Dentistry with Dignity: How My Leap of Faith Paid Off



After more than 15 years with the same dentist, I’ve finally switched to a new doctor. It’s not that I believe that the usefulness of my old dentist has expired, rather it reflects my realization that dentistry, as with all healing arts, must provide a feeling of safety, protection and dignity. Ideally the relationship between client and dentist inspires some trust and confidence. Unfortunately, the past five years with my previous dentist were filled with a sense of dread and trepidation, leading finally to change. While making changes can be scary, taking the leap into the unknown was entirely worth it.

Several factors drove me from my previous dentist’s office. First fact: after fifteen years, his receptionist, who has been there since I’ve been there, has never remembered me, and even when I repeat and spell my name, she manages to mispronounce it. That is entirely irritating. Add to that the strange circumstance of having a new hygienist every six months. I like new people, but there’s a limit to how many times per year I want to give my dental history to a stranger who happens to be poking around in my mouth during our so-called conversation. That’s only cute twice. After that it’s disrespectful. While this was going on, I noticed my former hygienist pleasantly serving other, newer clients, but I never got to see her. I became the unwitting guinea pig for new staff, which is unfair. I deserve better. While not everyone has to love everyone, we can at least aspire to treat each other with respect and friendliness.

Yet another factor driving me away from this long-term relationship was that I started feeling like I wasn’t quite getting the kind of care I felt to be appropriate. I’m someone who routinely knows something is wrong before the doctor tells me. After my last bi-annual cleaning, I felt that I must have cavities, because of high sensitivity. On top of the sensitivity, I noticed a tooth with visibly grayish coloring—not at all normal and totally new to me. I rushed back only to be told that is was nothing, that I simply have sensitive gums. To their credit, I was sent home with new toothpaste but without much confidence in the diagnosis. Six months have since passed, and when my appointment-reminder call came, I found the courage to say no. I canceled.

Finding a dentist in 2013 is infinitely easier than it once was. I found my new dentist by looking on Yelp. Of course I tried the old-fashioned way first. Though I did talk to lots of friends, I couldn’t get any overlap or consistent messaging. This doctor had all fives on Yelp from over 50 people. I felt I should give him a try.

After my cleaning, the dentist asked to see my night guard. This shocked me because even though I paid $400 out-of-pocket for my night guard from my previous dentist, he never once offered to clean it or inspect it in the past four years. My new dentist asked me to bring it in for both reasons. You can’t imagine how reassuring such action can be given my doubts about my previous dentist. As an extra bonus, he practices in my neighborhood and could see me in the same week. Other perks were quickly apparent.

Upon entering the office, I immediately encountered friendly, professional staff in a nice environment. To further lift my spirits and affirm my decision, everyone greeted me by name, and managed to pronounce it correctly. At Dr. Lyew’s office one can watch a movie, listen to music, or chat with your technician as you’re being worked on. ( Even if distraction is not your goal, it’s such a homecoming to get good care. Needless to say, he easily identified two cavities visually: the first, the gray tooth; the second, where the sensitivity lurked. What a relief to take care of those things. Our teeth are critically important to our physical, mental and emotional health. Tooth erosion and gum disease have been linked to heart disease and certain forms of dementia, for example. The state of our teeth also impacts our attractiveness on a structural level as well as the quality of our smiles. So it’s not surprising that I want to hang on to my teeth for as long as possible.

When we get good care, we know it. Having had my second visit to my new dentist in which I had all my cavities filled and my mouth guard cleaned, I feel satisfied and reassured. With the kinds of considerations and the excellent care I received, I felt the respect of my new dentist and his team. Unfortunately, sometimes our healthcare providers can undermine our wellbeing. The great news is that they can also give us our dignity and peace of mind as we leave with swollen lips or numb faces. We should be seen for who we are, and not just as another set of teeth.

If you don’t feel good after you see your doctor or dentist, give yourself permission to find a new one.

The Reiki Garden

It may be surprising that I love to garden since I have been a city-dweller since birth. Somehow I cultivated this passion on a Canadian farm in Quebec during my teenage years and later as various friends or family members had gardens, I’d throw my heart into the work and get my fingernails caked with dirt. So it shouldn’t be shocking that when we finally found our home in San Francisco, I couldn’t wait to break open the concrete laminating the outdoor space surrounding our house and plant some seeds.

From the start, hours of autumn harvesting the hardy blackberries growing from the cracks in the concrete gave me great pleasure. As blackberries are indigenous to our hillside, they seemed to multiple with every trimming, and we were feeding the neighborhood blackberry cobblers, muffins or baskets of ripe, sweet berries. I soon wanted more vegetation that I could take ownership of and have pride in.  That’s when I learned the limitations of my new micro-climate.

It’s important to mention I live in the fog belt of San Francisco. During the summer months we go weeks without sunshine. In fact, we routinely don’t see the sun between June and September. It tends to be balmy, windy and chilly in the Oceanview. On occasion, the early-morning fog is so thick that we can’t see the houses across the street. It’s no wonder then, that last year my sweet peas didn’t flower, my lavender didn’t root and that my basil rotted on the stem, not to mention my withered broccoli or my stunted peppermint. All of this not withstanding, I remain as of yet, undeterred, especially as I have a new tool in my tote.

Tending to my garden feeds and nurtures my soul. As early spring found me ill and unable to socialize and the long winter began to recede, I was totally ready to get back to my little potted garden. Pulling weeds, planting, beautifying, trimming and cleaning are invigorating. I observed as I repotted that several plants from last year never matured. I spruced, swept and watered. Then, I sat down to give each plant a Reiki treatment. The results have been extraordinary.

Fog View

Apple Tree
After my impromptu experiment, I read that one should always give Reiki energy to the roots of the plant first and foremost. My approach lacked balance. Apparently, it is possible to overdo it. I found that the plant that was flowering really couldn’t tolerate that much fruit. It might hurt the tree in the long run.

On the other hand, the tree that was almost dead was able to communicate with me about its needs. I understood that it needed a bigger pot and better soil drainage. The plants are teaching me to be a better gardener.

Orange Tree

As in all things, we have to let ourselves make mistakes. Even though I felt I had hurt the apple tree with the flood of energy, I could see that with my careful attention and focus on the plant, I could help strengthen the roots and meet her needs by listening carefully. I also sang to the tree, giving her permission to slow down the growth. The leaves have since filled out nicely, growing darker and broader.

The beets that I planted last year are an entirely different challenge. I may need to start over.