Being a dentist (especially one who enjoys it so much), I am never hesitant to offer advice when it is sought out. Since my credit card has the post nominal initials D.D.S., I often find myself completing a purchase when a curious cashier asks me about a specific dental problem that he or she is dealing with. I am always happy to share some insight, offer guidance, and provide reassurance (although I should be mindful of the growing line of impatient people waiting to check out.)
Truth be told, I do enjoy the opportunity to “educate” the curious and the receptive. I’m not one to impose my unsolicited opinions on someone who obviously would benefit from my expertise. Spotting someone’s “dental dystopia” comes easy to me; whether it’s a cosmetic deficiency or a clear health issue, but there are boundaries of propriety outside of the dental office. Because discretion is the better part of valor.
I recently had an interesting encounter with a perfect stranger who received a rather detailed dental consultation in the most unlikely of places: The restroom of a restaurant. So, here’s how it went down:
Every year for the past 20 years, my office celebrates the holidays with dinner and a Broadway show. This year eight of us dined at the Great White Way’s venerable Sardi’s restaurant before seeing “A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder.” We have become a familiar sight at Sardi’s, so when we arrive dressed for the holidays, adorned with festive hats (including my decoratively-ornamented chapeau replete with blinking lights) we do not go unnoticed.
Then the festivities begin, with drinks-a-flowing, games-a-playing, and laughter arising. This time a gentleman from a nearby table remarked that was the luckiest man in the restaurant. Of course! Seven lovely ladies surrounded me, and although they weren’t leaping, they were laughing, smiling and celebrating.
So after a time I made my way to the little boy’s room. I’m not going illustrate the details of how a men’s room is typically laid out. Suffice it to say that I found myself standing near (but not next to) the man who had been observing our table. “So what’s the occasion?” he asked. My answer: “I’m a dentist and this is our annual Christmas/Hanukkah party,” I replied. Next I heard: “You’re a dentist!” uttered by a gent at the sink. “I need an implant!”
And so the office was open for consultations!
As I washed my hands, this man proceeded to tell me that he had lost a front tooth and was currently wearing a flipper (a removable denture to replace a missing tooth). He was only too happy to take it out of his mouth and show his gap-toothed smile to me. I took a closer look as I was drying my hands and told him that he was a perfect candidate for a dental implant, but that he may need a bone graft to optimize aesthetics (he has a broad high smile which displays all of his teeth and the surrounding gums.)
Pause for Educational Moment: When a front tooth needs to be replaced or restored, the dentist must be sure to evaluate the local environment: gum height, thickness and color, amount of tooth displayed upon smiling, position and condition of the neighboring teeth and more. We have all seen people whose front teeth look fake because of a black line at the top of the gum, or who have spaces between the teeth that look like black triangles, or who have mismatched color, shape, etc. These are all conditions that can be avoided with proper evaluation to ensure a beautiful natural looking tooth or tooth replacement and smile.
Back to the Restroom: Dave (my new gap-toothed buddy) was fascinated by my explanation. I used a paper towel to sketch pictures of implants and teeth and specifically, his condition. I’m not sure how much time had elapsed, but suddenly I heard my name called from outside the restroom door. My staff had sent out a search party! I invited Dave downstairs to meet my people, which he did, where open arms and laughter enveloped him. Dave took our office number and address. Maybe he’ll call, maybe he won’t, but he certainly left the restaurant knowing that his trip to the restroom was a most fortuitous pit stop.
Being a comprehensive dentist goes well beyond being a good clinician, one must be observant, responsive, a good communicator, and an educator. Patients are people and they are best served when they are given the chance to fully understand and own their treatment needs.
I have enjoyed expanding my role as an educator through my dental blog. I am both heartened and humbled by the numerous responses and inquiries that I have received (which I sometimes respond to from the bathroom).
Michael Sinkin is a dentist in New York City. He loves being a dentist and is known throughout the city for taking wonderful care of his patients and for his wicked sense of humor. To contact Dr. Sinkin, link here