Michael Sultan debates the role of a dentist
There’s a lot of talk at the moment about Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and its applications in dentistry. While I hold nothing in particular against NLP, it would seem to be yet another in a long line of ‘fads’ that have come to dentistry and threaten to distract us from our primary focus, which is, and always should be, the provision of high quality dental care for our patients.
I think what worries me the most about NLP is that we don’t really know precisely what it is. Is it mind control? Is it subliminal suggestion? Is it a form of hypnosis? Or is it perhaps just another way of improving our selling techniques? The lack of substantive evidence basis for NLP is certainly a worry in itself, but even more so is the way that we are encouraged to adopt these kinds of strategies as a route to financial success.
Just what are we selling?
Attend any dental business conference these days, and you will soon learn that as dentists, we are notoriously bad at selling to our patients. Some coaches of course would say that selling doesn’t come in to it – they prefer to call it something else, or they see ‘selling’ as being a way of making a treatment’s benefits abundantly clear. Whatever way you look at it, the meaning is the same: if we want to make more money then we need to think as business people and not as dentists. This, we are told, is the way to boost sales and grow our businesses.
As an Endodontist I am in the fortunate position that in many respects, what I do sells itself; people come to me, they are in pain, and they want help. There is not really much for me to ‘sell’ other than the quality of care and expertise that my team can offer patients who come to us.
However, things get a little more difficult when we consider other disciplines within the profession. Take cosmetic dentistry for example. Here the ‘product’ is not quite the same. This is because many treatments would be considered optional in that they are designed to make patients look and feel more beautiful. Is it wrong to give people the chance to make themselves look more beautiful? Of course not! But this shows us that the whole issue of ‘selling’ and what we have to offer as dentists is not as simple as it seems.
A question of identity
It would appear then that the main question is not so much one of selling, but of identity. Dentistry is diversifying. It is also reinventing itself. The core work and core values we once had are now gone. Whereas in the past our profession was all about caries control and health, it is increasingly moving towards beauty – and not just teeth beauty either. Many practices now offer facial aesthetic treatments, and I wonder just where the line will be drawn. As people seek to expand their businesses and exploit new markets, so our profession is changing as well. Are we dentists or are we business people? Should we only practise dentistry, or should we branch out into other areas? Where should the boundary lie?
These questions are not just for me to answer – they are questions that affect each and every one of us. Dentistry is changing at such a fast pace now we really need to take a step back and consider just who we are and what we do. Dentistry isn’t just about teeth any more, and we can sometimes be guilty of losing our core focus amongst all the talk of maximising revenue streams and offering a broader range of products and treatments to our patients.
It’s all about trust
As dentists we need to recognise just who we are, and what we stand for as a collective. Dentistry is a healthcare profession; our aims should always be to our patients’ wellbeing above all else. While I believe that any tool to help us improve our communication is to be applauded, I can’t help but think techniques such as NLP are perhaps a step too far. They only serve to distract us from our primary goal, and muddy the waters of what it really means to be a dentist.
Instead of wrapping ourselves up in NLP, TFT or any other pseudo-psychological science, we should focus more on what really matters – our patients. We should remember that dentistry is all about trust, and building relationships. Instead of looking for a ‘silver bullet’ to our problems, we should always seek to be open and honest with our patients – showing them that we have their best interests at heart, and most of all, that we care. After all, isn’t that what dentistry’s really about?
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Dr Michael Sultan BDS MSc DFO FICD is a Specialist in Endodontics and the Clinical Director of EndoCare. Michael qualified at Bristol University in 1986. He worked as a general dental practitioner for 5 years before commencing specialist studies at Guy’s hospital, London. He completed his MSc in Endodontics in 1993 and worked as an in-house Endodontist in various practices before setting up in Harley St, London in 2000. He was admitted onto the specialist register in Endodontics in 1999 and has lectured extensively to postgraduate dental groups as well as lecturing on Endodontic courses at Eastman CPD, University of London. He has been involved with numerous dental groups and has been chairman of the Alpha Omega dental fraternity. In 2008 he became clinical director of EndoCare, a group of specialist practices.