A Princeton, NJ, Periodontist’s Cardinal Rule: Never Forget the Patient

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned from the nearly three decades I’ve been a Princeton, NJ, periodontist is: Cultivating a gentle, compassionate environment needs to be a daily, conscious objective. I don’t know anyone who isn’t at least a little anxious sitting in a dentist’s chair. The lights feel a little brighter, a little hotter. And there’s a disturbing, visceral connection to every tool positioned so neatly on the tray looming nearby, even the rinsing sink.

I’m responsible for dispelling those fears, but I’m hardly alone in seeing that that tone pervades every aspect of our practice, from your initial call to your post-treatment check-ups. Most of our staff here at Princeton Periodontics & Implants has been with us for at least 10 years. And some of them have been working in their respective fields for close to four decades. That experience has given them, as it has me, a keener empathy for the patient’s experience, though we all respond to it in our own ways. I’d like to think I’ve become a better listener, while others have come to understand that a simple, consoling touch says what can often mean more than any words of reassurance.

Familiarity is the foundation of every treatment performed here, no matter how straightforward or involved. After all, familiarity breeds comfort. So, in most cases, the treatment itself is performed, or started, during your second appointment. The first is reserved for getting to know each other and what’s about to happen. Toward that end, my work as your Princeton, NJ, periodontist begins even before we meet. I’ll talk to your dentist so that we can compare our notes on the proposed treatment. I also take time during that conversation to ask about you. You’ve likely been his patient for years, so he can give me some clearer insight into your dental history and even your personal temperament. Knowing, for instance, that you’re particularly sensitive to pain medication, I can begin to explore alternatives so that I can present them to you. For your part, there are a few new-patient forms that you’ll need to download from our site and fill out prior to your arrival.

Once we’re face-to-face, your initial consultation will follow a template that’s known as SOAP, which stands for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan. It’s pretty standard protocol for health care providers. Chances are, your physician’s questions have followed this line, whether you realized it before now or not. You’ll tell me how you arrived in my chair (Subjective) and then I’ll evaluate you and your condition myself (Objective). From there, I’ll affirm or correct your diagnosis (Assessment) and present a treatment (Plan).

Regardless of the treatment, I’m going to conduct a comprehensive exam. What that entails, exactly, is not just me looking all over your mouth, but also an oral cancer screening and a review of your medical history (which you’ll have provided in one of those new-patient forms). That last part may seem like overkill, but understanding your overall health will enable me to tailor your treatment accordingly. Certain prescription medications, for instance, can cause your mouth to become excessively dry, others spur excessive bleeding. Neither is something I want to be caught unequipped to treat promptly, or even beforehand, if I can help it.

But much of our time during your first appointment is going to be spent simply talking. You’re going to have questions, and it’s OK to ask them, all of them, no matter how mundane they may seem. Is it going to hurt? Even as a Princeton, NJ, periodontist who’s been practicing in total for over 30 years, it’s the first thing I want to know when I’m about to undergo any kind of procedure. Right behind that: How long is it going to take? And: How much is covered by my insurance? Remember, familiarity breeds comfort. The more of your mental checklist that’s covered, the better you’re going to feel sitting in my chair the next time around.

Even knowing what to expect—and hopefully this helps a bit—you’re probably going to feel overwhelmed at some point. It’s a lot to take in, especially when you’re coming in with your own preconceived notions of how this is going to go. You heard of a friend of a friend who had a piece of tissue removed from her palate and it went horribly wrong. And that’s why I’ll end our appointment by asking if you have any thoughts. If I asked if you have any questions, it narrows the field too much, focuses on the treatment or the insurance coverage when, really, you’re more concerned with a repeat occurrence of what happened to your friend’s friend. It’s my way of trying to convey, “Everything’s fair game. Hit me.” I won’t flinch. I promise.