In this guest post, Alan Stern DDS, founder of Better, Richer, Stronger, shares how it’s necessary for dentists to serve with heart and empathize with patients in this age of heightened technology. 

“There are times when the power of science is so seductive that we may come to feel that all that is required to serve others is to get our science right, our diagnosis, our treatment. But science can never serve unless it is first translated by people into a work of the heart” – Rachel Remen from My Grandfather’s Blessings

No one can disagree that the technological and scientific advances of the last 50 to 60 years have improved the lives of countless people.

And no one can argue that the pace of our advancement is accelerating faster than ever.

Let us not forget, however, that compassion and care of another human being can easily get lost in the maze of technological progress — both inside and outside of our dental world. Electronic health records, robotic surgery, digital dentistry, the list goes on.

“Shouldn’t Empathy Be in All of Our Interactions?”

About this time last year, I found out that someone had breached my Social Security account. With a sense of urgency, I moved a few patients in my schedule and went to my local Social Security office. What I encountered was nothing less than dehumanizing and nauseating.

Compassion and care of another human being can easily get lost in the maze of technological advancements

After a nearly two-hour wait, I encountered a clerk who took my complaint, looked at the co-worker sitting next to her, and said, “We got another one.”

She then proceeded to process my information at a snail’s pace.

Not once did she express concern for my well-being.

Not once did she address me by name or even “sir.”

She even scolded me for politely asking how long the process would take. She then responded only when I firmly told her that I am a practicing dentist, had been waiting for two hours, and had a patient in my office waiting for emergency help.

Civil service is a good thing; heartless, unaccountable arrogance in any service is not.

The clerk failed to realize that each human being is a story of hope, fear, happiness, and sorrow. Maybe she never learned to think about any of this. Empathy is clearly not in her job description. But shouldn’t empathy be in all of our interactions?

The New Opportunities — and Responsibilities — Unfolding

I am reminded of the debut of over-the-counter (OTC) home tooth-whitening products back in the 1990s.

A salesman came to my office and touted the wonders of his product. He told me, among other things, that patients would not get the level of whitening from his product that they can get from a dentist. That patients would seek additional whitening services once they try the OTC products that we should recommend. He also told me that patients would want to replace their anterior crowns and composites once their teeth become whiter.

This phenomenon is an example of Dr. Remen’s point in the quote above.

How heartless is it to manipulate a person to do something that could begin a cascade of overtreatment?

Practicing from the heart brings joy, fulfillment, and prosperity

How can we justify applying the latest and greatest technique or technology without understanding the needs, the wants, the lives of the people who are trusting us? Without helping them understand how these technologies can impact their lives both positively and potentially negatively?

As we enter the very exciting digital era of dentistry, huge opportunities are unfolding before us. Scanning, digital smile design, digital recording of centric relation, and 3-D printing are here.

But how will we use it all?

Will we apply the latest technology before a thorough evaluation each time a human being walks into our offices?

Will third-party payers, electric health records, and algorithms supersede the care, skill, and judgment that only a human being can give?

A Heart-Driven Mission

My team and I recently updated our mission statement to reflect our unique brand, to present what we value and what we have to offer to people with our skills and with our hearts.

Practicing from the heart brings joy, fulfillment, and prosperity to us. It also gives the people we serve a unique and valuable service unavailable in many other aspects of their lives.

Let us never forget to keep this important element in our practices and, I dare say, in as many of our human interactions as possible.


Learn more about how RevenueWell improves case acceptance and creates more close-knit relationships between dentists and their patients.

Alan Stern DDS
By Alan Stern DDS
Dr Alan Stern is a practicing dentist and Founder of Better, Richer, Stronger, a speaking and coaching service for dentists, their study clubs, and their teams. Alan can be found at www.betterricherstronger.com