November 05, 2002

Dentistry, Up Close and Personal

There was a new hygienist at the dentist's office today as I came in for cleaning, young and fresh out of school. The dentist himself is pretty new, too, and open to breaking beyond the usual as he grows his practice. I wasn't prepared, though, for the conversation that started as I settled into the chair.

Joy (Hygienist), holding clipboard: Have you and Dr. Adair had a chance to develop a set of long term goals for your dental health?

Me: Hm?

Joy: Do you have a long term plan for your teeth?

Me: Umm.... no, I just come in for maintenance. We haven't talked about a longterm relationship.

Joy (frustrated that she's not able to fill in that blank, trying another tack): Where would you like to see your teeth in 20 or 30 years?

Me: Still with me?

Joy hands me a mirror and directs me to smile at myself.

Joy: Is there anything you'd like to do to improve your smile?

Me: Embed it in a better looking face.

As this went on, I kept wondering to myself why it sounded so weird. In retrospect it seems that Joy has a different vision of the patient-dentist relationship. For her (with her starry-eyed fresh-out-of-schoolness) it's a partnership in which the dentist consults with me to meet my well articulated and heartfelt dental needs as we work together to make my mouth a fabulous place to be. For me, it's a routine necessity like tire rotation which I neglect with similar aplomb. I don't want to have a relationship with the dentist or his fleet of helpers, or even talk much with them. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get her to drop the clipboard and see the world my way.

Oh well. At least he's a good dentist.

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