Head to toes

It's raining again_240

 

This patient of mine was a local school teacher. An educated person, you would imagine.

One rainy afternoon he sat on my dental chair. Then, I reclined it so that he was lying almost horizontal: his head and mouth at one end of the chair and his feet at least five and a half feet from his mouth. I administered the local anaesthetic, waited for anaesthesia to become established, and then repaired the teacher’s decayed molar tooth with a silver amalgam ‘filling’. When the procedure was over, the teacher left my surgery apparently quite content.

An hour or so later, the teacher returned to our practice and asked the receptionist to allow him to speak to me. He entered my surgery and pointed to a mark on one of his brown suede shoes.

“I believe that you must have dropped some of your chemicals on my shoe while you were treating me,” he said.

I looked at the mark and quickly realised that this fellow was hoping to be compensated, possibly for a sufficient to buy a new pair of shoes.

“Unlikely,” I replied, “while I was treating you, you were lying horizontally. Your mouth was a long way from your feet. If I had dropped something, it would not have fallen anywhere near your feet.”

“Mmmmh,” he replied.

“Furthermore,” I added, “it’s been raining heavily all afternoon. Maybe, you picked up that mark while walking along the wet streets.”

The teacher left, and I heard no more about the problem with his footwear. I was left thinking what an unintelligent man he was, and that somebody had qualified as being capable of teaching young people.

Fears of the dentist

Faces

Most people are very apprehensive about making a visit to the dentist. But, how many dentists are filled with apprehension at the prospect of seeing patients? Almost every day during my 35 years of practising dentistry, I walked into my surgery with a feeling of worry, concern about what might happen during the day.

The average non-dental person might not realise that treating patients is like walking on thin ice. With many patients in the UK just itching to sue the dentists, whom they fear, even the slightest thing might lead to a legal confrontation between the patient and the dentist. Clearly when a patient suspects that the dentist has made a clinical error, pulled the wrong tooth for example or made a filling that keeps failing, recourse to compensation is sometimes reasonable. However, something far less ‘life-threatening’ like a verbal misunderstanding can lead a litigious person to attempt to obtain remedial compensation. So, to avoid trouble and also to ensure that a patient leaves satisfied, the prudent dentist must treat each patient with tact, delicately, and clinical excellence. All that seems quite reasonable.

However, there are patients, whom the dentist dreads. The very sight of their name on the day’s appointment list can ruin the dentist’s day from the moment he spots it. These people, many of whom I wish I had been courageous enough to dismiss, often exploit the dentist’s desire to provide them with excellence. They ask for the impossible, or for things they know that they cannot possibly afford, and they are never satisfied. Worse still, they keep coming back to the surgery for minor matters, which are often unresolvable because of their sad personalities. I may sound a bit harsh, but many of the persistent complainers that I saw were unemployed, receiving their treatment free of charge (because of state subsidies), and had little else to do apart from sit in dentists’ waiting rooms.

Then, there are the dental obsessives. These patients are often quite charming until they reach the subject of their teeth. Even what you and I might hardly notice becomes a major problem for them, even a life crisis. They will keep asking the dentist to redo some small repair on a tooth because they, and only they, can perceive that there is some minute imperfection. And because of fear of complaints and litigation, I used to plough on with these people and long for retirement. Sometimes, I felt like telling them that in the grand scheme of life, a minor ‘defect’ in the teeth is nothing compared with having a major illness, or starving during a famine, or being injured in a traffic accident, but I ‘bit my tongue’.

Despite my continual anxiety about keeping the patients on my side, there was the odd occasion when a patient was genuinely grateful for something I had done. Those expressions of gratitude were worth more to me than whatever fee my treatment had attracted.

So, next time you have to visit the dentist and are filled with fear, spare a thought for the dentist, who might well be feeling the same as you, but cannot show it because it would wreck your confidence in him or her.

 

Turn it off!

When I first qualified as a dentist and went into practice in 1982, nobody possessed mobile telephones (cell-phones). By the time I retired in 2017, practically all of my patients, even some of the children, carried and used these ‘phones. Believe it or not, my patients often tried using their ‘phones during my appointments.

phon

It was very annoying and ruinous for concentration when a patient stopped me in the midst of performing a delicate operation in his or her mouth in order to answer the ‘phone. Some patients even attempted speaking on their mobiles when their mouths were full of impression materials.

 

One day, I met my next patient at the reception desk. He had arrived punctually, but had his ‘phone up to his ear. He smiled at me, and then said:

“Give me a minute, I am in the middle of a telephone interview for a job.”

“Ok,” I replied, “come into my surgery when you are finished.”

Ten minutes of his half an hour appointment passed, then fifteen, and then twenty…

At the end of half an hour, I returned to the reception desk. My patient laid down his ‘phone, smiled, and said:

“I’m ready now. My interview is over.”

I replied:

“So is your dental appointment. You had better book another one another day.”

Even more annoying were those who insisted on asking me a question and then, instead of listening to my reply, began sending SMS messages. I recall one lady, who had very complex dental problems, which required much explanation of treatment options before I could proceed any further with helping her. Did she listen to me? Oh, no she did not. For half an hour, she sent a series of SMS messages whilst I spoke. At the end of her appointment, she asked me to repeat what I had been telling her because she had had to send a series of “very important” messages. After that experience, I put up a notice in my surgery, forbidding the use of mobile ‘phones. It was a successful move. Patients would reach for their ‘phones, and then my assistant or I would point at the notice. The patient would then apologise, and turn off the ‘phone.