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Watch Your Reaction

Have you ever considered the differences between response and reaction? Technically, both are reactions. However, responding to a situation thoughtfully considers the outcome. It is not manipulation, but a sharpened thought process engineered to bring about the desired result. Reactions are emotional and may result in a positive or negative outcome. Responses harness emotional intelligence. While there are occasional contrasting opinions about this subject, most would agree, developing emotional intelligence elevates your reaction responses.  

Consider for a moment, CPR training. The mechanics of administering CPR have changed very little over the years, yet licensure mandates systematic renewal. This may seem redundant and inefficient to some. Nevertheless, renewal courses refresh our memory on the components of CPR.  If we find ourselves in a crisis, we will not react in panic or fear, but respond with life-saving chest compressions and rescue breathing. The response is controlled, high-level, ordered action. With that in mind, let’s discuss the notion of ‘watches’ in dentistry. There is much to be said for observation. But when did dentistry become a spectator sport? Dentistry is a forward-thinking, proactive profession. Watching a suspicious lesion leaves you casually observing on the bench of clinical passivity. Like a retort to an umpire who’s just given a bad call, the end result of clinical passivity will lead to reactive clinical behavior. 

A patient presents with stain and demineralization, with a slight stick on the occlusal pit of tooth thirty #30. The patient prides herself on never having had a cavity. You don’t want to rain on her parade and ruin her good track record, so you share with her about the demineralization and place a “watch” on the tooth. Seems harmless enough to take the “wait and let’s see” response, right? The patient returns six months later and reports intermittent sensitivity, but only when eating something really sweet. Radiographs and visual examination revealed no significant findings, so the watch remains intact. This scenario is repeated for a couple of years until the patient starts to feel discomfort, and ultimately endodontic therapy and a crown are needed, hurling the patient into an emotional tailspin. This was a missed opportunity to respond proactively, allowing for a simple restoration, preserving the integrity of the tooth, and saving the patient discomfort, time, and finances.

When the dermatologist identifies an area of concern, within minutes, they zap, freeze, burn, or biopsy the lesion. Their response is never, “We’ll watch this area and evaluate it in 6 months“. They have educated me and, for this reason, gained my trust. I have confidence in their care and treatment modality. Cancer is serious. The risks involved with waiting are greater than the benefits of a proactive, calculated response that prioritizes and places high value on preserving my health. Dentistry should take notice of this responsiveness.   

Watching is defined as observing something attentively over time, but dentistry is not a spectator sport. Everything about this profession should be dynamic. The secondary definition of watch is one that boosts mindfulness or restraint, such as when we watch our diet or watch our words. Neither of these behaviors should be synonymous with responsive, responsible healthcare. 

Forward-thinking proactive care destroys the “symptom-crisis-reaction” cycle. Nearly every disease is easier to manage, treat, and restore in its earliest stages. Caries, oral cancers, and periodontal disease are no exception.  

It’s no coincidence the response is the root word for responsibility. Watch what happens when you respond, instead of reacting.





Stephanie Baker Rdh BsHer clinical and support team experiences are the inspiration for her writing and the motivation for coaching clients to success. She is a regular contributor to various publications within dentistry and beyond. In addition to feeding the homeless, starting a non-profit, and being involved in her church and other community organizations, she sings professionally and enjoys several creative outlets. She resides in Florida where she enjoys the company of her husband, three children, and four beautiful grandchildren.

Stephanie Baker
Author: Stephanie Baker