Open Letter to My Dentist’s Assistant

I’m sorry that I was resistant to your request for information this morning. It came as a surprise that you would call in response to my feedback on your clinic’s email questionnaire. I was suddenly confronted with that recent evaluation and not fully prepared to justify it on the spot. When a business calls a client within a few hours of their feedback, that could be seen as either very client-responsive or intimidating or both. I felt a bit intimidated.

Feedback Image by mcmurryjulie from Pixabay

I had always thought that questionnaires were used as a means for statistical evaluation. I expected that many responses would be gathered and used as a general indication of the feelings of the respondents. I had not anticipated that a single response would cause the clinic to call the patient.

In my feedback, I was able to indicate my experience on a scale of 1 to 10 on a variety of questions, but not to indicate how much each issue mattered to me. The one negative response I provided must have been sufficiently troubling for you to call me. It was not, however, sufficiently easy for me to explain; hence this letter.

When I saw the dentist, I had already undergone a visit with the hygienist that lasted over an hour and I was exhausted. As such, I was not really in a good frame of mind to be confronted with an important choice. The dentist is a fine man and I don’t question his abilities, but a series of circumstances troubled me.

• When the dentist first entered the room, he asked me who had recommended me to see him. When I pointed out that I had been going to that clinic for five years, he realized his mistake. I, however, felt a little disappointed that he failed to recognize me.

• His accent and diction make it difficult for me to comprehend him quickly. I acknowledge my own limitations in this regard. I had to ask him to repeat himself quite often, which probably frustrated him.

• When explaining to me what he saw in my mouth, he was not facing me. Most of the time he talked to the computer and we were facing away from each other. The problem I had with his diction might have been mitigated if I could have seen him talking.
Flipper via pxhere

• He used terms with which I was not familiar. I was being asked to decide about the removal of a tooth, but I did not understand the choices I was being given. I had never heard of a “flipper” in relation to teeth before. The only flippers I could think of were people who resell houses, marine mammals, and those big rubber shoes for swimming. So, I asked two or three times what he meant but each time he gave the same response which I didn’t understand. Subsequently, he Googled images which popped up on the screen in front of me. That helped my understanding, but I would have preferred to see them without his condescending tone when he said: “OK. We all know how to use Google.” He went on to explain that, as a dental appliance, they were a bit of a nuisance to live with.

• When explaining my second choice, he described the need to see a periodontist and the difficulty of the task at hand. I got the impression that he was telling me this was a bad idea because it might not be possible to drill an implant in such a small space. He repeated that fact at least three times.

So, when he wanted to know what my decision was, I was completely at a loss. Both choices had been presented to me negatively. In order just to be able to leave, I asked him to arrange for me to see a periodontist.

Dentures via Flickr

Please bear in mind that asking a patient about the removal of a tooth may be commonplace for a dentist, but it is very rare for a patient. I am nearly 70, so I have had that tooth for about 60 years. It is a part of me. It is not causing me any problems and I am feeling no pain. The only indication that I have that it needs to be removed is the recommendation of the dentist. You will forgive me, therefore, if I hesitate.

When you called me, you were simply fulfilling a part of your job, and you probably had not expected my negativity. I hope that this letter goes some way towards helping you understand my situation. I will probably resist the temptation to respond to feedback questionnaires in the future. I don’t want to put myself or other professional assistants on the spot, and I don’t think fast enough to explain myself during an unexpected phone call.

Please rest assured, though, that you are an excellent dentist’s assistant. I appreciate the welcome you gave me at the clinic and the graciousness with which you accepted my reluctance to answer your questions today on the phone.


  1. You made a good choice to see a specialist. I’d definitely be getting a second opinion. There might be the option of doing nothing. Maybe the tooth doesn’t need to be removed. Or there might be some other option that hadn’t been presented by the dentist. I find it odd that they would contact you about your feedback. Kind of intimidating.

  2. There’s a fine line between good customer service and making one never wanting to return. I think…not a few hours later, but a day or two later, a call to apologize for the fact that they fell shot and would love to do what they can to make it up including but not limited to a deeper conversation about your options would be excellent customer service. Calling so quickly and asking you to explain yourself is highly uncomfortable and very few can think that fast on their feet. I think what you did do is the wisest thing to do.

  3. I went to a specialist a few years back (can’t say how many) to have a wisdom tooth extracted. And I quote: “…if you were my mother I would recommend…” I know he looked at my chart before he spoke. Normally people mistake me for a younger person. Did I want a kid operating on me? hmmmm Could he have better said “aunt” or “sister?” ;D .
    Also had the annoying experience of visiting a primary doc for an x-ray on a foot I injured. They went through a whole lot of unrelated questions b/c I had not been in a few years. It will probably be a few more before I go back. Thank the Lord for good health in my advancing years, Sonny, I mean Kid Doc. 😉 . Thank you, Snowbird, for expressing it so well!

    1. My dentist probably meant well but he just seemed a little too blase to see me as an individual. I felt like just another dental chart and not a person.

      Your experiences sound like a similar sense of not actually being seen.

      Thank you for your kind words about the article.

  4. Anne, there is an article on the CBC news website today about a couple in Ontario who were unhappy with a kitchen reno. The company agreed to reimburse some costs but, in exchange, they had to sign a document saying they would not give a negative online review. They didn’t sign and instead they went public.

      1. I always wonder about online reviews. I ordered flowers recently from a shop in Edmonton. I chose that particular business because I wanted to support a local, independent place and the vast majority of online reviews were glowing. The flower arrangement was substandard and I was beyond embarrassed when I saw it. Unfortunately, the negative reviews were pretty much what I experienced. I contacted the owner directly and provided photos. She was extremely apologetic and refunded my money. Needless to say, I’ll never order from there again. It’s really hard to know what to trust anymore. You start to wonder if positive reviews are written by friends.

        1. I wonder if a lot of people are now only providing reviews if they are positive. I’m certainly considering it myself. I don’t want to deal with any more challenging phone calls if I submit a review that is less than 5 stars.

  5. It behooves health practitioners to communicate with us in the way we need. Your dentist was not establishing any positive rapport with you to start the conversation and didn’t take the (possibly) two extra minutes you needed to be able to process the new-to-you information. let alone make an immediate decision. It’s not a small decision to agree to permanently remove a tooth. I am so glad you opted for an appointment with a specialist. I hope you have the option to shop around for a different dentist, with a style that’s more conducive to working together.
    My brother lost his job five years ago, so didn’t have private health insurance. He decided to seek out his local VA, a benefit he had never pursued. In the last five years, his health care has improved immensely as they regularly schedule him for routine exams, and he dutifully shows up. When I talked to him about this positive change, he said he sees the same nurse practitioner every time, and just is more able to talk to her than his former private practice doctor. As they have spotted several health conditions early, the current one being cancer, I am really grateful he has a health care practitioner he trusts. I believe it’s a necessary part of partnering with our health providers.
    The online survey thing? We have been asked by businesses to give the highest rating, to help them with their corporate office. It feels like some kind of racket. I wonder how these survey things will play out.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I’m glad your brother has found good medical care withe the VA. My sister and brother-in-law in California have also benefitted from the VA services. I hope your brother recovers from his recent diagnosis.

      I, too, am now very suspicious of the online surveys. They started out benefitting consumers but now that businesses are pressuring people to give positive feedback, they have lost their usefulness to both the consumers and the businesses. I think they will have to find a way to make all responses anonymous in order to regain trust.

Please leave a comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.