Being successful in the medical world requires more than treating the human body. It also means understanding the mind that resides within that body. It means recognizing that a patient is a whole person—true healing addresses both body and mind.
Dr. Camesia Matthews, DDS, is a dentist who embraces this view and puts it into practice.
“My favorite part about my work is the patients,” she said. “Each person that sits in the chair is unique. It’s a new adventure each time.”
Becoming a Dentist
Dr. Camesia Matthews practices at University Dental Group in Worcester, Massachusetts. She did not grow up with dentistry in mind, but she knew early on that her career would involve healthcare.
“I always loved the biological sciences,” she said. “I did clinical lab science as an undergraduate degree. Then, a teacher told me I should go to medical school, so I did some research. I looked at all of the health sciences and found that dentistry was perfect for me because I love using my hands.”
Relating to Patients
A medical professional can cure a disease, heal an injury and even save a life, but the patient may still walk away dissatisfied. How is that possible? Does this mean the patient is ungrateful? It’s more likely that the patient felt that the doctor, while effective with treatments, did not listen to their concerns. The doctor treated the body but did not acknowledge the needs of the mind.
As Dr. Matthews built her career, she developed a service-oriented, patient-centered approach to dentistry.
“It’s like learning the psychology of each patient,” she said. “I’ve learned so much about the human body and mind over the time I’ve been a dentist. It enables me to deal with people better even outside of dentistry.”
She recognized the importance of seeing each patient as an individual with their unique circumstances.
“We are all very similar in that we want to feel safe,” Dr. Matthews said. “But one person may be dealing with anxiety. If you learn the person’s background, you learn why they are like this. And they’re different from the last patient that I did the same procedure on. Every person has a custom-made situation.”
Dr. Matthews deals with each patient individually, understanding that their background, culture, family and other circumstances are relevant elements in their overall healthcare. Demonstrating empathy and listening to and discussing patients’ concerns are vital for their treatment.
A Case in Point
Dr. Matthews shared the example of a patient who had been afraid to see a dentist. When he finally arrived, she discussed his fear with him.
“He confessed that he was so fearful because he wouldn’t be in control. He said, ‘It’s when I’m in this setting that I feel the most helpless.’ So for him, I was meticulous in making sure there were no surprises,” she explained.
Dr. Matthews gave him plenty of information.
“Having him understand every detail of what I was doing, and why, helped him relax,” Dr. Matthews continued. “This was very important. He had been neglecting himself because of that barrier. But I learned his background and how he saw dentistry, and that was my opportunity to help him get through it.”
Dr. Matthews wants her patients to ask as many questions as possible because she wants them to know what to expect and to put them at ease with the proposed treatment plan.
A Place of Empathy and Non-Judgment
It’s not unusual for patients to put off a trip to the dentist because of fear, lack of dental insurance or other personal reasons. That delay can make dental problems worse. When they finally reach her chair, Dr. Matthews believes it is essential to welcome her patients in a nonjudgmental environment.
“I try to come from a place of empathy and non-judgment,” Dr. Matthews explained. “I don’t start by going back in the past asking why they didn’t come in or haven’t been there in six years. It’s not helpful, and it only makes that person feel worse about themselves. Instead, I approach it with empathy because I don’t know what someone’s home life is like.”
Given her philosophy, it is not surprising that Dr. Matthews embraces a minimalist approach to her treatment plans. She begins with the least invasive treatment and only progresses to the more complicated procedures if the simpler treatment does not work.
“If a patient has a deep cavity maybe a few millimeters away from the nerve, some may immediately do a root canal,” Dr. Matthews explained. “But I’m going to first remove the caries [the decay that results in cavities] and give it some time to see if that works. The patient may end up not needing a root canal. However, I make sure the patient understands that a root canal may still be necessary if the simpler treatment doesn’t work or if they become symptomatic”
If the minimally invasive treatment does work, the patient has been saved a lot of pain, time and money.
Sports dentistry is a growing, exciting approach to dentistry that involves preventing, treating and managing the oral injuries athletes suffer. It also involves the effect athletes’ special diets and lifestyle can have on their dental health.
“I have the goal of becoming a sports dentist and serving that subset (the athlete and the active person)” Dr. Matthews shared. “It will be an arm of what I do in addition to general dentistry. It will be an educational endeavor. Athletes may not think they’re different from the general population but they are—the practice routines, sports drinks and foods, dehydration. For example, there’s more erosion because of what they drink and eat.”
In March of 2022, Dr. Matthews founded Clutch Dental Media, where she shares her experiences as a dental professional, her knowledge (and love) of sports, and how the two are related. She is currently writing a book about the importance of dental fitness for athletes.
A Parting Reminder
Dr. Matthews’ view of dentistry engages both body and mind. Her patients receive high-quality treatment for their dental issues and leave her office feeling heard and understood.
“You really can’t group anyone at all. Understanding that, I have learned so much about people as a whole. That’s been the most surprising takeaway from dentistry that I didn’t account for going in. But I love it,” she concluded.
Dr. Matthews treats the whole patient, giving them both healthy teeth and peace of mind.