Simon Hocken says self-assurance and confidence are attractive traits when it comes to dentistry, so what can be done to help build and replenish these qualities?

Being a dentist is an odd job. A mixture of medicine, craft skills, communication skills, business skills and confidence that is unique. Good dentists (as perceived by their patients) appear to be quietly confident. After all, as a patient, who would want anything else?! Good dentists have other characteristics too, including these:
•    They are very amiable and personable
•    They can build trust easily and quickly
•    They clearly put their patients first
•    Offer choices
•    Are skillful
•    Are quick
•    And fix problems with long-lasting solutions

Self-esteem and self-confidence

Dentists with some or all of these characteristics are a dream to work alongside and their confident and can-do approach helps oil the wheels of a difficult job, also ensuring that both the practice and the dentist get paid well for the time they spend at work. The key to their behaviours and their success is their own level of self-esteem which manifests itself as self-confidence.

Unfortunately, these are rare folk. Instead, a lot of dentists (particularly some generation-Y dentists) can bring some much less-effective behaviours to a dental practice, such as these:

1.    Lack self-esteem and
2.    Work slowly and run late consistently
3.    Don’t always explain to patients all of their pathology or offer patients a choice of treatments, assuming patients want low-cost, short-term solutions
4.    Have an attitude of entitlement and/or an absence of humility
5.    Occasionally exhibit deceitful/duplicitous behaviour (like the principal dentist who, when leaving his practice, found his associate loading botox and fillers into his car boot from the practice fridge. When asked what he was doing, he said he was offering patients facial aesthetic treatments at home…)
6.    Have a chronic lack of experience of clinical dentistry (and sometimes of life), but decline help or mentoring or further education/experience
7.    Refuse to include any commercial considerations in their approach
8.    Are unable to, or insensitive to, managing patients’ expectations
9.    Put themselves before the practice
10.    Are scared of compliance, legislators and litigators.

These behaviours are rooted in low self-esteem and poor self confidence. In fact, poor self-esteem and the behaviours that flow from it is, in my opinion, the cause of most of the poor behaviour that I see dentists exhibit in practice. These behaviours originate from fear and from the beliefs that the dentist holds about both them self and about dental practice. Nagging such folk to change rarely works, better to help them with a better set of beliefs and introduce them to the tactics detailed below.

Of course, during the last 15 years, many agencies claiming to act in everyone’s best interest, have complicated dental practices, including: CQC, GDC, Health and Safety legislation, HR legislation and the many tentacles of social media which host bad reviews and threaten reputation and even conduct (with impunity), witch-hunts and host trolls. Add to this potent cocktail of commercial pressures and competition and it’s easy to understand why dentists feel the need to tread carefully.

However, in my view, such pressures are the very reason why dentists need to behave with confidence (and also with authority and authenticity) and ditch the self-limiting, defensive, production-slowing, non-patient-centric, profit-killing beliefs and behaviours that I have described.

Be at the top of your game

Here’s the paradox, clearly in today’s UK, as a dentist, you have to be on top of your game in order to feel confident. And yet, in order to be on top of your game, you have to feel confident. (Without this, patients will smell the fear and see the self-doubt!). So where to find all this self-esteem and confidence?

Here are eight tactics to help build and replenish your confidence:
1.    We become our thoughts. So choose your thoughts carefully. Think and say positive things about yourself (and others). Remind yourself that you are a clever and a competent clinician. You are capable of finding a variety of solutions for most of the clinical problems you come across. These solutions come at different fees: from quick and inexpensive NHS solutions to the longer lasting, more aesthetic, better functioning private solutions.
2.    It is your responsibility to maintain your passion for your work. Stop doing the work you don’t enjoy and refer it or delegate it. Find courses that stretch you. They don’t have to be all about clinical technique, communication and business skills are just as important and enjoyable.
3.    Don’t compare yourself to other dentists. And stop making assumptions about what your colleagues think about you/your practice. Many dentists set their behaviours as if their colleagues were watching them. This simply leads to a dumbing down of ambition and everyone becoming the same…It’s okay to challenge them with your activities.
4.    Don’t allow anyone to be discourteous or treat you with a lack of respect. Model these habits yourself. Don’t get in the ring when challenged by patients or your team.
5.    Accept compliments from your team and from your patients. Spend time with positive and supportive people. We become more like the five people we spend most of our time with. Avoid (like the plague) negative, depressed or hyper-critical people. (And avoid late night browsing of internet dental forums!)
6.    We all left dental school as competent dentists. Current graduates have also benefitted from 2 years of foundation dentist training and experience. Remember, our qualification means that we can all diagnose, treatment plan and carry out successful treatments.
7.    Providing dental care under whatever system you choose (NHS, Denplan, private) is also a commercial transaction. Your patient has a problem and you are their chosen solution provider. You accept a fee for providing the patient with a solution. If you are unhappy with the fee, make a clear decision about whether or not to do this work. Balance your decision against your need to earn an income and your patient’s need to find solutions to their problems.
8.    Understand that despite all they say, your patients really value what you do. They are simply anxious about having to go through the treatment process. Treat them as friends, not patients and they will never leave you!
9.    If you believe you are on top of your game, then so will everyone else. If you’re not on top of your game, you need to start moving in that direction!
Don’t forget that one way to get to the top of your game is to use coaches and mentors. In my experience, this is more effective and faster than simply going on more courses. But then I would say that! (It worked for me…)