Confidence. Swagger. Success!

No doubt confidence breeds trust.  Those who are confident usually go further in life.  Things go their way.  They make things happen.

Dentists, as a group, seem to lack confidence.  It’s not true of every dentist, of course.  However, it’s hard to argue against the stereotyping of dentists as meek wannabe doctors who go through each day hoping not to hear the dreaded, “I hate dentists.”  We’re reportedly so ashamed of our own work and profession, that having the highest suicide rate persists as urban legend.


Watch it get worse?

I’ve not heard a physician ever say, “Let’s put a watch on that,” when referring to any diagnosis including, hypertension, glaucoma, high cholesterol, diabetes, a tumor, etc.

Dentists actually feel guilty when informing patients of their diagnosis.  We feel BADLY when we find a problem.  We’ll even try to soften the blow by saying things like “It’s a little cavity.  We’ll watch it.”  We stammer and stutter.  We avoid eye contact.  We sympathize AND empathize.  We’ll even reduce our fees to assuage our guilt.

Now, I’m not preaching from a pedestal.  I’m just as guilty of doing this as any other dentist.  While I’ve overcome this tendency, I occasionally fall off the confidence wagon.

I gotta be me.

A new ad for Southern Comfort liquor inspired this blog article.  The main character in the ad oozes confidence (not to mention just plain oozes through ad).  He is the antithesis of the images we see in most ads.  Most ads feature people who are quintessential physical perfection.  The idea is that consumers will buy products used by people they WISH they LOOKED like.

This ad is quite different.  This guy is certainly physically more representative of the typical middle-aged American man.  But, his swagger and utter disregard for what others may think belie his appearance.  This dude is THE MAN, and he KNOWS it.  Even the dog knows it.  HE is the “most interesting man in the world.”

Confidence is magnetic.

The reality is that people find confidence ATTRACTIVE.  Confidence trumps physical beauty almost every time.  Danny DeVito is one of my favorite actors.  Besides being a great actor, his appearance flies in the face of traditional Hollywood standards.  He’s short (really short).  He’s fat.  He’s bald.  He’s simply not a classically attractive man.  But, he’s got attributes that eclipse his looks:  skills and confidence.  Accordingly, he’s very successful.

Most dentists are quite skilled.  Yes, some are more skilled than others.  I’ll argue, at the very least, that most of us have great potential.  I submit there are a great many dentists who are supremely talented with clinical skills, but they still lack confidence.   As, a result, many of their patients don’t get to benefit from those talents.

I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t offer any pat answers for those with a confidence deficit.  I know my own development as a dentist has included some self-analysis leading to my own evolution of confidence.  I almost didn’t graduate from dental school on time.  I wasn’t at the top of my class.  I gladly left the life-sucking hell-hole that was dental school.  My time in the Navy helped lift me back up with some excellent learning experiences in a surprisingly positive environment.

One secret:  C.E. (lots of it)

In the civilian world, I pursued continuing education with a bit of a vengeance.  If I was going to be a dentist, I was going to be a good one… nay… a great one.  I would defy my dental school reputation.  And, so I have.  And, so can you.  Hands-on clinical C.E. is a huge confidence-booster.  And, that helps translate to an R.O.I.

Strut it!  Own it!

Get comfortable in your skin.  Don’t apologize (in words or body language) for your diagnoses and treatment recommendations.  Look patients in the eye.  It’s not your teeth with the problem.  You’re just there to help them the best way you know how.  Tell them what’s going on, and how you can help.  Then SHUT UP (and listen).  You gotta be you… like the guy in the Southern Comfort ad or like “George Jefferson!”

What do you think?  Did I strike a nerve?  Hit the nail on the head?  Comment below!

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9 Responses to Confidence. Swagger. Success!

  1. Ken says:

    This is so true and common amongst dentists in my opinion. Like you, I don’t have a good answer for why this is? I think the close cousin to the “lack of confidence” when diagnosing issue is the “everything we do should be perfect and last forever” thinking syndrome? Now I’m not making excuses for sloppy work or anything like that but dentists almost get teary eyed apologetic when a WFT filling they did 10 years ago breaks. I saw a patient yesterday who is having to go back because his knee replacement done 2 years ago is failing and needs replacement again. He has had to put off some elective dental work because he has to pay for this. The surgeon and the hospital aren’t like, “Oh so sorry that happened we’ll do iit again all for free” but how many dentists do this when a filling breaks especially on a tooth that they knew wouldn’t hold up without a crown?

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Hi Ken. Great points. Patients think dental treatment should last longer (and with a warranty) than what nature / God gave them, because WE (dentists) perpetuate that myth!

      I think the average hip replacement lasts 12 years (heard that somewhere).

      Thanks for your comments, Ken!

  2. I think you nailed it with this post! I have been in dentistry ( as an assistant, hygienist and front office) for 20 years and have had the pleasure to work with some of the most amazing dentists, but also for many who had amazing potential but were too uncomfortable with themselves to help patients understand what treatment was needed and why.

    Dentistry has trained our patients into thinking that what we do will last forever, they hold us responsible and accountable because as a profession that is the message we deliver. Instead we need to engage patients in their own health as well as disease. It is amazing what happens when you allow patients to become accountable for their own health, vs. avoiding it because you don’t want them to feel bad or disrespected.

    I think it’s important to first know your patients, and know IF they want to be accountable for their own health (many do, but many don’t) and then spend time fostering healthy relationships with those that do…..I have found that communication style is key to helping patients WANT to take care of their own mouths, and education without reprimandation is almost equally important.

    I think Bob Barkley put it best “Rarely do patients seem to realize the limitations of dentistry, partly because, through our misguided self concept as healers, we have created the impression that we play a more significant role in people’s health than we actually do. If patients have an unrealistic concept of what can be done for them, they will not readily accept their responsibilities. If people feel dentists can heal them and make them healthy, they will likely accept or even demand treatment but will not likely maintain their mouths later. When treatment fails or disease damage becomes serious again they become embittered. People must realize that health is not a commodity that can be purchased, it must be self acquired.”

    Again, great post! Thanks for putting the message out there! I think I’m going to have to write a post on my blog to the patient world and tie this piece into it!

  3. Jen says:

    Great article! You really made excellent points from a unique perspective. I’m a follower.

  4. Richard Low says:

    Gary Takacs used this post today in his class at Midwestern University-AZ. Great post, now I need to read the rest of your blog!

  5. Chris says:

    Great post! SoCo did hit a home run with those spots.

    If dentists don’t have confidence in themselves, nobody else will either. There is also a huge difference between confidence and arrogance.

    PS – Love the list building popup, tastefully done.

  6. Paul O'Boyle says:

    You are so right about C.E. it really rejuvenates me when I feel a bit samey. Patients really seem to respond when I start quoting the conference I was at recently or what the head of the UK WHITENING society said about their issue last week. It really helps. I recently decided to wear my loops for every treatment including routine check ups and man oh man it makes my day much more interesting. No matter how dull a subject seems to be there’s always a way to do it better and someone who can make it come alive for you.

    Anyway, thanks for the post. You are part of the solution.

  7. Sveda says:

    Hi , I loved your post . Every word is true . As dentists we have this compunction to solve problems not only for patients on the spot but to make so many important decisions about everything in our lives. At times it’s hard to identify what our issues are .
    I read somewhere that the overwhelming amount of micro and macro decisions during the day can wear an individual down plus other factors esp social factors: this can be both within our personal spheres or from others/ie: patient satisfaction and approval )
    In my case I have always noticed I see social factors sabotaging my reputation. I fear that this may cause a weird. Environment . I’m mild and do not speak much as I fear further criticism

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