Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In the Waiting Room

Are you a dentist looking for some art for your waiting room?  Do you want something memorable--not the visual muzak you see in most medical offices?  You want something challenging and intelligent that that will nonetheless give your patients a feeling a peace--something that prepares them for a positive dental experience.

Today we made our first visit to a dentist since coming to France, and the waiting room decor left such an impression that I thought I'd share---in case you plan to open your own practice (cough--cough--Peter Mc-cough-Pherson-cough).

What was so memorable?  There were framed photographs of dentists at work.  An obvious choice, right?  But if you're thinking of dentists à la Norman Rockwell, think again.  These were dentists in poor countries in Southeast Asisa.  Most of them appeared to be set up on the side of the road--their entire apparatus consisting of a chair, a table, and a drill mechanism built from bicycle parts.  More than one photo showed a dentist hovering over his patient's mouth, his own lips clenching a cigarette with about a quarter inch of ash hanging at its end.   One dentist stood grinning over a table topped with a few bottles (medicine, painkiller?) and a pile of pulled teeth (advertisement)?  Finally, there was a close-up shot of  a camel.  You might think, as I did, "ah, this is just a camel, included here for a bit more exotic color." But then your husband points out that the camel has a tooth that is growing horizontally out of it's mouth and there is a rope tied around the tooth--the photo shows an extraction in progress.

Imagine the effect these photos have on your patients.  The pictures are not intended to disgust--there's no blood or expressions of pain, but they reveal an uncomfortable truth.   For so many people, going to the dentist means that, at best, they walk away minus a troublesome tooth.  At worse...well, we won't go there.

You can imagine the contrast that these pictures create, when the doctor's door opens to reveal a sleek office painted a calming green.  Everything bespeaks cleanliness and hygiene---the doctor's spotless lab shirt, the seamless keyboard he uses to enter your information, the perfectly smooth, molded examination chair, the blinding beam of the LED head lamp.  All the cues that might excite a phobia have  become comforting signals of modernity.  Yes, having your teeth cleaned may make your eyes water, but you are in a nice, clean office and not sitting on the side of the road in Cambodia.  Your dentist is wearing latex gloves and the smell in your nostrils is from antiseptic and peppermint tooth polish and not from a cigarette dangling a foot above your nose.  You are not, like that poor camel, about to have your tooth yanked out with a rope.

Our appointments came to a satisfying conclusion.   Neither Don nor I had any cavities.  The aches we had been feeling in the weeks prior were just sensitivities due to tartar build up--or, was it  perhaps our subconscious goading us to get checked?  Since their cleaning, our teeth have felt much better, and, thanks to those photographs, we have a new appreciation for first world dentistry.


  1. We saw some of those street side dentists in Vietnam. We were glad not to require their service.

  2. I wondered if you might have seen them.

  3. Loved this Julia! Thanks for the idea!! I need to figure out how to get notifications for when you post.... so i don't miss these awesome stories.

    I was thinking the pictures would probably work two ways... as you described creating a contrast for the patient but also the doctor... it would keep him thankful for his tools, drugs and nice office too!