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My dentist told me that I should have two of my wisdom teeth extracted. One of them has a cavity, and it’s in a spot that is almost impossible to keep clean.

I asked what the extraction process entailed.

Dentist: We use some local anesthetic and some rocking back and forth, and that’s it. Done in an hour.

Me: I have no idea what that means. Could you give me an actual account of the procedure? 

Dentist: What do you want to know?

Me: I don’t know what I don’t know, so I can’t tell you what I want to know because I don’t know what there is to know. But a step by step description of what will actually happen would be a great start.  

She looked a little annoyed. 

Me: Look, the entire bottom row of my teeth were knocked out in a car accident when I was 17, and then they were jammed back into place and wired down in the emergency room, which was the worst part of the car accident, and that’s saying a lot since I went through the windshield and tore my leg open to the bone. And about five years before that I was stung by a bee and had to be brought back to life via CPR and about 50 shots of epinephrine over the course of a week, so now I have involuntarily associated needles with death, which I know is a little crazy but is how I feel and my therapist – who I don’t see anymore – said it’s completely understandable. So I’m a little squeamish about my teeth and needles. So I want some detail.

Dentist: This won’t be a big deal. People have wisdom teeth extracted all the time.

Me: Yes, but for me, it will only happen once, so it will be a big deal. When someone wants to pull a part of my body out of my mouth, it’s a big deal for me, even if it isn’t for you

Dentist: I meant to say that we do extractions all the time.

Me: I would hope so, but that doesn’t really help me understand the procedure.

Dentist: Maybe I should just refer you to our oral surgeon. 

Me. Great. Thank you.

Dentist: But don’t look anything up on the Internet about the procedure until you meet him. 

Me. Why would you say that? That does not inspire confidence.

I know I can be difficult, and it may seem as if I was being a little belligerent, but in this case, I just wanted some information, which left me thinking this:

Dentists need training telling stories. Had my dentist told me a story that was reflective of what what I could expect when my wisdom teeth were extracted, complete with an arc, a splash of humor, and some clear but not graphic descriptions, I might have been fine.

But glossing over the removal of two of the largest teeth from my mouth deserves more, at least for me. And I suspect most people would appreciate a clear picture of the procedure but are unwilling to press the matter to the degree I did.

So dentists of the world:

I’m available for hire. Let me teach you some storytelling strategies that you can use to make your patients more relaxed and informed. Very few of us enjoy our dentist appointments, and while this may be inevitable, part of our dislike for our visits is the fear related to what may or may not happen while sitting in that chair. 

Alleviate some of that. Explain your procedures in engaging ways. Entertain and inform your patients. Tell stories.

Most of the time, your patients can’t speak anyway. Instead of asking us how the kids are doing while we have a suction tube and an ice pick in our mouths, entertain and inform. 

We have a right to know, and wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have to pry the information from you in the same way you want pry my wisdom teeth from my gum line?

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