Expert Q&A

Expert Q&A with: Dr. Bruce Freeman

"Parts of our toolbox of life-skills needs to be the ability to receive feedback fearlessly"


Dr. Bruce Freeman is a native of Toronto. He is an honours graduate of the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Toronto where he was recognized with numerous awards for his clinical and academic achievements. He then completed the Advanced Education in General Dentistry program at the Eastman Dental Center in Rochester, New York. Dr. Freeman then returned to the University of Toronto where he received his Diploma in Orthodontics. Subsequent to this he completed his Master’s of Science degree in the field of temporomandibular disorders and orofacial pain.

Dr. Freeman is Co-Director of the Facial Pain Unit within the department of Dentistry at Mount Sinai Hospital where he is responsible for the management of patients with complex facial pain disorders in addition to participating in the education of the hospital dental residents and specialty dental residents from the University of Toronto dental faculty. He also participates in research initiatives within the department which have yielded publications in the European Journal of Neuroscience, Pain, Brain Research and Neuroimage and lectures internationally on the topics of clinical orthodontics, facial pain, patient experience and mindful communication, and virtual surgical planning.

Bruce is a certified yoga instructor with additional training in breathing techniques, meditation, and trauma informed movement. He directs the Wellness Program for Hospital Dental Residents at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto emphasizing how self-care leads to the best patient care.

You lecture throughout North America on the patient experience. What are three simple to implement tips that dentists can implement to improve the experience of their patients?

BF: With patient experience techniques you will often try and say something I may suggest or you hear a colleague say and when you say it the patient they look at you like you have three heads! There needs to be a lot of good ol’ trial and error to see what works for you, particularly in these trying times when both the typical stresses patients have will be compounded by mental fatigue, worry, and financial strain. Three tips you can make your own that will be more critical moving are as follows:

  • Listen to the story patients have to tell and never acknowledge an emotion, such as “I am afraid of having a tooth out”, with a fact, such as “I have done this a thousand times”. Listen and HEAR the patient’s concerns and ask a lot of questions starting with “why”.
  • Draw flow charts about treatment options and have the patient teach back the plan and always ask them if it makes sense to them.
  • Ask if you missed anything that they wanted to discuss and always thank them for letting you look after them. A phrase that will mean so much more in the future.

A lot of young dentists are facing burnout, stress and overall dissatisfaction, with some even seeking alternate careers. What advice do you have for a dentist struggling with these issues in the early part of their career?

BF: These are issues that will become even more prominent as we navigate the “new normal” of dentistry after the significant strain the world must now endure. The toolbox needs to be filled with strategies that bolster resilience. Breathing, movement (yoga, qi gong etc), and a regular meditation practice help people learn to look inward and name their emotions so they can observe the feeling and not be controlled by it. At present we have the time to learn for free from experts in the field and becoming proactive helps mitigate fear and worry as we, like our patients, like to know we have a plan. Mentors are critical in life and it is best to find different ones for both your professional and personal worlds. These things need to be taught early on in school, so they become second nature. There are NO easy answers but ignoring how we feel and not addressing the worry and stresses in our lives will not make them go away.

Imposter syndrome and the Dunning-Kruger Effect are two popular concepts about the struggles we all face in our abilities as clinicians. You work closely with a lot of residents and mentor a lot of dentists. What strategies can we deploy in times of self-doubt to get past this challenge?

BF: “Fake it until you ARE it” is a popular phase but it does ring true. Dunning-Kruger occurs when people lack the insight to realize they are not great at something and look at you oddly when you suggest otherwise (eg: karoke night). Parts of our toolbox of life-skills needs to be the ability to receive feedback fearlessly. The delivery of this feedback may not always be ideal but the kernel of truth still resides in what is said. Dental school can take serious knocks at your self-esteem. It is tricky but we need to focus on providing a positive emotional experience for patients and nudge our ego out of the way and realize we will never be good at everything. Recognizing there are things in dentistry and life “we don’t know we don’t know” is the first step. Take lots of courses but in areas you want to focus and figure out what you can do best to serve your patients as you will never be able to do-it-all with a high-level of skill.

What do you see as the main pros and cons of social media use for dentists?

BF: Wow. We are learning first-hand the power of social medial to be a positive force in bringing people together and sharing information. The world is now united in an unprecedented struggle and knowing we can chat with our friends and colleagues and band together to offer support is incredible. One however, must be mindful of thinking what we see with regard to people’s work and lives is just a snapshot and what they want the world to see. Our brains however react in interesting ways and suddenly we feel inadequate, despite telling ourselves “oh, I know it’s just Instagram” and it’s not reality. We all must be mindful of what we post and how young professionals and students deal with the content. If less than positive profiles don’t have an audience, they will fall into the shadows. Educational and motivational profiles, of which there are many, should be where people focus and we must always remember to communicate professionally and collegially as now, more than ever, we need to lift each other up.

1 thought on “Expert Q&A”

  1. I’ve learned a lot watching Dr. Freeman deal with patients when they are in pain, sacred, or generally unhappy. His method of dealing with patients allows them to build trust in your abilities as a dentist in a gentle and nurturing way…. a matter a fact dealing with your self in the way he deals with patients will do wonders for your mental and emotional health (sounds dramatic but it’s true).

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