October 1, 2018

Dear Dentists: 5 Neurotic Little Things that keep us from Visiting.

Let me preface this entire thing by thanking the oral health care profession as a whole.

I appreciate what you do, and I don’t know how you do it.

You willingly volunteered to study and train for years so that you could put your hands in strangers’ mouths every single day, ensuring that we don’t get cavities, gum disease, oral cancers, impacted teeth, abcesses, bacterial heart infections, and so we don’t lose every tooth in our head before we’re 40, like my grandmother did in the 50s.

I am eternally grateful.

That being said, I have just a couple of niggling little thoughts that make me drag my feet about coming to see you.

Okay, probably not niggling, more like plaguing, keep-me-up-at-night things, and probably not “drag my feet” as much as straight up paralyzing dread, and probably not a couple of things, more like dozens, but I’m going to keep it short and, I hope, helpful.

So here goes.

1. Stop the small talk.

I can’t talk when you have your hands and tools in my mouth. It’s not possible. And if you ask me “So, how are the kids?” right as you start scraping the tartar off my back molars and sticking that sharp little torture tool into my 30-year-old fillings to “see how they’re holding up,” I can’t answer you. Same goes when you’re spraying water onto my teeth and face and sucking the spit off my uvula with a straw.

I’d love to tell you all about how big my kids have gotten and what we did this summer, but I physically can’t.

So stop trying.

2. When you clean my teeth, it hurts.

I am not a baby, and I have a high pain tolerance. I gave birth four times without meds or anesthesia, but that sharp little hook that you scrape my teeth with and makes my gums bleed? I don’t like it. I literally have bad dreams about it. And, based on the amount of slobber and plaque and blood and, I swear to God, what looks like actual gum tissue and bits of tooth I see smeared all over my paper bib, I feel justified in acknowledging how traumatic I find this.

Please, be gentle.

3. That cardboard mouth guard you make me bite down on for X-Rays?

It’s too big. You keep saying to bite down on it but my mouth is small and I really and truly can’t. I need a kids’ size.

“That’s it, yep, just a little bit more. A little more. Almost got it, Amy, just a little bit more…got it. Darn, that one didn’t turn out, I need to do it again. You’re going to have to bite down harder this time. A little more. Almost. Just a bit more. There you go.”

You know how I finally got it? I took a breath and just bit down as hard as I could on the damn thing, gagging and my eyes watering until I felt the cardboard cut into both the roof and floor of my mouth.

More blood for my bib. Yay me.

4. Don’t ask me how often I floss.

This is a no-win for dental patients. Sometimes I go through phases of flossing every night and even giving myself a little extra love if I get something stuck back there during the day. Other times flossing goes by the wayside in my distracted mind, somewhere along with putting gas in the car or changing the air filters in the house.

But, when I’m asked how often I floss, there’s not an answer I can give that meets dental professional approval. If I say I floss nightly, I get a “Really? Because you’re missing a lot of stuff back here.” And, if I say no, I’ve been forgetting, I get a lecture to end all that includes words like gingivitis, periodontal disease, and root canal.

When I am lectured, I feel embarrassed and don’t want to come back to see you.

So, don’t ask me how often I floss, just remind me that I should. The end.

5. Stop harassing me with the high number of referrals.

When my oldest kid turned 11, we got our first referral to the orthodontist. We kept getting the high sell orthodontic referrals until we finally relented and that kid got braces, but then the referral got passed down to my next kid. And then my next. And my next. By the time my youngest got his orthodontic referral, my oldest was getting her oral surgeon referral to preemptively extract her wisdom teeth. And, so on down the line as each kid grew older. Only one of my four kids got braces, the others chose not to. Same with wisdom teeth removal. Two had theirs out once they became an issue, the other two, we’re watching and waiting.

And, why? I’d just rather have fewer elective procedures than more, if that’s okay.

So, to my dentist and all the dentist’s offices out there, know that I really want to come get my teeth cleaned and checked. I try to take good care of them, and I don’t want my teeth to fall out, I swear. But, those are a few of the neurotic little things that make me not call you to make an appointment. Those are the things that make the difference in my feeling comfortable coming to you and in my sticking my head in the sand, saying “Dentist? What’s that?”

In summary, no small talk, be gentle with my gums and the picking, find a smaller mouth guard that fits my mouth, teach me about oral care without lecturing or shaming me, and decrease the pressure of the referrals. I will come see you so much more often if you can do that.

Oh. And, thank you for my new toothbrush. I really do love it.


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