Carol called the office and said that she wanted six porcelain veneers on her upper front teeth.
Could she have that? They answer was, of course she could!
We did not know it at the time, but my office was the sixth dental office that she had called and visited – we did not know she had already been to five other dentists and made the same simple request. And each of those five previous dentists had upon, examining Carol, refused the request.
Those dentists dogmatically explained to her that she had back teeth with excessive abscesses, and those should be her immediate concern. Not the cosmetic beautification of her six front teeth.
But Carol didn’t want the badly abscessed back teeth repaired first. She wanted six front porcelain veneers. So, with increasing amounts of frustration, she paid a series of five consultation fees…but always left without those six porcelain veneers on her upper front teeth.
When Carol arrived for her appointment and I saw the terrible condition of the rest of her teeth, I too informed her that by law I needed to inform her of the other more pressing health issues.
I did something, however, that five other dentists simply refused to do. I told Carol that if there were reasons why she truly felt she needed to have the veneers done before taking care of her other serious dental issues, that was her choice to make and we would honor it.
Carol was startled. “You will do it? Just my front teeth, right?”
I assured her that the answer was a simple yes.
She then pulled out a photograph and said, “This is what I want them to look like, and I need it done rather quickly.”
The teeth were cleaned and prepared to receive the six very white porcelain veneers. I won’t deny that I would have preferred to have Carol ask us to resolve her other dental problems first – but there was no reason to refuse her request, no matter how odd it seemed. The underlying teeth were so badly broken down it was necessary to cover them with temporary acrylic veneers while the porcelain was being made in the lab. Even these temporary veneers look very nice.
A few weeks later it was time to bond the actual porcelain veneers onto her teeth. That is always an exciting day: to see the transformation from something “not so pretty” to something beautiful – and yet at the same time looking anything but artificial. This was a challenge because all of the rest of the teeth were in such poor condition. The appointment went smoothly and did not take very long, and soon it was time to freshen up Carol’s face with a warm scented towel, and sit her up in the dental chair to reveal the new look that she could see in a large hand mirror.
Carol took a deep breath raised up the mirror to look at herself – and started crying. It’s not uncommon for both men and women to get emotional at the transformation they see; but Carol did not just cry. She Boo-hooed.
Then she cried even more uncontrollably. My dental team and I feared the worst. Did she absolutely hate what she saw?
When she finally was able to control herself, I gingerly asked, “Carol, what’s wrong with them?”
“Absolutely nothing,” Carol said. “They are beautiful and exactly what I want.” With that statement, she pulled off her wig to reveal little sprigs of thin hair – and only then did she finally tell me why those six veneers were so damned important to her.
“The rest of my teeth don’t matter,” Carol explained. “You see, eight months ago I was told that I had only six months to live because of cancer.” I’m already living on borrowed time. But you see, I used to secretly work as a double for one of our first ladies. Next week I am to be honored at a dinner at the White House for that work.” She smiled and her new beautiful front teeth gleamed. “There will be lots of photographers and I will have my picture taken. It’s bad enough that I have no hair. I at least wanted a nice smile.”
Carol’s story is very important to me because it helps me illustrate that assumptions and judgment about the priorities of our patients have no place in my office. It is very dangerous to presume that I know why people decide what they do. You never know what circumstances they may have in their life. Our job, and our first responsibility to you, is to help you restore your confidence – based on the priorities you give us.