The dental profession should be feared

The dental profession should be feared

Written by Neil Burman

Whichever smug so-and-so said, something along the lines of, “there is nothing to fear except fear itself”, obviously never graduated as a dentist.

I say this because I’m not sure I like the way our over-regulated profession is going. Once, we rightly held sway as the most feared of all professional groups in the eyes of the public. Feared more than proctologists, lawyers and children entertainers with rotating bow ties. Now, the roles have been reversed, and dentists, who were once renowned for revelling in the agony of others, have become mere shadows of their former selves. Meek, twitching individuals frightened by sudden movement, loud noises and too apprehensive to check the mail to see which patient is either demanding their records go somewhere else, or instructing a solicitor to discover why their filling broke after only 25 years of faithful service. 

The media, of course, love it. For years they have been buoyed by the fact dentists have “poisoned” whole generations with mercury and, in the process, produced more mad hatters than even Alice could poke a stick at. Plus, every conspiracy theorist understands the profession has been in bed with the CIA, allowing fluoride to enslave the minds of teenagers, turning them into mindless zombies who wear their hats back to front in a pathetic attempt to prevent aliens from sucking out their thoughts via their scrawny necks. Not to mention: various scandals concerning sending crowns overseas to be manufactured by children under the age of three, manacled to benches in third world laboratories; radiation exposure, making a dental check-up worse than spending your summer vacation in Chernobyl; and the contents of dental water lines being used as templates for germ warfare establishments.

Sorry, I said I wasn’t going to mention them.

Because of the need for informed consent, I now spend so long informing patients of all the things that might possibly go wrong with a procedure – from being strangled by the bib, to accidentally chewing through their own larynx whilst anaesthetised – that I usually end up talking to myself. The only evidence that I once had a patient in the room is a slight depression in the middle of my dental chair and my assistant turning out the lights. Whatever happened to the days of the “doctor knows best”? In those days, removing the wrong leg would be brushed aside by a grateful public willing to believe that the doctor really knew what he was doing and people don’t need legs which is why doctors invented wheelchairs.

Even the magazines in the waiting room are fraught with danger. Patients are prone to sue if they follow the advice of something they read (or thought they read) on your premises. However, for those brave souls who actually agree to treatment, no amount of written and verbal instructions will ever be enough. Particularly for their next of kin who will be convinced you advised their loved one to keep rinsing after an extraction until they ex-sanguinated on the lounge room carpet. Or who are positive you specifically told them to keep biting their lip until all feeling had returned. Or that their removable appliance would be quite safe if left in the dog’s basket overnight.

The sad thing is that there is little sympathy for the dental profession who is overburdened by regulation and too scared to pick up a handpiece in case something goes wrong, whilst too scared not to start treatment in case he/she is sued for supervised neglect.

  I blame the Dental Board of Australia for refusing to grant my request to claim visits to the psychiatrist as part of my annual CPD requirement.