What dentists can teach us

What dentists can teach us

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Nov 01, 2006

Wednesday morning

The door of her car seemed to slam just a little too harshly as she looked with expectancy at the bright front entrance of Academy Dental Center.

Marcie Wheeling, DVM, then walked into the small waiting room, and the familiar smells were immediately apparent despite the well-dressed and smart surroundings of the room. The smells were the same, but muted from the days when she was a young girl in the rural south. The scent was never an inviting fragrance, but instead a consistent harbinger of things to come. Marcie paused. She had never been afraid of the dentist's office but her senses were always heightened when she entered. Today was no different.


Each encounter with another allied profession always piqued her interest. She inevitably compared it with her own small veterinary office, where she and her staff battled against the sights and smells that emerge amid the sporadic cacophony of the office. She wondered whether the dental staff battled half as hard as she did to make her office as comforting and odor-free as possible.

Janet West, one of Academy Dental Center's hygienists, called Marcie the night before to remind her of her hygiene appointment. Janet had been very friendly and seemed enthusiastic and comforting in her approach. Marcie had assured her she would make the appointment.

Ushered into the exam room, Janet brightly informed Marcie that she would be taking a preliminary X-ray during her periodic examination and that it had been a year since the last X-ray and oral examination by her dentist — Dr. Ron Harrison. Dr. Harrison would review her findings after the scaling and exam by the hygienist. Janet asked whether there were any questions.

Marcie shrugged and opened her mouth to receive a rather uncomfortable but tolerable piece of X-ray gadgetry that seemed totally new to her. In fact, she noticed a substantial amount of new equipment in the office.

Janet placed a lead shroud from neck to knees on her patient and quickly maneuvered the small radiological apparatus in place and nimbly exited the room and made the exposure. Marcie hadbeen inside the exam room for less than three minutes. Janet removed the film and entered the small dark room a few feet away.

Janet was back from the X-ray room in less than two minutes and removed the apron, maneuvering her patient into the hygiene room in just a few moments.

Marcie melted into the comfortable chair, and Janet started a very systematic cleaning and probing of her teeth. She noticed that the office kept exacting notes of each of her teeth on a touch-screen computer behind the chair. After the scaling, Janet examined and probed each periodontal cuff and graded the depth accordingly. Each filling and crown was evaluated for wear and potential leakage. A few notations were made for the dentist. Janet informed Marcie that there were two teeth that could be trouble spots and that Dr. Harrison would evaluate those areas and perform an oral examination in just a few minutes. Marcie had been in the office for approximately 30 minutes.

Dr. Harrison entered and greeted Marcie warmly and began a complete, but quick oral exam. During the exam he listened intently as Janet went over the areas of concern that she had found during her prophy. Dr. Harrison carefully made his evaluation and then looked at the X-rays. He informed Marcie that one of her premolars, filled by a previous dentist, was leaking and would require a crown. The good news was that the tissues and canal looked fine and that a root canal at the same time was very unlikely.

The other area of concern was a molar that was wearing excessively. He told Janet to put a notation on the record to watch that tooth for the next cleaning.

After some brief pleasantries, he turned and gracefully entered an operatory next door. He had been in the room less than four minutes. Janet quickly took control and walked Marcie to the front desk and made some hasty explanations to Beverly Wheat, stationed at check out.

Beverly interpreted everything quickly.

"Thank you, Dr. Wheeling for visiting us today. We need to make your appointment today for your crown. Are you still available on Wednesdays?"

Marcie fumbled for a moment. Her day off was Wednesday. She hated to give up another for the dentist but saw no way out.

"Yes, Wednesday would be fine."