There’s little doubt that patients need to have total confidence in their dentist. A bad experience, while fortunately relatively uncommon, can cause lasting or even lifelong consequences for patients, including a loss of confidence, fear of dentistry and increased levels of tooth decay as a result of non-attendance at appointments. Good dentistry is not simply a case of understanding and being able to use a wide range of tools and to carry out simple and more complex procedures. A skilled dentist must also have a comprehensive understanding of his responsibilities in providing care for patients, extensive knowledge of the workings of the human mouth and an array of interpersonal skills to provide the level of care that patients deserve and upon which they rely.
The following are some of the most important qualities that a proficient dentist should possess:
A desire to help others
Like all employees in the medical sector, the overriding motivation for a dentist should be a desire to help others. In an industry in which private healthcare is commonplace, especially for cosmetic dentistry, and NHS funding for procedures is diminishing, this may seem to be at odds with preventative treatment, but the primary aim of a dentist’s work is to preserve and protect patients’ teeth and to minimise the amount of invasive and costly interventions that are necessary when decay causes pain and infection. Therefore, every dentist should have, at the heart of their work, the desire to provide treatment to patients that is neither costly nor invasive, enabling them to retain their natural smiles for years.
A reassuring manner
An estimated 10% of British patients have an exaggerated fear of attending the dentist, even for a routine check-up, with many more experiencing anxieties on a lesser scale. Patients, therefore, including those for whom visiting the dentist is not an ordeal, expect and deserve to be treated by a professional with a reassuring manner, who can persuade them to undergo check-ups and treatment, despite their long-held fears. Dentists also must be able to support a wide variety of people, including children for whom a visit to the surgery may be even more terrifying than for an adult.
Excellent interpersonal skills
In the modern healthcare system, patients have a greater desire to understand the reason for treatment, while an increased focus on preventative medicine means that health professionals have a responsibility to educate patients as well as to treat them. The dentist, therefore, needs to have excellent interpersonal skills, to be able to explain the reason for treatment, while offering reassurance and advice about improving oral health. Dentists also have a role in teaching the next generation of patients to care for their teeth using the correct techniques; visits to schools, for example, must effectively combine this with avoiding the notion that dentistry is unpleasant or painful.
Attention to detail
Effective dentistry demands a focus on the tiny details and a commitment to achieving as perfect a finish as possible when treating patients. In spotting the earliest signs of decay, a dentist must be able to identify small problems and recognise the warning signs of poor oral health. Orthodontics, the discipline which focuses on treating incorrect bite and aligning crooked teeth, is one example of where, in the cosmetic field, attention to detail is essential.
Treatment must be provided strictly in accordance with the techniques and methods learned at university or subsequent training – but the dentist must also be adaptable to take account of changes in practice or policy. If mistakes are made through negligence or lack of care, patients have an increased chance of winning costly litigation, so a commitment to providing excellent care is essential at all times.
Excellent hand-eye coordination and dexterity
Many of the procedures that dentists have to carry out on a day-to-day basis are challenging due to the delicate movements that have to be carried out, sometimes working from unusual angles. If a patient is nervous and doesn’t settle well, precise work can be more difficult to achieve. A steady hand, excellent manual dexterity and a cool composure are therefore essential skills a dentist needs for high quality work, especially when carrying out complex procedures, such as implants.
Preparing for interview
If you’re preparing for an interview to be recruited as a dentist, you probably won’t be surprised that some of the questions posed by the panel may assess aspects of your personality and skills, as well as your training and experience, such as those described above.
Interview questions for dental candidates may include the following:
• What is your greatest motivation?
• How would you rate your hand-eye coordination?
• What steps could you take to minimise the risk of errors in your practice?
• How would you reassure a nervous patient or child?
• What message would you convey to a class of children about improving their oral hygiene?
By understanding the diverse characteristics of a good dentist, you can maximise the chances of success when responding to these, and other, key questions.