You're sitting next to the patient, waiting for his response. You've done it right. Showed your patient all the x-rays with the bone loss. Described the hygienist's findings of 5 to 6 mm pockets, bleeding, the pus. Providing a pamphlet of periodontal disease and the oral systemic consequences was the final touch in gaining the buy-in for the patient's condition. You wait, knowing the silence is caused by years of other dentists diagnosing a "regular cleaning" and the shock a scaling and root planing can have on this kind of patient. You know your patient's about to speak, you're ready ...
"But it doesn't hurt!"
You've had this situation before. Patients walk out of your office without getting the necessary treatment because it's obviously not important or worth spending money unless it hurts. You try with all your education, knowledge, evidence, and experience to convince them otherwise. You tell them how important it is to address it now, because when things start to hurt they get more expensive. This ends with them declining the treatment waiver and walking out.
I recently had the same experience with an inquisitive dentist. He took the stress assessment quiz at my website and was questioning the results. After emailing me several questions about how he doubted the results, this doctor ended as most patients/clients do, "But it doesn't hurt."
Here are the realities of stress and why you should take the same advice you give to your patients every day.
It hits the body first
Stress is a biological reaction that has numerous physiological consequences. It hits the body first before we have emotional or psychological weights to carry around. The constant trigger of the stress cycle flips the on switch to many of the processes and systems that regulate eating, sleep, concentration, focus, and digestion. Most people notice daily headaches, insomnia, constipation, cravings, and irritability, but they rarely equate it to the level of stress they have in their life. Your body suffers the consequences of stress before you have cognition around it. Much like your patients, you don't know if things are getting worse, better, or staying the status quo if you don't have regular checks.
Small signs before dire consequences
Stress is a slow, progressing condition with small signs before it creates dire consequences (sound familiar?). Addressing stress when it's small makes it manageable and less costly, and requires minimum amounts of time and energy. Ignoring, avoiding, and waiting to address your stress until later then requires more intervention, which ups the price tag, along with everything else.
Whether patient or client, that moment of truth always comes that you can't deny. You've let your condition go on for too long. No matter how hard you try, you can't keep it a secret. There is no more masking it. People comment on your appearance and repeatedly ask, "Are things alright?" The moment of truth hits you like a ton of bricks, and you know you need to see a professional for some advice and treatment.
The treatment plan
As I said earlier, presenting treatments to patients who only rely on the pain of their condition to guide their response to treatment is difficult. You pull out all the stops and use all your tools to provide evidence so that they will accept what must happen to turn things around.
If you find yourself coming to terms with your level of stress and wanting to do something about it now before it gets worse, here's your treatment plan:
- Get educated. Just like your patients can't change their periodontal condition until they get educated, you can't start managing your stress until you learn more about it.
- Expand your network. Studies show that when people get stressed, especially males, they seclude themselves from others. This is exactly what you shouldn't do during times of stress.
- Breathe differently. The science behind how you breathe is clear. When you're stressed, you take in less oxygen, which sets you up to feel the effects of your stress even more. Reduce stress, even before it hurts, by doing progressive muscle relaxation every morning and evening.
You tell your patients to attend to their teeth twice a day -- you can do the same for your stress levels.
Jen Butler, MEd, certified professional coach (CPC), board-certified coach (BCC), has been working in the area of stress management and resiliency coaching for more than 20 years. She is available as a coach/consultant, speaker, and trainer. To learn more about her services, to sign up for her monthly "stressLESS" newsletter, or to take the Dental Stress Self-Assessment, please visit her website. Contact her directly at 623-776-6715 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.