First Impressions

Tuesday, 23rd April, 2013

At Navan Dental, the Dentists like to meet their clients in the waiting room. It´s best to greet patients in a relaxed environment where they feel secure among friends or other patients before showing them to the treatment room, we always use first names. Eye contact and a smile for new patients are particularly important to make a good first impression.

That´s the theory, however, reality can often shatter our illusions. From kids wrestling on the floor to heated political debate you never know what you´ll find when you open the waiting room door. The other day was no exception when I called a new patient, only to watch a tall, raven-haired beauty unwind herself from the arm chair opposite and walk towards me. Sleek lines and cheekbones like side-view mirrors, I struggled to steer my eye contact and brake my falling jaw, meanwhile on the sofa men jittered, women tutted loudly and the receptionists made big-eyes. This girl was seriously attractive.

It was a tricky lead down the corridor to the surgery but with every chime of her high-heels behind, my warning bell began to tinkle. Something was wrong here, or missing, or both. Then it dawned on me, she hadn´t smiled in those first seconds of meeting, not a flicker. Dentists can learn a lot about a patient´s demeanour from this first contact – whether a patient is nervous, relaxed or even spot a bit of work that needs doing – when a smile is missing, despite distractions, it doesn´t escape us. Now, studying her in the dental chair she appeared more sad than sexy and even talking she made a conscious effort not to show her teeth. When I enquired how we could help she finally opened her mouth and said, “I want my teeth whitened I have a wedding in two weeks”.

It would have been easier to white-wash the north face of the Eiger while attached to a bungee cord than perform such a task; her teeth were a mess. Decayed, broken and missing, years of neglect and I´d two weeks to turn it all around. I half expected a TV crew to pop their heads around the door and ask silly questions like, “Will she need veneers, Doc?” or “Can you rebuild her?” These quick-fix programmes have a lot to answer for by creating impossible expectations and not telling us the whole truth – dental treatment takes time, whitening can cause sensitivity and veneers sometimes fall off. Also drilling into sound tooth to place veneers is something Dentists don´t consider lightly.  And remember we´re not talking about popping in a pair of silicone breasts here, the mouth is a hazardous place, with heavy-duty forces amid an acidic swill of bacteria. But still we are driven to improve and enhance, to fit in, keep up or dazzle with that first impression.

This conditioning can take many forms. From glossy magazines to the miracle makeovers we are mislead to neglect our interiors, we forget to spring-clean or move the furniture about, instead we insist upon painting our pebbledash the same colour as the neighbours. The problem is some day you´ll have to invite someone inside or heaven forbid, a professional peeps through your blinds.

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