Specialist Dental Group has launched an on-going series of blog posts by our individual dental specialists. All views provided are the dentist’s own opinions and are posted on this blog as part of our on-going efforts to educate the public about dental issues and other matters of interest relating to dentistry and healthcare.
I remember a professor of medicine telling my class, “Listen to the patient. He is giving you the diagnosis!” This was way back in my 3rd year of dental school, when we had many lessons in Medicine and Surgery. This phrase has always stuck in my mind – Listen first, before you speak. Communication is a two-way street.
Communication is key to our job as dentists. Gone are the days when the patient accepts everything the dentist says without question. Understanding the patient’s needs and desires and balancing those against our professional judgement requires dialogue. Only when both parties understand what can or cannot be achieved will the final result be satisfactory to all involved.
In the course of our work, we meet people of many nationalities and from different walks of life. Being able to communicate in more than one language is a definite advantage.
I speak English and Mandarin proficiently and can comfortably switch from one language to the other, thanks in no small part to the bilingual language education policy in Singapore. Although I stopped writing in Mandarin after high school, I had to speak it more and more. Many of my patients in the undergraduate course spoke only Chinese. In order to obtain cooperation from my patients which then determined whether I completed the coursework or not, I had to communicate succinctly.
As a dental officer at the then Government Dental Clinic, speaking in Mandarin or dialect became even more important. In addition, I remember asking my parents ever so often, for help with Chinese dialects such as Teochew and Cantonese. During that stint, I also picked up some Malay. All this has proved useful in private practice.
We read of doctors being described as “brilliant”, but the same term is not associated with dentists. Wouldn’t people prefer a empathetic dentist rather than an intellectually-brilliant one? Empathy requires communication.
When I see a French-speaking patient’s face light with my greeting of “Bonjour, ca va?” and “Assayez vous, sli vous plait”, I know that it’s a step towards putting them at ease, even though I cannot carry out even the simplest conversation in French.
So, I’d encourage all the young people out there whether they are aspiring to a career in the medical/dental field or not, work on mastering a second language or even a third. It will always be useful in life !
Dr Helena Lee is a Periodontist with Specialist Dental Group. She holds an appointment as an Adjunct Clinical Tutor in the Department of Preventive Dentistry, National University of Singapore. She has co-authored several papers in peer-reviewed journals and has lectured at professional local and international conferences. Dr Lee has a special interest in the treatment and prevention of periodontal disease, gingival plastic surgery, soft and hard tissue grafting and dental implants. For more information on Dr Lee, click here.