The Single Tooth Fix

Here’s a little bit about me. The best thing that could have happened to me is a life where I would be sitting and relaxing at a beachside resort while reading a good book all day, every day. But since this is reality and not a reality show, the next best thing happened to me and I became a dentist.

I’ve had quite a few memorable patient experiences in the past 16 years during which I enjoyed, endured, empathized and made some great friendships along the way. Luckily for you, I am not going to talk about dentistry here, but about the personal/human side of it. Things that we as dentists encounter, that you may wonder if they ever happen or if they happen only to you.

I want to start with a story about a patient of mine from four years ago. This story is always at the back of my mind reminding me about what I should be doing as a dentist and my number one reason to be here.

On this particular day, my assistant comes into my office and tells me that the new patient is ready for an exam and that she has a lot of medical conditions. I walk in and see this nice lady with portable oxygen tank and tubes connected to her nose. When I introduce myself, she points a finger at her tooth and says “I want to have this tooth fixed”. As a dentist, my eyes are automatically trained to look at the teeth while talking to a person. This tooth and many other teeth in her mouth have already caught my attention and had been registered. I acknowledge her statement, go over her medical history, and start with a complete oral exam. My dentist mind is immediately scanning and registering all the broken-down teeth, teeth that need filling or fixing or replacing. My non dentist mind is sailing towards the tooth she showed me. I make peace with my internal battle and sit her back up. I began to tell her that there are a lot of problems in her mouth that needs to be taken care of, but I will fix the tooth she came in for. She agrees and I go to my dental tool shop and start working. After finishing, I seat her back up and hand her a mirror. Before you can blink an eye she starts bawling like a baby and by this time, I’m looking for the exit door. I am convinced that she is heartbroken about the results. She hugs the nearest person who is my assistant and starts crying some more. Then she looks at me and the first thing she says is “Oh my God, I look like myself again. I have been to several dentists to have this fixed but everyone wanted to repair everything else but this. Thank you for very much doing this”. What I did was negligible in my mind compared to what I should do for her in terms of dental treatment, but for this patient that small repair meant the world to her vanity or sanity, or maybe both. That moment is always etched in my dentist mind to remember. That was my takeaway, not that I changed somebody’s life but not to lose focus on listening to my patient. Sure, I wouldn’t do it if there was a severe infection or anything that could affect her physical well-being but she did not have any of those. If that was the case, I would have tried to explain to her first. Eventually, I ended up working on all her teeth and gave her a makeover smile little by little. She was a different and a happier person by the time we were done.

The takeaway for any patient is this. Tell your dentist what you want, what you need, why you are there for. We as dentists do a complete exam and tell you what you need, but we want your input as well. We don’t know what the most important thing to you is unless you tell us. Your dentist will take care of it unless there is an infection that first needs to be taken care of or if it could cause harm to your physical being. It has to be a collaboration between both of us. Have an open and honest communication with your dentist about your concerns and questions. In our own little way, we as dentists can make a small difference in your smile and confidence. We are here to help you. But you have to help us a little too.

Only brush, floss and waterpik the teeth you want to keep.

My best always

Dr Vijaya Kallam