It happens fairly regularly where a new patient will come to see me and they're visibly nervous, no surprises there. They're not nervous about having treatment, what becomes apparent quite early on in our conversation, is they're simply embarrassed about their teeth.
They're embarrassed because they spend their lives trying to hide their teeth from people, covering their mouths when they smile, smiling through closed lips or just not smiling at all! Now they have sweated, toiled and eventually summoned the courage to go to the one place where you can't hide your teeth.
One of the many changes we've all had to implement lately is the use of masks during all face to face interactions for clinicians and patients, except for during the time where I'm actively looking in someone's mouth.
Whilst in most cases, I hate the barrier that has been put up between the patient and I, in the case of a new patient who has an incapacitating anxiety about their teeth, they now have the opportunity to talk to a dental professional without the fear that their teeth are being judged from the instant they walk in the room.
New patient consultations via online video chats are also brilliant for this same reason. I can't see your teeth on a Zoom call, nor should I be able to. I get the chance to listen and understand your concerns and build a connection with the real person and not someone who is so occupied with fretting about their own teeth that they can't engage with me on a personal level.
It has always been the case that you cannot understand a patient's concerns by looking at their teeth. Understanding a patient and a patient's concerns is only possible by listening wholeheartedly and engaging in a genuine conversation.
Wearing a mask is a novel experience for most people. It's different. It's strange. But it's not necessarily a bad thing.
Connecting with my patients and getting to help them is the best part of my job. The solution is different for every patient because every patient is different. More than ever before we are able to listen, without distraction to understand our patients and their concerns and some patients may just feel more comfortable talking to us and everyone else, having the freedom to know that nobody can see their teeth.