We often dread going to the dentist. I am not an exception. I’ve always had problems with my gums, specifically regarding flossing consistently and then brushing and flossing with the proper technique. These points have been pounded into me again and again over the past years, over many return visits, but for some reason it has never hit home and stuck.
Both dentists and hygienists in the past have tried a variety of methods. Some have joked that my pristine healthy teeth would mean nothing if my gums are too weak and unhealthy to hold them in place. Some tried a ‘tough love’ approach where they threatened me, of how the plaque would get into my blood stream and render all my workouts and exercising meaningless. Others would ignore me or just answer ‘it’s actually not that bad’ when I ask numerous questions and lament at how I can’t seem to get my gums in top shape. One dentist I had came close to offering something that was different and could possibly stick with impact when he said, “You hear the length of the song that is playing on the radio right now? That’s how long you should be brushing.”
This last piece of advice was unique and could have had lasting value but, unfortunately, he said it with no emotion, no intonation, as if we were just pressing ‘repeat’ on his programmed voice. It didn’t sound like he put much stock into this advice and didn’t believe in it much himself. It sort of came out just as part of his exhale and breathing pattern, no different.
My last visit to the dentist, however, I was lucky enough to receive exceptional customer service from a new dental hygienist that, believe it or not, has me excited to return and update her on the progress of my gums. The first thing she did that was noticeable was take off her mask when talking at length with me. Instead of rushing to get inside my mouth with her cleaning tools, she would grab a chair when I had concerns and questions. As you know, it’s difficult to talk while all those tools are in my mouth, so it’s refreshing that she purposely sets aside a bit of time for only discussion where we are fully focused on the concerns at hand.
During this time, she asked about my problem areas (gums, of course) and which parts of my mouth/teeth were most sensitive. Then, when she was doing the cleaning, she would be more gentle and take more care in those sensitive areas. In addition, she was aware during times when I would feel a bit of pain or wince, or my eyes getting teary, and start to hum a calming tune in an effort to counteract the pain and create a mood to help me tolerate the discomfort.
And, finally, upon leaving, I had more questions about brushing. The hygienist again removed her mask, grabbed a seat, and in her explanation not only showed me proper brushing technique but thought about ideas to get me motivated to enjoy brushing. Here, she didn’t just recite something from a manual or just send me away quickly with whatever words would quickly do. Instead, she actually paused, was silent, puzzled, deep in thought, before excitedly coming up with an idea that was colored and memorable because of her unique style. She said: “Brushing. No wonder it can be mundane. You’re doing it pretty much at the same time, same place, every day. It’s pretty dreary in the washroom, isn’t it? We usually don’t want to hang out there too long. How about this? Try, at times, taking brushing outside of the washroom? Try adding a few brushing sessions at nontraditional times and in nontraditional places to spice it up?”
Before this experience, I certainly didn’t really think of a dental office as a place to discover exceptional service. Just do the cleaning, fix what needs fixing, and get me the hell out of there. This was one of the few times when I wanted to stay longer. Also, at home, when I brush and floss, I tend to do it longer, and with a smile on my face, when associating it with this pleasurable experience I had. I also find myself humming a similar tune the hygienist hummed when cleaning in hard to reach and sensitive areas.