“Your appointment is at … at 2 pm.”

“Yes.”

“It’s 1.30 pm.  You’re a little bit early.”  The receptionist looked up at me.  “No one is ever early.”

“I was afraid that if I didn’t come early, I would have found a reason to skip the appointment entirely.  I’m a little nervous about dental stuff,” I admitted, trying to stand taller and look more like a grown-up instead of like a kid whose mother had to drop her off at the door.  (For the record, my mother didn’t drop my off at the door.)

The receptionist outright laughed.  “Oh, a nervous one!  Well that’s okay.  We have a lot of magazines.  And you can watch the stories on TV while you wait for the hygienist.”

Anyone who refers to daytime soap operas as “the stories” puts me right at ease.  I sat in the waiting room and played Candy Crush (oh you stupid irony) while waiting for the dentist.

Back in January, after an unfortunate and wimpy two year dental hiatus, I found my way back into the dentist’s chair as a result of social media peer pressure.  I’ve written about my aversion to dental work in the past, my reluctance rooted (ha?) in the fact that my overly-sensitive teeth make for a very uncomfortable experience.  But, despite a long gap between appointments, my experience in January was encouraging enough to make me schedule, and keep, a follow up appointment.

An empowered patient doesn’t always rabble-rouse and shout from rooftops about patient rights and experiences.  Sometimes being an empowered patient is simply speaking up on your own behalf.  Part of what has made going to the dentist a better experience for me is that I’m not afraid to tell the dentist what I’m hoping to get out of the appointment. (Even though my fear comes out via stream of consciousness, when I’m halfway sitting in the chair and blurting out, “I don’t meant to sound neurotic but I sort of am when it comes to dental work because I have really, really sensitive teeth and I had a few dentists in the past do some work on my teeth that didn’t go very well, so now every dental appointment makes me nervous and if that pointy sharp mental thing comes too close to my gum line I will probably launch right up through the really nice skylights you guys have – and those are really expensive to fix, right?   Skylights?”)

And the other part of what makes these appointments a better experience is that my dentist, and their team, really listens and takes patient comfort into account.  “It doesn’t cost us anything extra to take the time to listen and make your appointment something you’re willing to do again,” the hygienist said.  “If anything, it’s an investment in our future, because if you continue to come back, you become part of our reliable client base, and that’s a good thing for us, as a business.”

Being on top of my health means making sure I follow through on things like dentist appointments.  Proactive care for my health makes a difference in long term outcomes, but I need to do my part by showing up.  Having a dentist that I can be honest with (“I’m scared of you … no offense meant?”) makes us work together to find ways to make the appointment more comfortable – numbing cream on my gums during the cleaning, safely administering extra Novocaine as needed during procedures – which, in turn, makes me show up at the next appointment.  Having a dentist is useless if I’m not going to see them.

“Everything looks good.  Do you want to schedule your follow-up appointment today, or call in a few weeks?”

“I’ll do it today …”

“To make sure that you actually schedule it,” the dentist finished for me.

“Right.  Otherwise, I’ll never come back.”

“And we can’t have that,” the dentist said, ruefully.  “Because then I’d never know how much it costs to fix a skylight.”

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