The Dentist Who Hated Me
After my article ‘Going to the dentist bites’ was published in The Globe & Mail in 2009, I received an extremely angry letter. The then president of a provincial academy of cosmetic dentistry had taken strong exception to my article and had written to the G&M to express his displeasure, presumably hoping that they’d publish his response as a letter to the editor. The Globe & Mail declined the privilege but forwarded me the letter so that I could see the passionate response my article had inspired.
I recently found the letter on my computer and decided that Dental Health Month was the perfect time to give it the airing it deserves. What follows is the original letter I received (with the author’s name redacted for reasons of prudence), and my own follow-up response.
I read the essay ‘Going to the Dentist Bites’ by Kirsten Bell with great anticipation until I realized that the majority of her essay fell backwards in time, in a poor at best, attempt to propagate the myths of the Dentist as the bad guy. Could it perhaps be that Ms. Bell is trying to make a name for herself as an author by picking on Dentistry to just write something? That used to be a favourite pass time, but in recent years we have seen much less of this because the truth is, Dentistry has changed. Welcome to Canada Ms. Bell!
When Ms. Bell loses her teeth from gum disease, (those numbers she was talking about are a measurement of bone loss, and if she wasn’t so focused on looking at her dental team as an evangelical horde, their good intentioned attempts to explain to Ms. Bell that she is at risk of losing teeth from gum disease would not go unheeded) then she will have wished she had actually listened to what the team was saying instead of looking at them with a blank stare and a measure of disdain. Yes Kirsten, and at the risk of sounding like another Dental evangelist...flossing will work for you!
We as Dental professionals see this every day. Mistrusting patients who come from a different culture and misconstrue the exuberance of the dental team, because, for the first time in many centuries Dentists actually love what they do.
We help people. We help them with the prevention and eradication of disease, and we help them with their self confidence by providing them with a healthy and bright smile that allows the inner beauty to shine through without embarrassment or the stigma of being self conscious about a yellow tooth, a chipped tooth or a gap from that hockey game in 1987!
No – Root canal shouldn’t hurt at all. Fillings can be done with lasers, yep, no needles and no drills! Digital impressions means you can in many cases, get your crown or onlay the same day! Dental implants to replace missing teeth or support a denture, prevent the bone of the jaw from dissolving away and gives the patient new teeth to bite on...and just think..you can’t get a cavity in an implant! They are lasting as long or longer than 40 years!
Dentists in [province redacted] are not yet allowed by the Royal College to administer Botox or Restylane as they are in Vancouver, but again, this can help many people feel better about themselves. Many patients choose to take advantage of cosmetic services available, and many do not. Like Ms. Bell says in her essay, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that eye is often the one that looks in the mirror in the morning and for those people who are ashamed or saddened by their appearance we are here to help. We change lives one smile at a time allowing the inner beauty to shine through in a healthy confident smile!
So Ms. Bell, my advice to you is twofold, firstly, choose a different crusade to write about, we are all tired of people like you trying to propagate the myths of Dentistry past. It is time to move on!
Secondly Ms. Bell, listen to your dental team, they are trying to help you. That dental floss and extra cleaning appointment they recommended, could mean the difference between your teeth in your mouth or your teeth in a glass of water beside your bed at night!
The only evangelical mission we have now as Dental professionals, is to try to get patients like Ms. Bell to listen to us so we can help them....although like so many other situations. Some people just don’t want to be helped and they would rather blame someone else for their troubles.
President, unnamed cosmetic dentistry association.
Dear Dr X,
Thank you for your letter, which was exactly the sort of tough love a disrespectful young lady like myself needed to hear (although not quite so young these days, given that I’m pushing 50). Boy, you nailed it. I was propagating myths about dentists as the bad guy in the hopes of making a name for myself as an author. At least you can take heart in the fact that it didn’t work.
It was tremendously ungrateful of me to question the caring professionals who only have my interests at heart. Okay, yes, many of the procedures North American dentists offer are purely cosmetic or medically unnecessary, overtreatment is rife, and even flossing, your holy grail, is more effective in treating gingivitis than gum disease and dental caries. But who cares? As you say, you’re not just fixing teeth, you’re changing lives one smile at a time! Now I understand why, like God, your profession deserves to be capitalised.
I’m just relieved that patients across the country are now free to get a side of Botox with their root canal, so you can fully embrace your vocation to make patients feel better about themselves. Talk about turning that frown upside down (or, at the very least, into a look of perpetual startlement). I just wish that other health and medical professions were so enlightened. Imagine how much more efficient it would be if the physician removing your melanoma also offered tanning services, or the surgeon doing your coronary artery bypass gave you a gastric bypass at the same time – that’s basically just preventive care! After all, if you’ve got a tan in a salon, you don’t need to get it in the sun, and that bariatric surgery is gonna stave off a future heart attack! Wasn’t it Hippocrates that said if you look good, you feel good? (Or was it @HipsterCraic, the Irish beauty influencer?).
I was particularly touched by your concern about my dental health. You’ll be relieved to know that I haven’t lost any teeth yet to gum disease, but as Rachel Hunter used to say in those Australian Pantene ads in the early 1990s, ‘it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen’. (I guess I was hoping my healthy, shiny hair would distract from all those missing teeth!) Still, my fate as a toothless crone is looming over me like a spectre – well, a mirage at the very least. I do keep a glass of water beside my bed at night, though, so your predictive powers are at least half right. In any case, I’m guessing you’re a ‘glass half empty’ kind of guy, although, again, for the record, that glass does not contain my teeth.
You’ll be relieved to know that I have taken your advice and moved on – to the UK, in fact, so you’ve got one less mistrustful foreigner to deal with! Oddly, my dentist here thinks my teeth are fine. She even said, and this is a direct quote, that my teeth are in ‘great shape’. To top it all off, she hasn’t even once suggested that I need to get my chipped front tooth fixed or my teeth whitened. (I know, right? She’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.) Still, she’s definitely lacking the exuberance of which you write. I mean, I’m not sure exuberance is quality people want in their dentist, although it’s great to hear that for the first time in many centuries that dentists love what they do. (It was news to me that professional dentists have been around for centuries, but I suppose if a dentist can call themselves a doctor, they can certainly call a barber a dentist!)
But in closing I must confess that I have not heeded your advice and chosen a different crusade to write about. I guess I’m still hoping that dental hit pieces will bring me fame and fortune! But at the end of the day, some people just don’t learn. You know what they say: you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. I mean, I’m not sure if I’m the horse in this scenario, or you are, but there are definitely horses involved – asses, too!
If the author ever reads this, and wants to publicly claim his masterpiece, I’m happy to oblige.
For the record, it’s Dr Bell, not Ms Bell – a title I actually earned, unlike your own courtesy title. Still, how could you possibly know that an academic would most likely have a doctorate? That’s hardly common knowledge.