How a Trip to the Dental Hygienist Changed My Perspective

I’m not a fan of going to the dentist.
Whether it be for a cleaning or a checkup, I generally dread when I have to go. I know I’m not alone in this. I also know I’m not alone in that the reason I’m not a fan are all based on my aversion to doing the best to take care of my teeth. This is an example of me not doing the “front end work” and paying for it twice per year.

But this trip was different.

This trip I learned more than just the usual flossing advice and the like. I learned that, like myself, my hygienist, Denise, has tools and techniques she uses – and that why she chooses them and how she uses them aren’t all that different than why and how I use mine.

The appointment started off as it usually does, with me getting uncomfortably comfortable as I settle into the chair. My cleanings and checkups are combined into one appointment – I am, after all, a productivityist. That said, the disadvantage to this arrangement is that I had a strong feeling I’d be hearing bad news twice in one sitting (first from the hygienist, then from the dentist).

Then Denise asked me if I was okay with her using the water-based cleaning tool she had – an ultrasonic cleaning tool. I’d had it used before, and I liked how it made my teeth and gums feel as she cleaned, so I consented. Then, mid-cleaning, I asked her if using such a tool sped up the whole process. She said that it “kind of does”, but that it was not just that. It was largely about how she enjoyed using the tool. She used it in her training – by someone who really knew how to use it – and she enjoyed the versatility that if offered. It was clear to me that while she didn’t use this tool exclusively, she knew the why, when, and how to use it that made it one of her tools of choice.

Denise is most certainly a craftswoman.

As I sat there during the rest of the cleaning, I thought about what tools I use, when I use them, and how I use them. I don’t use one tool for everything, be it for writing or be it for enhancing my productivity. I have several tools in my arsenal, and I’ve gotten to the point where I know which tool does which job best. And clearly Denise has the same relationship with her tools. She has very few, relying on less tools in order to get the job done. She said that while other dental hygienists have “a pile” of tools (I assume she meant dental explorers), she has far less. She figured she’d lose track of which ones work best for certain situations, so she’s learned to make what she has work in more situations. Tha’ts not unlike those of us who use one writing app for all forms of writing rather than one for long-from writing, one for blog posts, one for notetaking, and so on.

She uses the ultrasonic cleaning tool and I use a computer to get a great deal of work done. She uses the more manual tools and I use paper to get other aspects of work done.

We do very different work, but we approach the work similarly.

As we wrapped up the cleaning, I felt much better than I’d ever felt after getting my teeth cleaned. And that wasn’t because Denise didn’t deliver any worse news than I was expecting (in fact, it was far less so). It was because I felt more of an understanding of her work style. I’m actually looking forward to my next trip to see her (which won’t be until next May – but I made sure it was her I was going to see). And other than reading different takes on flossing by Julien Smith and Chris Brogan – pieces that all dental professionals should read to help “sell” flossing to patients – I’d never felt more connected with my dental health before.

That said, Denise’s final thoughts on the state of my mouth (and the dentist delivering the great news that I was “cavity-less”) didn’t hurt, either.

Photo credit: Alan Levine (CC BY 2.0)