Dental Diaries: Food for thought

2009 12 11 14 00 01 405 Second Opinion

I met a potential new patient today in Michael's of all places. After I finished deciding on the appropriate frame and matte for the street art I recently purchased, I did what I usually do. I mentioned to the clerk that I was a dentist and, since she helped me, would I be able to help her? Was she looking for a new dental home?

Interestingly enough, the majority of the people you say this to are surprised at the personal one-to-one approach. Some say they are happy with their dentist, who happens to be their aunt/uncle/in-law/cousin's relative or some other familial connection. Another happy few are interested and will take a business card. Others just cover their mouth and say, "I am so petrified of the dentist, I can't go."

The woman at Michael's had a very interesting response. She was overjoyed that I had approached her. She was in the market for a new dentist. She and her family hadn't been in a while, had some dental benefits to defray the expense, and were happy not to have to compile and consider a random list of dentists from which to choose.

She also mentioned something interesting: Her husband was a true dental phobe. He was afraid of the dentist because their existing dentist was not only a "rough rider," as she described it, but he smelled of cigarette smoke. Her husband considered the smell repulsive and said it made him more uncomfortable in the dental chair.

I am not a smoker, and I don't understand why some dentists smoke. We are the caretakers of the oral condition, and smoking does not improve anything in your mouth (or your body, for that matter). There is a dentist in my building who is outside every hour of every working day, no matter the weather, smoking up a storm. Sometimes his patients join him. When he goes into the elevator, he brings his smoking scent with him. The elevator reeks. My team has mentioned it, and I have experienced it firsthand. How does he manage to treat patients and not be offensive?

Many years ago, when I was working as a temporary hygienist, I was placed in an office with two operatories and a lab in between. The dentist saw a patient in one room, went into the lab and puffed on a cigarette, then came into the hygiene room to do an exam. He then returned to the lab, took a smoke, and finished up in his operatory. Needless to say, I didn't last long at that facility. I couldn't breathe!

We sometimes don't think about our daily invasion of our patients' personal space. The garlic-laden pasta we had last night or the Thai food we consumed at lunch are forgotten. Yes, we all have mouthwash in our offices, but is it enough? Even behind the mask and mouthwash, we may be giving our patients an excuse not to return.

I am not saying every dental office should go out and purchase aromatherapy or light candles in the office. I just wanted to share some food for thought. No reason to give our patients another reason not to visit us. Because remember: They have long memories.

Sheri Doniger, DDS, practices clinical dentistry in Lincolnwood, IL. She has served as an educator in several dental and dental hygiene programs, has been a consultant for a major dental benefits company, and has written for several dental publications. Most recently, she was the editor of Woman Dentist Journal and Woman Dentist eJournal. You can reach her at [email protected].

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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