Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Learning the Drill

   Someone or something in cyberspace thinks I’m a dentist. How he, she, or it fell prey to this misconception is a mystery. I never went to the dentist unless it was absolutely necessary. And not every absolute necessity was enough to get me there, which explains why my mouth is full of empty spaces once occupied by teeth. No matter: someone out there is sure I have a “DDS.” If I do, it stands for Disappointing Dental Specimen.
   The e-mails began arriving in February.  One of the early ones read:

   “Dear Colleague: My very good friend, Dr. Gary Sanchez has a flat out, revolutionary way of using the internet to market a dental practice. For the first time ever, we asked Dr. Gary to put together a Study Club to teach the same strategies that took his practice from 10 to 40 ideal new patients every month. He agreed!”
   What, pray tell, is an “ideal new patient?”  The kid in the old toothpaste commercials – the one who jumped out of the dentist’s chair yelling, “Look, Mom, no cavities!” – gets my vote.  But I wondered about my colleagues. Ideally, the new patients should make them rich. But if the new patients all have ideal teeth, how much income will their two checkups a year generate? Not enough to buy that new yacht, or build that new summer home, I bet.
   A week or two later, another e-mail found its way to me. This one didn’t begin, “Dear Colleague,” but it made me feel as if I were a member of the club. The message made it clear my concerns for the earnings potential of dentists serving ideal patients are shared by others in the bicuspid biz.
   “While many dentists are focusing on how to bring new patients into the practice,” the e-mail read, “it’s always been my belief that an easier solution is to provide an expanded range of services to our patients.” That makes sense. If the bi-annual examinations – despite all the poking, prodding and x-raying – don’t reveal a single less-than-ideal tooth, it’s hardly worth the drillmeister’s time to poke, prod and x-ray.
   The e-mail explains to my colleagues that if they learn a few simple orthodontic techniques they will be able to help their patients get that stunning smile they’ve always wanted. To find out more, I clicked on “Learn More.” I wanted to find out how much it would cost to learn those “few simple techniques.” What I found out was, they might call me “colleague,” but they are none too anxious to let me in the clubhouse. To “learn more,” required that I know what the “d” in MOD stands for. I tried a number of “d” words, and it didn’t do me a d_ _ _ bit of good.
   Then I tried the link for non-dentists. What I found was a video telling me how much happier I’d be if I would only get my teeth straightened. This was like getting half the course for free – the half in which the dentists learns to tell the patient that she’d feel much better about herself if her teeth were straighter. After all, being embarrassed to smile is nothing to smile about. And all the orthodontic skills in the world won’t help my colleagues get rich if they’re not able to convince patients that a movie-star smile will keep people from noticing their sumo-wrestler butts.
   Then I got a disturbing e-mail from Dr. Kit Withers. The e-mail began thusly:

   Escape from Impossible Situations:
Learn how to become an everyday Houdini with modern advancements in extraction instruments
   “As dentists we either love extractions, find it to be a necessary procedure before moving on to more exciting procedures such as socket preservation and placing implants, or lastly, do not do them at all for a variety of reasons. No matter what category you may fall within, we have all had an extraction procedure that did not go as expected, which resulted in stress for you and your patient.”
   I hope my colleagues will forgive me, but I can’t help wondering what this Houdini thing is all about. What does this seminar teach dentists to escape from? Enraged patients? Salivating malpractice attorneys? What? And Dr. Withers goes on:

   “It is clear that extractions are often the first step or building block to growing your practice to incorporating other procedures, such as socket preservation and implants. In today’s economy, coupled with a growing aging population requiring extractions, there is simply no reason to not perform difficult extractions in your practice.”
   “Aging population requiring extractions?” That group couldn’t possibly include me. Could it? I better keep my mouth shut.

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