So there I was this morning, bounding into work at 6:30AM – my usual time to come in is closer to 5:30 AM to go over paperwork, catch up on lab work and to make sure that all is in order for this day’s group of patients. Today I was an hour later because I stopped at the gym first for a quick workout – I am leaving for Scottsdale, AZ this afternoon so I wanted to hit the gym before I left. My schedule is a little quirky but that’s a subject for another blog piece on another day.
Anyway, as I reviewed this morning’s schedule I saw that Heather was my first patient. Heather has been a patient of mine for over a year and she has been slowly working towards getting her mouth healthy. We were scheduled today to bond a porcelain onlay onto one of her back teeth. The truth is, all of her back teeth need the protection that onlays/ crowns provide but there are several barriers to completing the ideal treatment. First and foremost, Complete Dentistry can be expensive- an investment really because you pay now in order to not have to pay more later. But, in Heather’s case (and truthfully, many of my patient’s case) the work needs to be phased over several years because of limited finances. Heather is a 34 year old single mother- although she would want me to quickly say that she thinks of herself as being 23! Her daughter Abbey is 15 so fixing teeth falls down the priority list somewhat.
But, as daunting as affording ideal dentistry can be, Heather’s bigger issue is that she is just plain scared of having dental work done. I remember very clearly our first appointment together. We had just finished the Complete Exam which, in her case, included a full series of xrays ; during the consultation appointment, we went over the xrays and digital pictures, tooth by tooth, and I began to point out the many teeth that were in need of attention due to large cavities and fillings that were falling apart. That was when she started crying…..not a totally unusual reaction because when a patient finds out that their teeth are decaying and may need to come out, it can be a very emotional moment. For Heather, the news was even more devastating because, she had just moved here from Virgina where she had recently finished “fixing her teeth” with what she thought was going to be high quality dentistry (a root canal, crown and many fillings….)that were now decayed and in need of refilling and possibly more root canals/ crowns….you get the point.
So, to sum up, she had spent over $3000. for dental work that was unpleasant to go through and that was now, only 6 months later, falling apart. Heather was visibly miserable and talked about how she felt that, in most interactions in her life, she always got the short end of the stick; and that this was just another example. I tried to reassure her and to underscore that we would get her teeth and mouth back to health on a schedule that would work in her life circumstances. She seemed appreciative but very wary at the same time. Gaining her trust was going to be a process.
We started off with several long appointments in order to address the teeth most in need, removing the decay and putting in large fillings that would hopefully hold until we could perform more definitive dentistry on them, possibly several years down the road. Luckily, we were able to avoid root canals and save all her teeth. But, what struck me at these initial appointments was how nervous and apprehensive Heather was. She would take a little medication before the appointment (not at all unusual for dental phobic patients) and would crank her IPOD up to drown out the drilling noise. Her demeanor was very quiet and tense throughout the appointment. We repeated this pattern for several months, but slowly, I could tell that she was starting to relax, the music wasn’t quite so loud and she didn’t have it on so often and ,every once in awhile, a smile would betray her newfound relaxed attitude.
Well that was a year ago and today we were scheduled to finish another round of our carefully designed treatment plan. What struck me when she walked in was how relaxed and funny she was. I casually asked if she had taken any medication before the appointment and she said ”Nope!- don’t need it”. I gave her some anesthesia (where she didn’t even bat an eyelash) and while we were waiting for it to take effect, I remarked how I should write a Blog piece on her transformation. “Oh you should!” she exclaimed “and make sure to write that I have committed to losing 40 pounds, quit smoking and become the hottie I was 15 years ago! And while you’re at it, put that I think that you are the best dentist…the gentlest dentalist!” I had never heard of that term before and Heather agreed that she probably just invented it but I like it!
But what I like even more is the transformation that I have seen Heather make over the past year. I love my job because I love to solve problems and fix things like broken down teeth, uncomfortable bites and ugly front teeth. But what is especially gratifying is to be able to change a patient’s apprehension and sour view of dentistry and convert them into fun, appreciative “family members”. It truly underscores how strongly we (my assistant Edie, receptionist Cindy and hygienist Corinne) believe in our tag line “Creating Relationships, One Smile At A Time”. Or as Heather might say, we are the office of the “gentlest dentalist”!