I was reading this book when the sad news of the death of Colin Hall Dexter reached me. Never could such an apt tribute have been written to Colin and his philosophy of practice. He was known as a champion of prevention, of private practice and of communication but if there is one phrase that summed Colin up it would be the title of Sheila’s book “Putting health at the heart of your practice.”
It’s a slim book and an easy read, which is exactly what one would expect from someone who has been working with dentists and their teams for a quarter of a century. The old saying, “Keep it Simple” is one that has always come to mind when listening to Sheila. Far too often dentists try to complicate things, whether it be their explanations, their treatment plans or their ideas about what makes a good practice.
What you will get from this book is a blueprint for both simplicity and success. In the opening four chapters Sheila explains how by using basic messages of dental health and paying attention to detail you can win patients over to your way of thinking. She leads the reader through the path that starts with finding out what people really want from their dentists, not what the dentist thinks they need.
Following on, she explains the importance of the Dental Health Check, please abolish the phrase ‘check up’ from your practice and, whilst you’re at it, get rid of ‘just a’ as well. Half of the Dental Health Check is done before the patient gets round to opening their mouth, as dentists we are way too keen to get to the teeth with our mirrors and probes. We’re taught at dental school that the history is everything, yet, once in practice, so many of us can’t wait to dive in past the lips almost before we have said, ‘hello’.
From a personal point of view she is preaching to the converted, I started calling the new patient examination a Dental Health Assessment and the recall appointment a Dental Health Review in 1988. These are longer phrases which place an extra emphasis on their importance.
Sadly in too many practices the pre-examination conversation is only used to try to find something, anything, that can be ‘sold’ to the patient. As you would expect, Sheila deals with the blatant and repetitive use of ‘Smile Checks’ in her typically forthright manner.
Of course what every dentist will tell every business consultant (trust me I’ve been both sides of the net) is that their practice is different from the others and what works elsewhere will not necessarily work for them. Quite right, my practice was a one-off too. That said the majority of my patients had two legs, jaws that hinged on both sides, teeth that decayed if they were treated badly and gums that got inflamed in the presence of bacteria. In Chapter 5 Sheila encourages this difference and says you should make your unique dental health check an integral part of your marketing.
In chapter six she deals with how to ensure that the 14 point examination is done fully each and every time. As a disciple of Atul Gawande and the check list manifesto I loved the way she explained it.
Finally, Sheila deals with the role of the dental hygienist in practice. Again she’s pushing at an open door here. I used to preach that the dental hygienist when properly deployed was the cornerstone of 20th century dentistry but have had to modify that for the new millennium, for those that still don’t get it.
I try to limit these reviews to 500 words, I have gone way over the top because I think that this deceptively short book deserves fulsome praise. I wish I had been able to read it in 1978 when I qualified, in 1981 when I entered general practice and in 1988 when I started out on my own. It would have saved me a lot of trial, error, experimentation and failure.
Sheila is to be congratulated on “Putting health at the heart of your practice”, Dental Protection deserve praise for publishing it, I hope that this is read and, above all, acted upon by thousands of dentists and their teams.
It’s available from Sheila’s website here.