Letter to the Dentist

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

July 17th, 2009 • Living with Chronic PainPrint Print

Here is the letter I just wrote to my dentist yesterday. What I didn’t mention to her was that after all the drilling, I felt as if something was in my eye, so I spent the rest of the day in the urgent care center of the eye institute nearby, waiting to be seen. As it turned out, the exam was fairly invasive, which itself has caused ongoing pain and discomfort in my eye. It totally sucks.

The more that health care practitioners are diligent about our safety, the less of this kind of crap we’ll have to deal with, and the less scary it will be to turn to them for treatment.

Dear Dr. C,

Thank you for your work on my teeth to date. I appreciate the exceptional thoroughness of your initial exam, as well as the precision and quality of your work. I also appreciate the wonderful patience and gentleness that you and your staff offered me during the crown procedure — which helped me feel calm and get through the visit safely.

I was looking forward to a long working relationship with you. Side by side with these positive experiences, however, I’ve had a few experiences which unfortunately have compromised my sense of comfort and trust with you. Most significantly, I had some scary symptoms following the crown procedure. I contacted you, to help me figure out what was going on and what I should do for self-care.

Your response was, “I’ve never had a base patient, in the 22 years that I’ve been practicing, have a reaction to having a crown or have a delayed reaction to anything I’ve given them for anesthetic…I really don’t think what you’re experiencing is related to the dental work.”

You response felt some combination of blaming, shaming, and alienating — more defensive than caring. It was rather shocking and made me feel unsafe to tell you in the future about my experiences or assert my needs, because I do not have the energy to absorb the additional stress of a negative reaction to them. For this reason, I came to understand that I may need to find another dentist.

I continued to have debilitating headaches and jaw pain for the greater part of two weeks, and I needed several cranio-sacral appointments to flush the reaction out of my system. At my last dental appointment, however, you did not ask how I had been since the emergency phone call, further leading to the impression that you did not particularly care. By then, my goal was to just get through the crown and nightguard fitting, then say goodbye.

As you know, the nightguard fitting did not quite work as planned. During that session, you seemed less patient when I asked for time to pause, which made me feel hesitant to ask for the extra time I need. In addition, I did not feel safe with all the drilling going on near my face, but I did not feel comfortable asking for safety goggles – again, because I could not cope with your potentially invalidating reaction.

Lastly, when working on the fitting, you asked me to jut out my lower jaw, then told me to bite down on my molars. I did. You told me to bite down on my molars again, and I did it again. You then banged on my lower teeth three times, which startled and upset me, especially since I repeatedly have stated my need for gentle touch. What’s more, that action did not clarify what you could have simply stated — that you wanted me to move my teeth back into their normal bite position, then bite down on my molars.

I left the office feeling rattled and not wanting to come back even for one last fitting – which is why I called and asked to altogether cancel my nightguard and refund my payment, instead of reordering it with another lab. I have not heard back from you, so I’m not sure what your thinking is about cancelling the order. I am open to discussing the possibility of finishing up the work we started, if it is agreeable to you. I will need to know, however, that you understand what has not worked for me to date, and that you agree to be extra gentle and patient with me in our final session.

Loolwa Khazzoom


Anasuya July 23rd, 2009

It’s great that you are writing to your practitioners so they know how you feel. Your words are clear and direct and straightforward. As a practitioner myself if I didn’t know you better I would be frightened to receive your letter at first. It’s so easy to be defensive! It so hard to hear that what you are doing is hurtful because it’s not the intention (of most all) practitioners to cause pain. Over the years I’ve come to know that you are a gentle, compassionate and caring person very willing to work things out with a practitioner who can listen to your point of view. I think a second reaction a practitioner can have to your letter is gratitude that you took the time to express yourself.  I hope your dentist is able to hear you without being overly defensive. Good for you for engaging with issue and trying your best to deal with it. I wish you all the best…

Stacy July 29th, 2009

I also suffer from chronic pain, and I understand your needs when it comes to dental work. What I was most struck by, was the way you communicated your needs and how the dentist’s actions affected you, both physically and emotionally. The way you eloquently let him know that what he was doing was changing the way you acted towards him and how you considered future treatments was fantastic. I think all too often medical professionals believe that we are telling them these things just to be difficult or cause drama, when in fact, we are actually trying to help them help us in the most effective way. I hope that your letter will have a positive response. I hope that your dentist sees that you are trying to *improve* your relationship, not make it more difficult.

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