Making Assumptions in Dentistry

How often do make we make assumptions about situations or people. How many times do we run scenarios in our mind only for them to play out completely differently than we anticipated? What about those times where people didn’t live up to or surpassed your expectations?

Out of habit we assume or expect that things will go a certain way and sometimes that can lift us, champion us and spur us on to have the courage to push out of our comfort zone. Or those patterns and ways of thinking can confuse us, paralyse us with fear and self-doubt or have us make judgments about people or situations before we have even given things or the person a chance.

I Had It Totally Wrong!

I want to share a story about a patient we had at our dental practice recently. Sally (not her real name by the way) was new to our practice, she had not been the dentist in several years and after watching some of my dentistry Facebook live videos travelled half way across Australia for an appointment.

Her first visit – which was for a consultation and doctor examination only i.e. no treatment not even a cleaning – was intense. She sat in the patient lounge sobbing and hyperventilating – my team messaged me – “oh this ones going to be fun” – you know in that kind of rolled eyes and raised eyebrow tone we take when we get all judgey about someone based on their behaviour.

I called Sally in she stood and started hyperventilating and sobbing even more and once we finally got her seated in the chair commenced her missive about how all the dentists she’d ever been to were terrible and how it was their fault she had such bad teeth – nothing to do with the fact she only goes the dentist when she has pain and had several broken teeth and cavities that she had done nothing about! I admit I internally cringed – it’s a real bugbear of mine when people are not willing to be responsible for their side of the issue.

And Then It Got Worse….

Once I could get a word in past the sobs and hostility toward all things dental I began to examine her. Every light touch of a finger or movement of the mirror lead to moans, grows, squirms, pulling her head away and attempted GBH to one small said dentist who has lightening fast reflexes from years of dealing with phobic patients. Add to that the impossibly strong tongue and hair-trigger gag reflex and low pain threshold and this was not a simple check and consult. A perio chart was nigh on impossible and the series of bitewings and PA x-rays a venture into uncharted territory. I’m sure you get the picture…

After what seemed like an hour wrestling a creature from the deep the radiographs and photos were complete.

Sally was still carrying on and I was sat behind her wondering how the hell I’m going to get any dentistry done – and boy she needed a lot of dentistry!! I even for one moment found myself praying to the dental gods that she would decide we weren’t for her and take her giant tongue with super human strength to go and test out another dentist’s depth of will and resourcefulness.

I drew up the treatment plan and had my team present it, and Sally booked in that same week seeing as she was in town for a while and wanted to get her teeth fixed. Good luck with that one I thought – this is going to be a nightmare!!!

And then a miracle happened

The day of Sally’s appointment came and my team and I shared during our morning huddle how much we were dreading the appointment that Sally was going to be impossible to work with and the whole session would be a nightmare. I even wondered if we’d get anywhere near her after her performance during the consultation.

Well her appointment time came and true to our assumptions and expectations Sally sat sobbing and hyperventilating in the patient lounge cursing all dentists and all dentist’s children and their children’s children. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for the ordeal I was about to face (and last patient of the day too! Dinner was sure to be ruined.)

It was not what I expected nor what I had assumed…

I had spent all day playing out in my mind my expectations of how Sally’s visit would go and had made assumptions based on my experience of how she would behave and how stressful and terrible this visit was going to be for us all.

Yet when Sally sat in the chair and I said to her I have two important jobs for you 1. Breathe – I don’t want to have to do that for you and 2. Follow my instructions, I’ll look after the rest and take good care of you, she stopped crying, breathed normally and completely surrendered to the session. The appointment finished ahead of schedule and I couldn’t get over how well Sally had done and how calm she was. I was totally blown away and surprised – my assumptions and expectations were totally wrong!!

Sally has now been back 4 times and is having full mouth rehabilitation, we even laugh and joke now during her visits and I told her it’s a shame we can’t give our patients online reviews as she’d have gotten a 5 star one from me.

The Moral of The Story

And the moral of this story – don’t jump to conclusions and make assumptions or let your expectations cloud your judgment and how you perceive things will turn out. Because sometimes you can be pleasantly surprised or totally wrong.!!

My point here is that just because in the past we tried or experienced something and it didn’t turn out as expected it doesn’t mean this will be the result next time around.

 We should not let our past dictate or impede our future.

By being open and willing to try again or simply trust – then you may just be blown away with the outcome just like I was with Sally.

So often as dental bosses we can fall into the trap of “I tried that before and it didn’t work” so we give up trying. We develop a mindset of staying safe and being in the comfort zone even if the results we are getting fall way short of our potential.

We stay stuck because we assume things will turn out bad or our expectation is things just don’t work.

Well maybe they didn’t work last time – but why was that – did you lack the skills required, was the timing simply wrong or did you not have the right people to help you get the results you had hoped for.

Mindset Matters

If you have a fixed mindset you will stay fixed – which is great if you’re happy and successful – but if you’re stuck because you are afraid to take action because that little voice is telling you don’t do it, remember the last time you did that, you don’t want that again do you? That will only keep you where you’re – frustrated and disappointed, overwhelmed and hoping for a miracle.

Can you imagine a toddler learning to walk and giving up the first time it falls down – its lying there crying telling itself I’m never going to do that again, standing it is risky, walking is dangerous – I must avoid that at all costs. Heck no!!

It just gets up and tries again, falls and tries again until it achieves mastery and can walk without a second thought. Heck it even masters running, stairs, uneven ground and so on.

So why is it that we fall and give up at the first hurdle why do we assume we can’t do it, why do we give up so easily once we reach adulthood – it’s because we have conditioned ourselves to play it safe, not take risks and we replay scenarios, experiences and observations to calculate, self-sabotage, make excuses and justify why it’s not worth it.

But it is only through making a mind-shift and being willing to push the boundaries and be open to new experiences that we can grow, unleash our potential and become leaders in our life and dental practices.

So the next time you start making assumptions or basing judgments on past experiences or projected expectations I encourage you to observe yourself and become self-aware then choose to be open to the possibilities that are there before you – you may succeed beyond your wildest dreams and just surprise yourself with how talented and grand you truly are.