Dentists are predisposed to denial. Denial is the most common defense mechanism that we use, by pretending that an uncomfortable event did not happen. Denial is the choice to refuse reality despite overwhelming evidence. It may be a conscious or unconscious decision, but it is definitely a psychological defense mechanism. In an effort to divert pain, one uses the most basic of emotions to survive. Survival is one of our most basic instincts. We use denial to survive.
Dentist are more likely to utilize denial than the general population due to the personal emotional investments they have made with their practices. The effort to run a successful dental practice today is considerable. The dedication to your patients, family, and staff are is incredible. The thought of being unable to practice even for a short time due to a disability is almost unthinkable. We have spent countless years in school and training to get to this point of responsibility. As dentists we feel totally obligated to provide the best for our staff and patients. The separation anxiety generated by a disabling event is huge for a dentist. Unlike a planned retirement, accidents and illnesses strike at the core of our self-worth.
Denial can be denied. Recognizing that it can and will occur should be used to your advantage. Your spouse, family, and staff need to know about denial. This knowledge gives them the strength to fight this most basic of emotions. Time is the arch enemy of denial. Use this to your advantage. Understand that your disabling condition will change over time. Your injury will heal and you can recover from your illness, understanding that you might not be exactly the same.
As health care providers, we are required to provide safe care to our patients. Our decision to continue to practice after a disabling accident or illness occurs should be made only when all those directly involved agree that we can practice safely. This decision should be made involving the dentist’s physicians, spouse and family. The staff should be alerted to the issue and keep everyone informed.
Denial can be dangerous, but it can be controlled. Denial does not minimize your injury/illness. It does not blame your injury/illness on someone else. Denial basically is the pause button on a recording device, its there to give you time. Time to think and time to make good decisions. Acceptance may be a long way off, but understand that you will likely experience this somewhat unpleasant emotion.
We have experience denial. It is no stranger to the disabled dentist. Therefore, we are giving you a heads up that its out there. Like the video noted below, dental denial is almost comical at time but it is no joke. BE PREPARED for denial and be ready to fight it.