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a blog by Chris Barrow

Psychology in Dentistry - Dr. Chris Burton

As you will know, I’ve been somewhat indisposed for the last couple of weeks after a cycling accident.

Following surgery, I’m on the mend - pace not race as always but I’ll be showing up more over the weeks ahead. My wonderful, wonderful clients decided that they missed The Coach Barrow Blog so much, that they would start writing it themselves. So - over the next few days, a few guest posts from active members of The Extreme Business 100 community, sharing their own thoughts, observations and experiences. My gratitude to the contributors and the hope that just one idea will make a positive difference to your day.

There are remarkably few, if any, areas of your personal and professional life that cannot benefit from even a little applied knowledge of psychology. This is a subject I find myself drawn to over and over again; I thoroughly enjoyed the applied behavioural science part of the dentistry course at Newcastle, and still read a lot of psychology books in my spare time.

Obviously it’s an incredibly broad subject; personality psychology is the focus here, in a professional setting, ie improving your understanding of:

- your own behaviour - to develop and thrive in your own niche

- your staff behaviour - to get the best out of them and utilise their unique talents

- your patients’ behaviour - more efficient and less stressful interactions

Various personality tests have been used by research scientists over the years (eg Myers-Briggs), but as I understand it these have been superseded by the Big 5 model (Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Neuroticism, Openness).

I will attempt to summarise the pros and cons of being either end of the spectrum of each of the 5 dimensions:

Agreeable - more compassionate and caring but can be taken advantage of as they tend not to stand up for themselves.

Disagreeable - you always know where you stand with a disagreeable person! Competitive; but can come across as cold. If you need to fire someone, ask someone disagreeable to do it.

High conscientiousness - responsible dutiful, orderly and work hard, but can be prone to micro-managing and struggle to “turn off” from work at home.

Low conscientiousness - impulsive, more likely to procrastinate (these may be the ones to keep an eye on if you suspect someone isn’t pulling their weight), but can more easily switch off from work at home and feel less shame from failure.

Extraverted - high energy, thrive on social interaction. These are the people you put on the reception desk! If you isolate them in a quiet room to work alone, they’ll wither on the vine.

Introverted - it is a myth that introverts don’t like people! They prefer interactions with smaller groups of people, or one-on-one; more meaningful discussions. They become drained by social interaction. These are the people you want to put in an office to work on their own (esp if high in conscientiousness). Don’t put them on the reception desk!

[I’ve often wondered if extraverts deal with being a busy dentist better than introverts - think of how many social interactions take place during the working day.]

High Neuroticism - worriers and risk-averse. This can be good in moderation, eg understanding and being motivated about (dental) health care, but too high and as a patient they can be difficult to manage.

Low Neuroticism - more easy-going and less prone to anxiety and depression.

Openness - the creativity dimension and a relatively uncommon trait. These are the dreamers, the entrepreneurs, the artists, the musicians. They are problem-solvers and have a unique way of looking at things. They tend to be able to think outside the box and bend or break the rules.

However, people low in openness are better-suited to those jobs that involve a high degree of predictability and routine.

The above is a very brief overview of what I find to be an endlessly fascinating and engaging subject and I would highly encourage anyone reading this to do the test themselves and see what unknowns they discover. The resource is - at just over £8 for the 100-question test and in-depth report, this is a bargain in my opinion. Start with yourself, learn about what the report means and then pay for your staff to take it. Ask them to share the results with you.

You have nothing to lose and more to gain than you could imagine.

Dr Chris Burton


Middleton St George Dental Care

3 Middleton Lane



Co. Durham


Tel : 01325 333336

Email :

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