Patients ask me questions all day, but there are some dental questions patients are afraid to ask. Any time you have a question you’re afraid to ask, there’s only one place to turn to. No, not your best friend. I’m talking about Google! Google’s where people go to ask questions they don’t want to ask anyone else. Sadly, fear and shame are two of the biggest factors that keep patients from seeking dental care that they need. One of my goals with this blog is the educate patients about dentistry in an attempt to break down these barriers that prevent patients from seeking care.
With the help of Google search and Autocomplete, I’m going to scratch the surface on some of these great mystery questions that patients are afraid to ask.
Does my dentist like me? This is a crazy one to me, but it’s obviously popular or it wouldn’t come up. This question actually makes me think of something I hear from patients from time to time.
“My last dentist used to get mad at me because I didn’t floss, etc.”
“My previous dentist was mad because I didn’t get braces/a crown/an implant, etc.”
Where are all these dentists that are yelling and getting mad at their patients?! I don’t know anyone that practices this way, and I’ve taken the opportunity over the years to watch many of my colleagues in their own practices to see how they do their thing. As a dentist, I feel the need to stress the importance of oral care with my patients, and I feel it is my obligation to impart a sense of urgency or seriousness for matters that require immediate attention. I make treatment recommendations to patients on a daily basis. Patients either do it or they don’t do it. It’s as simple as that. Patients view me as a dental authority, and if I told them they should do something and they don’t do it, I can understand how somewhere along the line they could assume that I am mad at them. After all, when you don’t do what authority figures tell you do to, they get mad at you, right? Don’t disrespect my authority! Seriously, though. It doesn’t work that way. The truth is, I’m not mad at them or any patient that doesn’t follow my treatment or home care recommendations. There’s no room in my heart to be mad about things like that! We truly just want what is best for you and we don’t judge.
Does my dentist take my insurance? Unfortunately this can at times be a complex question. Every office handles insurance differently, and every insurance policy is different. More on this in a future blog post.
Does my dentist know I smoke weed? Unless you tell your dentist or you come in smelling like weed, no you’re dentist probably doesn’t know. I wouldn’t even know how to drug test my patients and I don’t know any other dentists that do. I’ve read that marijuana causes paranoia, so that’s probably where that question came from. More importantly, dentists aren’t your mom and we aren’t police officers, either. We’re professional health care providers. If you choose to use drugs, illegal or legal, it isn’t our place to do anything about it or judge you. And we don’t.
Will my dentist be able to tell I smoke? Are we talking about cigarettes? Most likely yes. If you are a regular smoker, you probably smell like smoke whether you realize it or not, so if anyone is sitting really close to you right in your face, it’s quite easy to tell that you smoke. Staining on fingers and teeth, increased risk for periodontal disease, tooth mobility and tooth loss? That’s usually all part of the picture for a long time smoker.
Will my dentist be mad at me? Why does everyone think we’re so angry!? We’re not, trust me, we want to provide you with the best advice and care, but what you choose to do with your body and your health and your teeth is ultimately up to you and we care about you as a patient no matter what choices you make.
Will my dentist be able to tell I dip? If you’ve been doing it for a long time, yes, it is very likely you have staining in the area as well as damage to the oral mucosa in the area you like to put the dip.
Will my dentist be able to tell I purge? Depending on how long you’ve been doing it and if we’re talking specifically about purging by vomiting, yes. The pattern of acid damage on a patient’s teeth that has been purging for a long time is distinctive. Once again, I can’t stress this enough, dentists are in the profession to help people, not to judge your personal struggles and addictions. Everyone has them. We’re here to help.
Sometimes I’ll notice from a dental exam that a patient smokes or dips or purges or bites their nails or sucks their thumb as an adult or whatever. In a private room with my assistant and I, I may choose to bring it up with the patient and ask them about the issue. I’ll ask what they’ve done in the past to try to solve the problem, or if they’ve tried quitting. Sometimes we have a great conversation that takes things in a positive direction. Sometimes patients tell me they aren’t ready to quit (occasionally) or they aren’t ready to talk about it (rare). In these cases, I move on and let the patient know that when they are ready to address the issue, I’ll be there to help them. That’s all.
I can’t stress it enough: dentists and all health care professionals aren’t here to judge, we’re here to help people. That’s what we do. Fear of judgement is obviously a tremendous barrier for patients who are delaying necessary dental care. It is extremely unlikely that your dentist is mad at your or judging you. Don’t let an unfounded fear like this get in the way of having excellent oral health!