At the beginning of a new year it’s easy to think about all the things you promised to get done but didn’t manage, and then to make resolutions to try harder in the year to come. Well, in 2017 one of ours is to try and update this blog a little more often (with it being 12 months since our last post I think you can fairly say we failed to keep our resolution in 2016!) After all, communication is such vital part of our working lives that without it there is a real chance that dentists and their patients may have no idea what is going on inside each other’s heads.
I was reminded of this at the weekend when, having unexpectedly found my teenage children at home on a Saturday night, I though it might be a good idea to go out for a family meal. We took our seats in the restaurant, which was understandably not busy during the first week of January, and found ourselves next to a a couple of middle aged ladies putting the world to rights. During our starter they chatted about how well, or badly, their Xmas and New Year celebrations had gone. As our main arrived they moved onto an experience with a clairvoyant and communication with long lost relatives. And then, almost seamlessly, the conversation switched to dentistry. Now, I’ve spent a lot of social events either overhearing dental conversations or being directly questioned about the fate of some unfortunate molar or other. It’s what happens when you’re a dentist. But this conversation caught my ear ( it was getting difficult to ignore as they moved onto a second bottle of Prosecco) as it concerned a friend of mine.
Having the dubious honour of having spent 25 years in the dental profession this year (as well as over 4 years as a dental student before that) I reckon I know dentists and dentistry pretty well. But even I was surprised as their conversation moved from the familiar topics of the supposed agonies of root canal treatment, Hollywood smiles and those funny things that stretched everybody’s mouths wide open this Christmas, onto the less well trodden ground of over diagnosis and over treatment by dentists. And more specifically by my friend, who has practiced dentistry in Cornwall for 20 years or more.
If my quarter-century at the sharp end of dentistry counts for anything I think I can probably speak for most dental professionals and say that the last thing they are looking for is more dental disease. Their working lives are swamped by tooth decay, gum disease, creaking jaw joints and all manner of other dental afflictions. From the moment they sit down at the beginning of a working day to the moment they go home there is an endless stream of ailments both major and minor which emanate from the mouth. In fact the exact opposite is true. Dentists and their staff rejoice when they come across a healthy mouth which requires no dental treatment at all.
So, as my dining companions moved onto their coffees, their assumption that my friend had suggested taking some X-rays of their teeth in order to check that everything looked healthy had somehow been translated as a request for him to find more work to do. He is, as far as I know, an honest man. He is a good dentist and also a very busy one who is certainly not in need of ‘concocting’ dental ailments which could generate extra fees for himself or his practice. And I also think he really cares. The problem is just that somehow his desire to keep his patients dentally healthy had been lost in communication, and his thoroughness had been misinterpreted as a desire to charge more for his services.
As I paid our bill and we wandered home through a very wet and windy Penzance it occurred to me that somewhere, in another restaurant or another sitting room, somebody may well have been saying the same things about me or my colleagues at The Bay Dental. I know that we care, and I know that whatever our patients might feel about dentistry we do our utmost to give them healthy mouths, but in 2017 our job is to make sure we all communicate that idea just a little bit better.
Happy New Year