One of my favorite patients is a young college professor, whom I’ve known since he was just a boy. I asked him if I could write a blog post about the interaction we had a couple weeks ago, because I thought it was funny, or at least ironic, and he said that would be just fine, as long as I called him “Tom”.
I have worked with Tom nearly thirty years. I administered his early fluoride treatments, I filled his cavities, and I pulled his wisdom teeth. After serious trauma to his upper front teeth, I drained an abscess, grafted bone tissue, and performed a series of implants. Accordingly, Tom has spent a lot of time in my chair. By his own admission, Tom is a snarky sort of book-learned guy, always catching people using words the wrong way.
In good fun, I thought I might get him back during his last visit. He was sitting in the chair, and we were talking about how his dental implants were holding up; if he had any discomfort or if anyone had noticed. Tom said it had been a long procedure, but the final product was worth all the time and energy. Here’s where I set him up. I said, “I know Tom, I know it’s been a lot. I empathize with what you went through.”
Tom said, “Wait a minute, Paul. I don’t think you can empathize. You might have compassion or even pity for what I’ve been through, but truly, how could you empathize?”
And that’s when I sprung my trap. I smiled big and said, “look at this,” and then I pulled out my front teeth, right at the same spot where Tom had his implants. “I’m getting implants too,” I explained. “I too had an abscess. I too needed a bone graft. Now, my dear Professor Tom, wouldn’t you call that empathy?!”
Tom conceded, and I’m happy to say I can also empathize with the feeling of satisfaction that comes from implant work going well, and resulting in a strong and healthy smile.
While I can’t say I’ve experienced all the procedures I am called to perform on others, I do think a good dentist can achieve a degree of empathy with all their patients. Maybe Professor Tom is right, and compassion is a better word to describe what I feel for my patients, especially when those relationships build over time. All this is to say, I can’t help but think of the recent studies in England that have shown that brushing your teeth regularly significantly decreases your chance of heart disease. It seems I’ve conducted my own unofficial study: being a dentist with deep relationships in my community may not prevent heart disease, but it definitely makes my heart grow!
Paul L. Caputo, DDS3490 E Lake Rd S Suite A