Thursday, December 2, 2010

Risky Business

I graduated from dental school 30 years ago and enjoyed many years of private practice. Working on the benefits side of dentistry as I do now has also been rewarding in many of the same ways. My son graduated from dental school this past summer and during his four years, I joined the faculty at Tufts and lectured about the business side of dentistry.

Although I have done some volunteer dentistry since leaving private practice, I hadn’t had a personal patient encounter in several years. That was before I was introduced to a young man (26 years old) a couple of months ago. He was wearing his army fatigues, even though he was now a civilian. My son is an Army dentist, so I started up a conversation.

This young man was suffering from multiple abscessed teeth from some poor decisions that he had made since high school. When I say suffering, I mean the kind of suffering that had caused him to try to pull out his own tooth with pliers. A few years ago, his teeth were fine. But following some drug abuse and lack of home care, his 26-year old mouth was in serious trouble. I connected him with program that would give him some care, but this young man was unable to keep the appointments because his employer would not give him the time off. A colleague in our office who maintains a dental practice one day a week offered to help this young man and opened her office for him on a Saturday.

Now I would like to make two points about this experience. First, returning to clinical dentistry is like riding a bicycle and we were able to help this young man over two Saturdays. The second point is I was struck by the sense of invincibility in young people—they believe they can take chances and nothing will hurt them. I was alarmed and saddened to see how devastating their decisions can be, even a few years later.

Not taking care of your teeth is risky business. Whether it is the overuse of sports drinks or sugary sodas, prescription drug misuse, lack of oral hygiene, playing sports without a mouth guard, or driving without a seat belt, the speed of dental decay and its lasting devastation can change a young person’s life forever. Maintaining good oral health takes very little effort. Don’t ignore it!

Kids think that dentures are only for grandparents. In this case, they belong to a 26 year young man.

Doyle Williams, DDS