Friday, November 23, 2012

The dentist spells "guilt" with a tea

I had my biannual dental checkup today, or as I commented this afternoon, via Twitter:

The lengthy explanation, common to all my medical rants, is summarized in the subsequent tweet:

The hygienist and I had established which medications I was on--a depressing enumeration in itself. These include the eyedrops I take due to a reaction to the antidepressants I take. Also, the antidepressants. She asked me whether my asthma inhaler was Ventolin or salbutamol. Do I know the dosage? Hell no! That's for the doctor and the pharmacist to figure out, I just take them.

Anyway, throughout the visit, the hygienist kept harping on about how every little thing I do in my life causes dental problems. She didn't dwell on her observation that I've been keeping better care of my teeth than at any previous visit, it was just constant questions and nagging 'tips'.

As an example, she asked if I drink either coffee or tea:

Yes, I drink tea.

"What kind? Black, green, herbal..." Black.

"With sugar?" Yes.

"How many teaspoonfuls?" I don't know, I pour the sugar from a thing; a fair amount, but you'll be pleased to know that I leave my tea weak so I don't have to sweeten it as much as a full dose.

"Fairly quickly or drawn out over a long period?" Usually over a 2-3 hour visit to the coffeeshop.

"Well you should try to drink it in a shorter period because the sugar breaks down in your mouth for as much as a half hour after every sip." And if I intersperse it with sips of water? "If you swish with the water after each sip, that will help slightly to balance the pH."

Curiously, she didn't bother to ask about the donut, icing-heavy carrot cake, or mostly-sugar cookie that I often eat (also slowly) with my tea, but I'm sure if I had told her about these should would have suggested which fork I should use for the carrot cake to minimize damage to my teeth.

"By the way," she added afterwards, "you should use a teaspoon to measure how much sugar you put in your tea." Yeah, thanks.

She also assumed that, like morning coffee addicts, I drink tea as an end in itself--hence the suggestion to drink it quickly. I don't. I do, however, enjoy (or at least prefer) going to the coffeeshop for a couple of hours where I can read the paper and get some work done in a quasi-social setting instead of alone at home where there are plenty of chores begging for my attention. My coffeeshop routine is a predictable, reliable way for me to unwind after a long day at the dentist.

And since I don't drink a coffeeshop's namesake drink, I order tea--which I only tolerate in would-you-like-some-tea-with-your-sugar dilutions. Again, I'm fairly particular about what I expect in a visit: if they don't have the right kind of tea, or if the newspapers are gone, or if there are no seats left, it interrupts the predictable rhythm and can throw my mood right out of whack.

In essence, I don't go to the coffeeshop to drink tea, I drink tea to go to the coffeeshop. Because it is something I know makes me a happy Grouch.

As for the medications, it shouldn't be a very big leap of logic to infer that a person who is taking antidepressants does so due to some sort of behaviour disorder; in particular, one which might count low self-esteem as one of its symptoms.

In my case, I don't necessarily suffer from low self-esteem per se, but as described above I do sometimes require things to be just so in order to avoid my fragile mood circuits from tripping a breaker (or worse, blowing a fuse).

The tea interrogation was just one example of many similar lines of questioning about my tooth-brushing habits. Each little quiz was accompanied by a consortium of 'helpful' suggestions of how to restructure my life to put dental hygiene as the top priority (thankfully she didn't describe it this way). For example, she demonstrated in great detail a flossing technique suspiciously similar to the one I already use. (Ironically, she didn't ask me first about that.)

Dental hygiene as my top priority? Fuck you, my mood is my top priority, and you're souring it. If there's one health thing that I remember to do each day, it's taking my meds so I don't get withdrawal symptoms. And waking up on time. And remembering to eat.

The 'helpful suggestions' (which also, thankfully, was not a phrase she used), and various patronizing, loaded, questions reiterated throughout the visit, are each presumably intended to encourage a particular behavioural change. Floss more, floss better, brush before bedtime, use these stick things between your teeth, put less sugar in your tea, drink your tea faster, use this special toothpaste which has a high pH, and so on... I'm sure I missed some; perhaps I should have asked for an itemized receipt.

You've already told me that my teeth and gums are in better shape than they were before, but all these suggestions, and the condescending way you make them, do *wonders*, lady, for my self-esteem and mood. The easiest behavioural change to fix that? Well, that would be to convince myself that you're wrong and to start taking worse care of my teeth just to spite you. Or, more simply, I could stop going to the dentist.

You want behaviour change? Be careful what you wish for.

- RG>


David Scrimshaw said...

Before I admit to anything, I try to get the hygienist to tell me what they can tell from the state of my teeth.

I've had them tell me I was flossing enough when I hadn't flossed in months.

But my coffee consumption is hard to hide.

And I'll take a lecturing but gentle hygienist over one who doesn't lecture but leaves me feeling like I was in the Dustin Hoffman role in Marathon Man being asked "is it safe?"

jason said...

I just switched dentists yesterday because it didn't feel like a good fit after two years. What a relief. Life is too short to put up with doctors you don't get along with.

If you ever want to switch dentists, I can recommend my old Ottawa dentist Radiq Talim on Metcalfe St. Whenever he lectured me, he would preface it by saying, "I don't want to browbeat you, but... well actually I guess I am going to browbeat you, ha ha." Anyways our personalities clicked and I look back on those years as a kind of golden age of dentistry.

RealGrouchy said...

David - I don't think browbeating counts as "lecturing but gentle".

Jason - Well, since I don't think I've had the same hygienist at this dentist for two visits in a row, my chances are probably just a good of not getting this annoying one again.

- RG>

Zoom said...

I love this post.
I also love my new(ish) hygienist, who has purple hair and a molar tattooed on her inner arm, and who is very nice to me and says I'm doing a good job of taking care of my teeth. If you want her number, just let me know.

RealGrouchy said...

I'm glad you liked the post, Zoom. It's one of those rants (another is the Yogourt Rant) I read out loud to myself while channeling Lewis Black, Andy Rooney (in fact, I had Rooney's trademark crossed arms when I just read it to myself again now), and sometimes a touch of John Pinette. I imagine I'm rehearsing for BOLO, on the off chance I go the next time.

Your new(ish) hygienist sounds cute, but I'll respectfully pass on your offer for her number.

- RG>