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MyView: Your dental family

February 05, 2018

By Melissa Beadnell, D.M.D.

Photo of Dr. Beadnell
Melissa Beadnell, D.M.D.
Recently, a young family in my practice lost their mother, who was also my patient, in a terrible car accident.
A week after, her husband came in to his scheduled exam and cleaning, wanting to keep on with his life as usual despite his huge loss.

He hugged each of us; we sat together and talked, and cried together.
The longer I am in practice the more I start to realize something that I never thought I would have as a dentist when I left dental school; a second family — my dental family. You know the type of patients and families who have been in your practice for years and whom you celebrate and mourn the greatest and poorest events of their lives with — even if we just see them twice a year.

Before buying my practice I considered my duty as a dentist to strictly take care of my patient's dental/oral issues. Understandably, there's more to health than that. A lot of things like stress, home environment and resources/lifestyle affect our patient's oral and physical health.  

The thing about being health care providers is that it can put you face-to- face with raw human need. Sometimes you can give patients resources to help them, but sometimes you can't and simply being human requires that you respond to their nondental needs.

In recent years, the science of compassion in relation to health care providers has made enormous strides. Researchers are beginning to understand that the act of compassion brings mental and physical health benefits to those who feel it — also suggesting that compassion is a skill we can strengthen through practice and training.   

Many dental schools have started to understand the benefits of teaching their students the importance of compassion and are incorporating lessons into their curriculum.

Compassion and empathy training may include taking on a role of a patient in a vulnerable situation to understand what the patient would feel like and how to provide for them.
The most loved dentists are often referred to as compassionate towards their patient needs and are able to convey it through their words, demeanor and actions.

They are genuine when they speak to their patients and treatment them with the same kindness and empathy you would treat a friend.

I feel many blessings in this New Year — certainly for my own family but also my dental family.  

This editorial, reprinted with permission, first appeared in the January 2018 issue of the Multnomah Dental Society Hotline Newsletter. Dr. Melissa Beadnell is the editor of the publication and practices as a general dentist in Portland, Oregon.