In 2005, when I landed a job at Dental Associates of Walpole, these guys were not my dentist. Actually, for the first couple of years of employment I would travel 40 minutes out of my way to go to the dentist I had always gone to because he knew me, my kids, my husband. You get it, right? And let’s face it, opening your mouth and letting a stranger, even if he or she is a dentist, look around is a very personal experience. Couple that with the fact that my favorite place on earth happens not to be in the dental chair (it still surprises me that I love my job in a dental office, but I digress) so becoming a patient was not an automatic for me.
It started to become a little embarrassing when I would request time off to go the dentist. I’m not a good fibber so I couldn’t use the sick dog or the teacher conference as my time off request excuse, so I finally said, what the heck…I’ll just make Dental Associates of Walpole my dentist. I’m here anyway. I really didn’t want the people I work with to see the art project I call my mouth… Crowns (3 or 4), fillings (6 or 7) and implant (1, Definitely only 1), but reason won out when I fully accepted that there is nothing in my mouth they haven’t seen or done! I have three active children, a dog and a husband. I’m very busy so do I floss every day? Am I less than perfect? No and Yes! There, I said it.
So, I scheduled my long overdue cleaning appointment and waited for the day to come. I thought about wimping out and rescheduling the appointment but after a couple of positive self-talk conversations I decided to commit. On appointment day at appointment time, my hygienist summoned me to the operatory (one of the benefits or curses of working here…they always know where to find you). It’s GO time. I make my way over, sit in THE chair, affix my knuckles to the handles of THE chair until they are completely white. Robotically open my mouth and let my hygienist go to work.
I remember the visit so vividly and I truly mean this: My hygienist was beyond amazing. Gentle, calming, knowledgeable, informative. We chatted about life, she educated me on hygiene and told me about a little trouble area she thought the dentist would be interested in. She started probing around my mouth and counting…332, 222, 123 and I thought, what is she doing. She told me she was Perio Charting to determine my periodontal health and explained the reason ‘we do that here’.
Then the doctor came in, washed his hands, sat down and we chatted. He checked my jaw for clicking and popping, spoke with my hygienist about her findings and then did his own looking around. He finished with this simple oral cancer screen where he grips your tongue with a gauze, extends it past your lips and looks under and around it. We talked about his findings, my next visit and then we were done!
After the dentist was out of earshot, very conspiratorially I asked my hygienist, “What just happened?” She told me that I just had an oral exam. OK I thought. I am in my mid-40’s, I never heard of perio charting, oral cancer screens or TMJ screens. I was taken by and very much admired the ease with which the doctor and hygienist discussed my care. In that moment the cliché, “You don’t know what you don’t know”, came to life for me. Instead of going to the dentist that knows me, my kids, my husband because that’s what I have always done, shouldn’t I be more intentional about the oral healthcare decisions I make for me and my family?
So, I still do the white-knuckle chair grip thing (When the dentist says “open” I open as wide as I can, and I grip as hard as I can)! I still try to talk myself out of appointments a few days before the big event, but I’m no longer embarrassed. And here’s the best part. Every time I finish my appointment I say, “That wasn’t bad at all”, schedule my next appointment and let the cycle of events begin again!
By Pam Adams, CEO