Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Perfect Dentist Appointment

I am trying to write this now only because I am afraid I will forget the details, the wonderful details, by tomorrow. So here goes.

I had a dentist appt with my childhood dentist today. I should have done that 2 years, but my very impatient self didn't want to wait 2 months for an appt. I was so nervous before this appt, not knowing what to expect. The dentist I had seen in Falmouth who was supposed to be very highly regarded I did not like at all.

The waiting room was just like I remembered it. The familiarity was very nice. I was able to ignore certain stimuli which I did not like. They led me to a small office type area with a small desk, and 3 chairs. I had never been to a space like that before, so I was nervous at first. The woman who led me there remembered me though, from 7 years ago. That friendly familiarity felt wonderful. I filled out some sheets of paper and Dr. S came right in.

I had been all prepared to be as concise and focused as I possibly could, more than I had ever been in my life. I had notes and I had visualized it extensively. I didn't want another 30 minute appt to go by without me accomplishing anything useful because I had talked too much.
I knew exactly what I wanted to say and in what order, but had notes to refer to.

He came in with an air of warmth and "old friend"ness that you couldn't possibly fake if you tried, that would be in fact hard to duplicate. He immediately asked about my mom and my brothers, but not in a perfunctory way at all. I had expected questions, but although I remembered him being friendly, I expected an air of formality as well. There was no hint of that whatsoever. Professionalism, yes. Distance? No.

With the cozy office setting and his personality, it felt more like two people meeting for tea than it did a dentist appt. After 5 minutes or so I remembered my pledge and said, "I know you only have limited time, so I should probably get to..." And he said in a very relaxed manner, "No, you're my last appt of the day. We can chat for as long as we want." I warned him I could talk a lot, but he waved way my concerns.

Medical professional or not, he was one of the most empathetic people I have met in a long time. It just seemed like he knew things about me or understood things without much prompting from me that people usually don't. (He hadn't seen me for seven years and I changed a lot in those seven years.)

He remembered that I had always been sensitive and seemed genuinely sincere, understanding, and congratulatory when I told him I had trouble trying new things like new toothpastes and such and that trying them even once was a victory for me, but that I was getting better with it and continuing to try it.

When I mentioned my "trouble with fragrances," and he asked me to explain more, I didn't feel like I was having to explain it in a clinical way to a gaping face that had no idea what the hell I was talking about. He understood. He asked me if I had trouble in the dentist office. I told him I was trying to ignore those feelings so yes but let's change the subject. lol. But he got it.

When I went through my list, it wasn't in a clinical or overly formal manner. It wasn't accompanied by high anxiety of either "I have to get this done as quickly as possible" rushing or by the even more common "They have no idea what I'm talking about" anxiety (which usually leads me to rush to explain more and become even more obtuse.)

It was in a conversation, a relatively relaxed one at that. I described my symptoms, what the previous dentist had done, what products I had tried, what products what I was considering. He relayed an ancedote about finding one of the toothpastes I mentioned which you can't get in the US in China and giving it to one of his patients, who found it to be extremely helpful.

He respected my intelligence and adjusted the way he talked to accommodate (I'm assuming.) He talked to me as an equal. He was in no way intimidated or annoyed by how much I knew and all the information I was presenting him, he seemed to find it very interesting. He jokingly said "Well, I think you now know more than me!" after I got through with the third anti sensitivity toothpaste, lol. Well, I actually might have, but I didn't mind. He hadn't heard of the Novamin toothpastes but thought them worth trying, and when I gave him the article about the Nupro/Sensodyne flouride and novamin toothpaste he said he thought might order some for the office and would try to get me the toothpaste (only available through a dentist).

He answered my questions patiently and in no means ever made me feel like a question was stupid, redundant or unneccessary.

Doing so much preparation probably did allow me to be more concise and on target than usual, therefore probably getting a better response. But I wasn't consciously trying to be all that much more concise than usual, other than obviously trying to stay on target. Being relaxed and not worried about the time probably helped with that too.

I was treated as a human being, a whole human being, instead of a set of symptoms to regard or disregard before he could go home at the end of the day.

After about 40 minutes or so, he looked at the clock and said "My, we talked a while." I said "I told you so." He was concerned about looking in my mouth when the hour was so late, as his staff had to go home, but he did it anyway. A man of character, he said he would and he did.
In five minutes he was able to tell far more than any of the longer exams I've had at the other office. We had talked about grinding in sleep as a possible diagnosis for the receding gums, and he was able to look in my mouth and immediately see marks on my teeth that indicated I was clenching my teeth in my sleep (not grinding apparently but clenching). He said the receding gums were there but were minimal, and I had hypersensitivity in them. But he said it not in a "it's all in your head" way but in a "hypersensitivity is a valid clinical diagnosis as well" way.
I have no signs of peridontal disease or other problems that he could tell in his limited exam.

In one month I have an appt for a more thorough exam and a month after that I have an appt for a cleaning. I am going to look into a mouthguard and try one the Dr Collins Novamin toothpaste in the meantime to see if that helps. The herbal mouthwash Periowash has also been helping me a little, for anyone who is interested.

He said it was a "consult" and was free. I was blown away. Out of this world.

I left that office a huge smile on my face and one question in my mind - How could I ever thank him for his generosity when I needed it the most??

On the autism front, it is interesting to note that while I DO have trouble understanding when most people are understanding (physically/emotionally) what I am saying, there is a small subset of people who I have no trouble with. People who wear their emotions on their sleeve so to speak and have exaggerated enough facial expressions OR just a strong enough sense about them that even I can sense it and tell it's there. He was one of them. They're hard to find.

In general, people with autism/ASD need more external, pronounced cues to understand emotions that someone else is having towards them. Especially when they are positive, negative ones tend to be more pronounced as a rule. But I have come to realize that trying to get a typical person to figure out how to do that would be just as hard as it is for us to understand them with their typical expression. There is a real communication divide, and sometimes I'm not sure how it can be bridged, other than to simply be lucky enough to happen upon the right people.

And when that does happen, it should be recognized. Hence this entry. =)