10 Minute Writer

Confessions of a Busy Mom Who Became an Independent Novelist

How A Bad Experience With A Dentist Made Me A Better Writer



I should blog someday about my hate list. On it would be talking on the phone, overly dramatic ballads, popcorn and making health appointments for my children.

I also would put on the list bad customer service.

Last winter, I had to bring some of my kids to the new dentist. My husband had brought in the others in a blizzard. (Note to any medical receptionists out there. If you can make an effort to put all the kids on the same day, it would go a long way to make that frazzled Mama happy.) Our dentist did not get them all on the same day. It was three on one day and two on the other. If that’s the best you can do, that’s fine. All of the appointments were going well enough – in fact I was very pleased with the friendliness of the hygenist. Everything was going well until I went up to the receptionists desk to leave.

The receptionist did not look at me. She never really gave me her full attention. She said, “they’re coming back next week for the sealants.”

Sealants. I had a spotty dental history as a child and I had to think about what this was. I also realized that I would be more comfortable to do what this lady said if she would face me and ask me, not tell me. I asked her to please clarify this for me. Who needed them? Why next week? Is this standard procedure for everyone? I understand my ignorance is showing, but I am the mother, darn it, and if I’m confused, I feel like I have a right to explanations for the health of my children.

She was miffed at me and rattled off an unsatisfactory answer and then asked, “what  day would be best to come in? Morning or afternoon?”

I asked her if I could speak to the dentist, assuming (wrongly, I found out later) that she would want to communicate with the mother of five, who, incidentally, have a great many teeth. The dentist came out, frowning and gave me another short, unsatisfactory answer. The jist of which was, “we already answered all of this when your husband was in the other day. Now, let’s make that appointment.”

Now, I felt my blood pressure increase at that moment. I even said that I did not feel like I was being communicated to with any satisfaction. As  nicely as I could possibly say it, as far as the appointment went, I would call them.

I left very uneasy. As I drove home, I replayed the entire conversation and tried to figure out if my requests were unreasonable or if I was right in feeling like they weren’t interested in helping me or making me understand anything. My favorite Mom mantra is go with your gut. My gut said no way were we going back there  – but I would run the whole thing by my husband.

He was home and I asked him if specific details about our children’s treatment had been explained to him during his visit. He warned me that I might be overblowing the situation, but the truth was neither the dentist, nor the receptionist had told him anything. Now I was mad.

Something had to be done about the follow up appointments. I insisted that my husband deal with it, not me. He is a diplomatic, understanding guy and he was willing to call them, set up the appointments and then find out the answers to my questions. He is also an expert in customer service and wanted to give the dentist and the receptionist the benefit of the doubt. After all, we have five children.

I did not overhear the phone call, but I learned it did not go well. The receptionist accused me, to my husband, of questioning the dentist’s authority. The dentist herself got on the phone and made exaggerated claims about my demands, not even trying to take the posture of remorse or humility. Both dentist and receptionist used the words,”we’ll fire you as the patient.” They were the exact opposite of what I would expect a health care professional to be. My husband was shocked at their behavior, but took the high road. He booked the follow up appointments for the next week (naturally, he would take the kids, not me) and then said we’ll make our decision about future visits another time.

The story could stop here. The lessons could be this: Just because you’re a health care professional doesn’t mean to you have to treat ignorant mothers badly. Or, My large family votes with its dollars. If we’re not happy, we’ll gladly go some place where people treat us better. Or, if I can’t trust you to answer a simple question truthfully, without condescension, then I can’t trust you to put your hands in my kids’ mouths. Or, Do you realize I have over 2300 followers on Twitter? Do you really want to make me mad? (I have not revealed their identity in any form. I can take the high road too.)

But the story doesn’t stop here. It’s not about that rude dentist and receptionist. It’s about me and facing my fear.

Months have passed by and it’s time for every one of those Grubb kids to get another cleaning and check-up. There is no way I’m going back to that dentist. But what I have to do, as the adult in this situation, is to call our health care provider (never easy) and find someone who takes our insurance. I also need to make allergist appointments for three kids and then, to top it as one would ice cream on pie, find an orthodontist for my oldest. This, of course, for someone who hates talking on the phone as much as I do, is as bad as a root canal.

These tasks glared at me from my to-do list for weeks. I thought, at first, I’d take small steps daily, and eventually get it all done. But yesterday, in a unexplained spurt of energy — I did it all. All the appointments. Five dental. Three allergy. One orthodontal. All between August 3rd and September 9th. It took me over an hour. But I did it in six calls and I am glad to say that all of the receptionists were cheerful, helpful and the dental office even put all the kids on the same day. (I may bring her some homemade bread for that move.) Another application to this little story: only see doctors in expensive neighborhoods. Because of their real estate/rent situation, they’ll be more likely to treat their customers well because they want to keep them — this gem was from my husband.

What this taught me is this: if I can plow through this unpleasantness, then I can plow through the unpleasant tasks in my writing life, like revisions. Like writing a proposal. Like querying. And if I get so far as a contract someday, there will be marketing and, sigh, more phone calls.

But I can do this. I’ve beaten a bad dental experience. I can do anything.

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4 Responses to “How A Bad Experience With A Dentist Made Me A Better Writer”

  1. !!!! That is insane. I also have an issue with them telling you when you’ll come back. Like you don’t have anything else to do. Are you supposed to be mad that they’ll “fire you as a patient”, freeing you up for better treatment? You’re more diplomatic than you think, sis, because I’d out them. I’d have their names and numbers posted.

  2. That’s funny. Did you know I also hate talking on the phone? I always procrastinate phone-related tasks.

    And I agree about Marc’s theory. Our dentist is in a very affluent neighborhood and has become much more upmarket over the 14 years we’ve been going there. At the same time, their customer service has just been getting better and better, to the point where they’ve usually dealt with the insurance company hassles BEFORE I get round to popping in to discuss them! We pay a premium for this service, but as long as I can afford to keep going to them, I will.

  3. Teresa Thomas

    The fact that you went back to the office made me mad. I would not have gone back. Whether it is your insurance or out of pocket money. that Dentist deserved nothing. Rude UNPROFESSIONAL . Thats just the dentist!!!! You should of not gone back. I have 4 children by the way . I DO understand. So did my pediatrician and dentist.

  4. I am a business manager for a family dentist in Columbus, Ohio and I cringed many times throughout your post. I am also a stickler for receiving “good” customer service as a consumer (who can expect excellent in this customer-service-crisis?), and would have reacted similarly. I am so sorry you had this experience. You were treated rudely and there is no excuse for that. Dentistry is all about building trust so that we can treat dental needs. That practice failed as a healthcare provider and as human beings, as far as I am concerned. I don’t work at the front desk but in a little office just off the reception area. At times I need to check out patients in my office and it is not setup for customer service – my back is to the door. I always apologize for that and try to include the patient in the computer work I am performing for their account and appointments. Next time stick with your Mommy instincts. I would not have given that office another penny of my business. I know in Columbus you can’t throw a stone from our front door without hitting another dental office. That is due in part to the dental college at OSU. Finding a provider is a painful process but this is your family. Remember, the fish stinks at the head and the way you are treated at the entry point is the best indication of the treatment you can expect.

    Here is an awesome resource for dental procedure information, as well as dentist referrals – http://www.ada.org/public.aspx.

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