Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

Dental Update (life lessons, part two)

July 6th, 2011

Brattleboro VT

Community Dentistry

First there was the high five from Shirley. I had botched two previous appointments, so my arrival was quite an accomplishment. Then I was amazed at how much detail Emiko remembered about me, and enjoyed – as always – the repartee with Tom regarding the greying of our hair and other evidence of maturation. The giggle-fest with Jackie topped the day. I’d been telling her how excited I am about a “summer workshop” on weather forecasting that I get to attend in August when she said, “I forget you are a nerd!”

Some years ago, when I moved an hour away, I decided to keep my dentist because his office represented part of a life I didn’t really want to leave. I had always received good service and the overall vibe was fine, so there was no particular reason to seek out another provider. Since then, Tom has practically rebuilt my mouth, replacing and repairing dental work completed by essentially anonymous dentists in cities across the country: Denver, Miami, Kansas City, Indianapolis.

Pleasures of Familiarity

Now, it might be a different story if they had to deal with me more frequently! As it is, Tom and his partner have cultivated an office climate where relationships matter and patient well-being is an implicit goal. Not only do they tend my teeth, they nurture my spirit, too. I look forward to going to the dentist because I am known in a certain way that I value. The evidence is in the blog: like many of my friends, Tom & Co agreed to be ‘blog fodder.’ Returning to those earlier entries reminds me of thoughts and ideas and resources that are relevant now.

It’s About the Local

Academia, especially at the graduate level where people are vying for careers in particularly-chosen fields, is as un-grounded a profession as they come. Many of my friends and colleagues have left homes and families in other countries, and even the Americans expect to probably live far away from theirs. Not only do we study abstract ideas – heads in the clouds one might say – but (in general) our bodies are not connected to the environment that sustains us. Local economy? Collectively, we behave like long-term tourists, functioning as consumption pumps for the folk whose lives are rooted in an actual, physical place.

The State of My Gums

“My new best friend,” I wrote three years ago after a trip to the dentist, “is dental floss.” Since then I’ve graduated to a water pic. So what? Mom had to have some serious surgery to tend the recession of her gums; I started showing signs of that problem quite awhile back. Knowing prevention is the best strategy for long-term health doesn’t mean I was able to just hop on that bandwagon and become a regular flosser after years of a laissez-faire approach!

I’d given up on my teeth decades ago. So many fillings, crowns, and root canals could not bode well for not having all my teeth fall out eventually.  Right?  In my case, it turns out that patient, steady encouragement is a great gift. For the first time since the problem began, my gums are better. I’m not out of the woods – gonna have to stay on top of this baby – but all that teasing and continuity of care has paid off.

Subtleties of Resilience

Carefully cultivating the working culture of the office promotes not only high morale among employees, but extends its reach into the community at large. Through rituals of review, investigation, teasing, and expressions of curiosity and concern the combined efforts of dentist, hygienists, receptionist, x-ray tech and administrators changed me. The changes are significant at two levels: in terms of behavior and attitude. My habits of flossing and tending a vulnerability are much improved, and my outlook on the future health of my mouth is transformed. The evidence speaks for itself.

See Part 1: Lessons at 48

Episodes in Dentistry

My new best friend is… (May 2008)

on trust and systemic issues (August 2007)

the danger with dentists (August 2007)

Does your spirit squint? (June 2006)

eccentricity (June 2006)

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