, there is never a better time to discuss proper oral hygiene then when you are working on a carious lesion.

There has never been a time, in all my years of practice, that I have encountered so much loud news on television that we are unable to talk about it. Yes, Chicago has been riddled with major shootings and killings, the extent to which we have never seen. The statistics are alarming. The news cycle is inundated with stories of young men and women being innocent bystanders to drive-by shootings.

The rest of the news is centered around the elections -- not just the presidential election but the Senate, House of Representatives, and state offices that will be on the ballot. Between the commercials, either bashing the other candidate or trying to humanize the candidate after said bashing, we are in a 24/7 cycle of news, social media, and commercials. So, how to keep that out of our practices? Deflect to oral care.

“The best discussions involve patients not stopping our treatment to have a full-out conversation.”

We can discuss a plethora of things with patients while they are in the midst of treatment. The best discussions involve patients not stopping our treatment to have a full-out conversation. The last thing you want to do is alienate a patient with a political discussion. They didn't come to see us because we had a political viewpoint (although some may); they came to see us for outstanding dental care.

We need to readdress and redirect our conversation back to the point of the importance of oral care and the stability of their dentition. Staying on safe topics is always a wise choice. If they insist on discussing politics, we may speak to the first time we voted or other safe political subjects, such as student council elections or the fascinating democratic process of an electoral college. TV shows, such as "Saturday Night Live," usually provide comic discussions since they will give candidates equal poking. The bottom line: Know your audience. The last thing we want to do is offend a patient -- for any reason. This may lead to patient disgruntlement and defection from your practice.

Refocusing on oral care rather than uncomfortable discussions about the election cycle is probably the wisest solution. After all, they are in our office to receive our care, not necessarily to listen to us discuss the latest TV ad or candidate foible. The good news is: It will be over in a few short weeks, and we can all get back to our regularly scheduled chair chat. Go Cubs!

Sheri B. Doniger, DDS, practices clinical dentistry in Lincolnwood, IL. She is the immediate past president of the American Association of Women Dentists. 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 [email protected].

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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