Dentistry can be fun

OK, I’ll admit it; I was having a bad week with a client. Confidentiality and a desire not to commit professional suicide prevent me from going into detail. In summary, the conflict stems from compounded mutual bad communication and a bad case of (equally mutual) “I’m right; you’re wrong.”

So, where does dentistry fall into this? Well, I just had my regular check-up and as I was driving to another exciting meeting I was talking to a team member from another project and described my dental appointment as a nice break from the current mess, as well as it being a physically- and mentally-therapeutic experience.

“Robert, are you well?” was the question from the other end of the phone. No one enjoys going to the dentist, especially when they’ve been told that their old fillings are leaking toxic material, one tooth needs a crown, and the dental plan has no major coverage.

The dentist appointment was still better than going to the office.

This made me realize that my work situation needed a fresh approach. But it also made me realize that dentistry has changed over the years. My old dentist from when I was a kid retired a few years ago and I’ve long since moved to the West Coast modern dental approach. The contemporary part of dentistry is that they actually care if you are in pain. They also notice that you can’t talk when you have a don’t-bite-the-dentist rubber block in your mouth and are wearing a rubber don’t-hork-on-the-dentist dam.

“To stop whatever I’m doing that hurts, raise your hand,” said the dentist. Much better than “Tell me about that Leafs-Canucks game you went to.” And they aren’t simply passively trying to make you fell less pain; they numb your mouth before they stab you with the needle. I seem to recall my old dentist saying, “Look at those pink elephants!” just before skewering me with a 15-foot needle.

You could argue that these improvements are incidental. Perhaps the patients’ lives improve by accident. Face it, with HIV still alive and well, the thrill of mopping up a stranger’s blood with your bare hand has waned. When dentists started routinely wearing masks and you started having rubber dams in place, do you think that their incidence of colds went down? Had to.

The most controversial improvement is that the dentist now tells you what’s going on — in as much detail as you can stomach. You can even watch the carnage going on in your mouth while they’re doing it. This does not speed up the dental visit, but it does make the patient less likely to kick the dentist’s car on the way out. Feeling like a participant in the process gives you the feeling that, real or otherwise, you have influence over how you are treated and what procedures are being done.

The dental community also probably figured out that if the patient understands what happened, they are less likely, when presented with the bill, to faint at the front desk, knocking out a tooth on the way down.

So what can we as IT people learn from a trip to a modern dentist?

Anything you can do to reduce you client’s pain and inconvenience benefits you directly.

Determine what the client wants to know about the services you are providing and supply the desired level of detail.

Explain the costs before and after providing the services

Realize that you have a problem if meeting with your client is more painful than going to the dentist.

Ford is a Vancouver-based computer consultant who will have fabulous teeth about three major appointments from now. He can be reached at