During my last few years in dental practice, I entered my seventh decade of life; I passed the age of sixty. In a way it was creepy: I had become older than my mother was when she passed away, having suffered painfully during the last few months of her life.
As a dentist, I knew the age of all my patients. Their dates of birth were recorded on their record cards. I used to look at people of my age, and either think that I was looking good compared to them, or that they were doing better than me. Generally, everyone looked young in my eyes, even those who were my senior. Those, who were younger than me usually, but not always, looked young. Interestingly, those, whom I knew to be much older than me did not look as old to me as I might have thought when I was younger. For example, patients in their seventies and eighties would have seemed ‘ancient’ to me when I was in my thirties and forties, but having reached my sixties, they no longer looked so old from my vantage point.
When I was in a dental practice in Kent during my thirties, I worked with a young girl, ‘T’, a first-class dental surgery assistant. She must have been in her late teens or very early twenties at the time. In that practice, we received the record cards of new patients before they entered the surgery. One day, T handed me the record card for a new patient, ‘Mrs M’. As she did so, she said:
“Look, she’s eighty-nine. What can she possibly want at her age? Surely not new teeth – she won’t be wearing them for long.”
Mrs M strode into the surgery and looked around.
“What lovely linoleum flooring,” she said, “where can I get some of that? It would suit my new kitchen.”
“I’ll find out for you. Please sit down. Make yourself comfy,” I said, “how did you get here?”
“I took a taxi, dear, but now that I know where you are, I’ll drive myself next time.”
I carried out the preliminary dental examination, and agreed a treatment plan with Mrs M.
“It will take four or five visits to make your dentures,” I explained.
“That’s alright, dear, I’ll fit them in around my work.”
“What is that you do?” I enquired.
“I do the accounts for my son’s business, dear. Keeps me occupied,” she said, getting up to leave.
When the patient had left the room, I looked at T and said:
“Never judge a book by its cover, or a patient by her age.”