Is Being Unpleasant In The Dentist Job Description?
Over Christmas I had unfortunate cause to visit my dentist on an emergency basis. After the decimation of dentistry (in particular) within the NHS, we now have a private medical plan with our old NHS dentist who could no longer sustain the government contract. They had no choice but to move their practice into a private healthcare only setting and I don’t blame them, I blame the Conservatives. However, it’s pretty choppy waters for us, as it is with most people, because we can ill afford the £50 per month we have to pay for the privilege of having oral health care when we need it. The plan covers 2 check ups per year, X-Rays, emergency appointments (thank goodness) and gives us 10% off treatment prices (which are far more expensive than they’d be on NHS terms even with the discount) and that’s for me and my husband alongside our 3 eldest children. We were advised not to put Posie on the plan on account of her age and it potentially being a waste of money however, of course she needed to see someone at one point and because she wasn’t on the plan it cost the grand total of £38 for my not particularly friendly dentists to frighten her witless in the 30 second amount of time he spent looking in her mouth.
But… The money, the fact dentists cannot afford to offer NHS treatments, us not being able to afford it but having to find it because we need it, all a story and a whole moan of an article in itself. What I want to talk about today is that my dentist just isn’t that great. And I’ve had GREAT dentists in the past (search for “dentist Saffron Walden” to find a fabulous one) but the one I have now… Well, he simply hasn’t been able to show my family any pleasant bed side manner at all.
And I’m fuming.
It would annoy me if he were working for the NHS, it downright enrages the life out of me that we pay handsomely for the displeasure of seeing him. I’ve had dentists be less than I’d hope in terms of manner in the past but this guy takes the crown for being the most terrifying of the lot. In a job where you’re meeting with people who even on the very best of days are probably nervous having someone poke about in their mouths, and on the worst, down right shaking messes, you’d expect a little compassion at the very least. A “how are you?” would be nice. This dude doesn’t even say hello! I hate him. That seems really quite a violent statement to make but I do. I don’t know him, as I’ve said, he doesn’t even say hello, but I hate him all the same. He’s made every single one of my children feel uncomfortable and anxious and he utterly petrifies me as he rummages around in my mouth, not talking or giving anything away, and looking utterly cheesed off if I so much as make a noise.
Florence has a baby tooth with no big tooth behind it. He delivered the news like this: “If it falls out you will need a denture, there’s nothing we can do until you’re 21”. He gave no further information on the topic and had it not been for me being in the room, able to ask the questions she was too shy to make with his foreboding character looming over her, we’d have left with nothing but that. I asked if it was stable. He replied “yes”. I asked if it was likely to fall out soon, he replied “no”. I asked what might make it fall out, he said “anything”. He does a great line in the one line answers, and even when pressed rarely gives more, but we did discover all was well for now and later, when chatting with friends and looking it up on the internet, we discovered it could stay well into adulthood for her when should it come out then, more options would be available for her.
And this is what he’s like all the time. I grind my teeth and because of this have reason to see him more frequently than is welcome (if seeing a dentist is EVER welcome?), and I dread it. He’s rough, he’s not in any way comforting and if I cry, which I often do as I find it all such an ordeal even without him in the picture, he looks thoroughly annoyed at my being there. I’d resigned myself to it but when I got excruciating toothache over Christmas, which turned out to be nerve damage with root canal treatment in the offing, I put off ringing for a couple of days hoping it would abate and I wouldn’t have to face my dentist. When I eventually rang I was overjoyed then to realise he was on holiday and I had to see someone else.
Frankly, anyone would be better!
The lady I saw was incredible, she stroked my arm, told me she “had me”, and that she knew I was scared but she was looking after me. I was constantly reassured, kept in the loop of the whole appointment as she looked, and reminded over and over that she could stop at any time for a breather if I just raised my arm to let her know I was in need. It was a breath of fresh air in a very traumatic and painful moment and as she sorted me out I felt truly cared about. A world away from my regular dentist who unfortunately didn’t decide to do a Shirley Valentine and stay forever on his holiday.
The New Year came with a new appointment and… It had to be with him. I suffered his brisk and unfriendly demeanour as he fixed up a couple of teeth on the opposite side to the festive flare up and when I left I felt dreadful. As always barely a word was spoken. The only knowledge I got about what was going on in my mouth was from pressing, like blood from a stone, the information out of him and when I left, sore and numb, he hadn’t even showed me what he’d done. I left to the tune of the best part of £700 and was glad that at least he knew what he was doing and was good at it. He may be terrifying, rude and unpleasant but a good job had been done.
For the next few hours at least!
By 6pm, just as they were closing at the dentists, the supposed permanent fixture of my tooth had fallen off and though I couldn’t go back there and then, another emergency appointment was made for me the next day – THIS is the benefit of the private healthcare I guess. But… Two days in a row with his “care” and I wasn’t feeling great about the prospect.
I was advised by someone in the know on social media that the treatment I’d likely had done hadn’t bonded to an old filling left in the tooth. Sure enough this seemed to be true as in a few of the very limited words he said to me the next day (none of them being how are you, are you ok, don’t worry, let me know if you need a break) he told me, accusingly and as if it were my fault, that the old filling had to be drilled out more (I couldn’t help but wonder at how he delivered this news without acknowledging he hadn’t done just this the day before, but whatever…). And to work he set about fixing it. Again.
He’d mentioned another treatment which would be £300 plus more and I asked “will this not work then?” and got his one worded replies. I deduced it would probably work now that he’d planned to drill out the old filling causing the bonding issue, and, as I’d already borrowed all this money to pay for the initial treatment, it seemed right to at least try this way first. It wouldn’t cost me any more as it had been his mistake (not that he said this) so of course I opted for this fix before shelling out another £300 of borrowed money.
A tear escaped as he began.
He barked “Do you WANT me to do this or not?”
And I was done. I mean, I waited until HE was done, but I burst into tears with the receptionists (who are lovely by the way) and said “no more! I simply cannot see this man ever, ever again!”
Luckily they’ve changed me to a different dentist after my outburst making me wish I’d had one sooner. I feel all kinds of relief because though I don’t know the new dentist, I know without doubt she cannot be as awful as him! I’ve had messages on social media from people in the same surgery as me saying they know exactly who I’m talking about and reassuring me that I’m not alone, so it seems others do feel similarly. But, rather worryingly, I’ve had not just messages about MY dentist, but plenty more from people who also have terribly non-personable dentists, just like mine! And how can that be?
Is it in their job description? “Must have full dentistry training AND the ability to be a complete you know what?” Like people always laugh about Doctor’s receptionists being the worst (and boy, I met a classic one of those today too, another story, another day), is it the prerequisite for dentists too?
If you’re patient facing, be it a Doctors receptionist being wholly unkind in a computer says no situation (ok, that’s a little bit of the story, it wasn’t mine either, I witnessed it) or fishing around in people’s mouths for a living, all you really have to do (apart from your job of course) is be kind.
People visiting medical professionals are often in a vulnerable place, feeling unable to advocate for themselves, anxious, upset, frightened and more. And though you may have all the training, the know how, the physical ability to do your job, what’s the one thing you can do to make yourself the best dentist (or Doctor’s receptionist) you can possibly be? Make your patients feel comfortable that what!
Be kind. Simples. Kind with your words and kind with your eyes. And while you don’t have to stroke an arm like the wonderful dentist I saw over Christmas did, asking someone if they’re ok is basic human decency. Keeping them in the loop, reassuring them, smiling, being descriptive, and at the very end showing them what you’ve done and telling them why.
I’m glad I’ll never have to sit in the chair at this man’s mercy ever again, but I don’t half feel sorry for those who do. He may be the best dentist at actual dentistry in the world for all I know (history tells me he isn’t) however, if he can’t smile and make me feel even slightly at ease, then he should go and work somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine and he doesn’t have to face people. So that people don’t have to face him!
The End! New dentist incoming!