Not so Fast

Monday August 16, 2021

This is the story about a woman I met recently named “Carol”. Carol’s story is the reason I do what I do every day and brings me back the next day. The interesting thing is that it has absolutely nothing to do with performing the actual physical work of dentistry.

Carol is in her 70’s and has gone to the dentist infrequently for most of her life. She presented to my office a couple of months ago for a second opinion. At our first appointment, Carol brought her most recent x-rays, a treatment plan from another dentist, and a page-long list of questions. She was well-prepared for the consultation and seemed to know exactly what she wanted.

About 8 years ago, Carol visited a “holistic” dental office. Carol had about $10,000 of dentistry done at that time. Her reason for visiting that particular office was because she was/is very concerned about her health and believed that a “holistic” office could provide her with what she was looking for. Now, only 8 years later, her teeth are falling apart.

Carol had eight crowns done on her back teeth at that time. The crowns, still in her mouth, were failing due to recurrent decay. More importantly to Carol, her front teeth were in severe breakdown. Carol had her mind made up; she wanted full dentures.

Carol sought out a local dentist, presented her desires, got a written treatment plan with fees, and then came to me for a second opinion. She brought that treatment plan with her and it appeared very reasonable – take out all remaining teeth and place full dentures.

The first thing I noticed was that Carol had 6 lower front teeth that have been decay-free and have had excellent bone supporting them for 70 years. However, her mind was made-up, she wanted everything taken out. She did not want to have to deal with maintenance of teeth any more.

Over the next two consultation appointments I had with Carol, we discussed many different treatment options. We thoroughly reviewed the advantages of keeping these lower front teeth each time we met. Carol brought a list of questions to each of these meetings, which we discussed in depth. It was decided – Carol was moving forward with full dentures.

At each appointment during the process, I discussed a different aspect of why it would be such an advantage to her to keep those lower front teeth. Her mind was not changed, until yesterday. Yesterday, Carol walked into my office to tell me that she has decided that she wants to keep her lower teeth.

Okay, so what’s the point? The point has nothing to do with what Carol’s final treatment is. Carol has every right to decide on what she feels is right for her.

The local dentist she got the treatment plan from provided a very reasonable treatment proposal. They had one visit, decided on treatment and her next step was to go to the oral surgeon and have all her teeth out.

Far too many times I see patients and dentists rush into treating teeth. Taking the time to engage in conversation and treat the person as a person and not just a head with teeth, is the truly holistic approach.

My point of this story is not that I got Carol to do what I felt was best for her, but that I gave her my time, answered all her questions, and allowed her to decide what was best for her. She needed the time.

Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley and Newburyport dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. He has a special interest in treating sleep apnea and TMJ problems. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have please email them to him at jpstclair@stclairdmd.com.

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