‘One bristle or two, sir?’

Types of patients come in batches, have you noticed? You have a whole morning of well-trained, delightfully pleasing and uncomplicated patients who leave the surgery, make their recall appointments and then you see them all again, one after the other on the same day!

I sometimes wish they could be interspersed with the more complicated, difficult ones who also tend to appear in clumps and leave you feeling utterly drained, but such is life.

I love seeing the former group, old friends who need only a spot of titivation and encouragement so there’s time to swap news and funny stories.

They help the week along and lift the spirits, but I also enjoy the challenge of the people who are nervous, with sensitive teeth, have never seen a hygienist before and are expecting the worst.

Although they require more energy, lots of deep breathing and pauses, gentle reassurance and topical anaesthetic, they’re the most rewarding. When they leave saying: ‘Thank you for your time,’ or even more morale boosting: ‘You were wonderful.’

Then everything seems worthwhile, and I think I’ll put off stacking shelves in Tesco’s for another few months!

We all have our little quirks, don’t we? One of mine is asking the patients to bring their toothbrushes to my appointments.

Some people are quite insulted and most think this is very strange at first.

One lovely gentleman in his seventies, whom I’d not met before, told me as we walked along the corridor: ‘I’ve brought my toothbrush but I haven’t brought my pyjamas!’ We had a really good chuckle.

Best of intentions

I have no amorous intentions, and will not be keeping the patients up overnight. I’m not being a mini Hitler; I merely want patients to get the most out of their appointment with me.

Initially I like to see what they’re using, then show them the toothbrushing technique – which is complicated – in their mouths so they can watch the position of the handle and brush-head, and feel the effect of the bristles.

Sometimes I ask them to demonstrate what they are doing, and this can be enlightening. Or I say: ‘I’ll just work it out then I’ll show you,’ because there is no cut and dried method; no two mouths are the same and until I try with their brush I don’t know what the difficulties are.

Just having to bring their brush out of the house makes them look at it and often they apologise for its worn state, but that’s OK because they’ve recognised that themselves.

Before leaving the practice they invariably buy a replacement.

I find a toothbrush useful for removing plaque from inaccessible areas, particularly if there are rivers of saliva or a large, obstructive tongue, and patients can see that I’m using their tools, nothing fancy, to achieve results.

However they bring it, in a proper toothbrush case, wrapped in silver foil, in a sandwich bag or stuffed in a pocket, I’m always pleased to see it. I’d prefer it not to be hairy, though!

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