When I was a young girl, like most other children, I hated going to the dentist. In those days there were very few, if any, Pediatric Dentists… just family dentists who did basically the same work on everyone from small children up to senior citizens. There were no cute stuffed animals or toys in the lobby, no pretty pictures on the ceiling to gaze at, no funky sunglasses to put on. I do remember the hideous — and to me, terrifying — cat clock that hung on the wall, it’s eyes and tail twitching and ticking with every doomed minute of my time in the chair – glaring at me, smirking at my fear and pain. I remember virtually nothing about the dentist himself. In my mind he was some kind of ominous dark, serious, old male figure ready to inflict some sort of dental torture. In reality, I didn’t really need to have massive work done as a child other than an occasional cavity or tooth to be pulled… and that scary dentist was probably some young man fresh out of medical school, for all I know. Any truly major work I had done was later in life, like the removal of wisdom teeth (I remember being fascinated that I woke up in a different room than I started, wondering how I got there), nearly three years of braces, and various crowns and root canal issues.
I’ve always been diligent about tooth care – hygienists love me. But I’ve had “problem teeth” all my life, inherited from my father. (Thanks, Dad). So over the course of many years, although I never look forward to a dental appointment, the anxiety and fear has virtually disappeared. I figure I’ve experienced root canals, child birth and breast cancer, what else could be any worse?
I had a cleaning check-up this morning. And let’s be honest. The overall experience has changed since those early days. The dental office I visit now is an all-female firm of smart, skilled women. Everyone there is friendly, welcoming, and positive – as if putting their hands in stranger’s mouths is the most fun thing they could ever think of doing. God love them, I find it hard to think of any profession I’d enjoy less, other than perhaps being an ER nurse, a restaurant dishwasher, or a DPW person in charge of picking up road kill. But thankfully there are people who truly do enjoy trying to help people have healthy teeth and mouths.
When I go to an appointment now, there’s no scary ticking clock cat on the wall. The tools they use now are much less bulky and rough, more high-tech and efficient. There are lovely back-lit scenic images on the ceilings showing things like blue sky and hummingbirds. A visit with the hygienist is more like a chat session with a girlfriend – albeit one-sided since I have yet to master the art of answering questions when her fingers are in my mouth. Today’s topics ranged from the weather, to our husbands’ snoring, to her daughter’s clothing style, to preparing for tax time. Sprinkled in the conversation were her topic-appropriate comments about plaque and suggested prescription fluoride toothpaste. She even complimented my hygiene and healthy gums. Funny how things like that can actually result in a “yay me” feeling. When my teeth were picked, scraped, brushed and flossed, we hung out for a bit waiting for the Dentist to come in and review any potential issues and my Xrays. Due to a scheduling issue, there was a minor delay in her getting to me. I think I waited a whole 10 minutes. She came in and apologized, and I thought “I’ve been literally laying here, relaxing, chatting with another R.W. – why apologize? When else today will I be able to do this?”
In the end, I did have the “bad news” that I need to return to have a couple of cavities taken care of, and some sealing work done on recessed gum areas. Basically same ol’, same ol’. Something to be excited about coming back for? No, of course not. But I know they will do a good job, they will have me done and out in less than an hour, and with hope my teeth will last me until I’m old and grey. The most painful part will be the co-pay, since good service doesn’t come cheap, even with insurance.
I can’t help but wonder if the experience of going to the dentist has improved thanks to the high number of women in the field. I don’t think I’ve ever met a male hygienist. I’m sure they are out there somewhere, but the majority of them, along with nurses, assistants, and a growing number of Dentists, seem to be female. And women truly get the importance of being comfortable, of setting aside fear, of being positively open and honest – and putting some fun and humor into every day. My son, although now a teenager, still goes to his Pediatric dentist. The women who give him his exams and cleanings, know him and are well aware that when he was younger he had a very sensitive gag reflex…which now, thanks to his maturity and their coaching, is nearly non-existent. He is totally comfortable with them and knows he can talk to them (well, again, when the fingers and instruments are not in his mouth.)
This is not to say that men make bad dentists or doctors – that would be a ridiculous claim to make. But when I think back about any medical issues I’ve had, it is the women who stand out in my mind as being the best at putting me at ease. Perhaps it is just in our blood as RW’s to treat others the way we want to be treated, not to mention the desire to encourage each other to take care of ourselves. We are busy, hard-working, often stressed-out humans who find it hard to take the time out of our busy schedules for preventative health maintenance. It makes sense that we will listen to other women who totally get it, and who can be our voices of reason to get us to pause for our own good.
And if that means pretty décor, chit-chat, nice music and funky sunglasses, so be it. It really doesn’t take much effort or ingenuity to create a positive environment and add pleasant touches to get through to us.
Just don’t get one of those cat clocks. I’ll head for the hills.