A HoH in the Dentist Chair

Gael Hannan
April 1, 2013

A Letter To My Dentist,


Having just escaped from your dentist chair for the second time in a week, I am writing while the experience is still painfully fresh in my mind.  Actually, the pain wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected – the drugs helped a lot.

As you know, Doc, I have hearing loss, and you’ve always been good about removing your mask when asked to repeat something. But I’m wondering if I might suggest a few other areas of your clinical service that could use some accessibility upgrades? And this isn’t just about me – you probably have many other hard of hearing clients, although not all would have disclosed this choice bit of personal info.

If you’re interested, keep reading.  If not, please recycle the paper.


  • Your waiting room has a lovely new ‘high-def’ TV which, unfortunately, is not accessible to your ‘low-deaf’ clients (excuse the bad pun). While waiting for my root canal last week, I asked for the closed captioning (CC) to be turned on, so I could understand the TV.  My nerves were jangly because at the end of the hall I could see the empty dentist chair, waiting, and it reminded me of the previous night’s episode of The Walking Dead in which a favourite character was handcuffed in a similar chair.  (For non-Walking Dead fans, let’s just say that a snarling, hungry zombie was approaching that chair…)  So, I showed the receptionist how to turn on the CC – and it was still on two days later when I came back for more pills!  I’m hoping it helped to soothe some other anxious tooth-achey person.


  • And speaking of TVs, does there need to be one in the treatment room? It can’t be for the patients, because we normally spend our time prone, or semi-prone, with our mouths open. When I dared to open my eyes during the root canal, all I saw was a close-up of you holding a vibrating silver gun. Perhaps you could put the TV on the ceiling so we can all see it?  Anyway, you and the dental assistant shouldn’t be watching – you’re supposed to be focused on us!


  • May I suggest sensitivity awareness and communication training for your staff? Your receptionist is lovely, but tends to talk to her computer or appointment book rather than looking directly at me. This is important because when hard of hearing people are stressed – due to nerves before the appointment or from pain after it – our hearing tends to be at low ebb. We appreciate service providers who communicate well with us. You might also consider a counter loop that would enable your receptionist and hearing aid-users to communicate directly and clearly.  Some clients  may prefer email or text appointment reminders rather than phone calls. (Note: I would be happy to provide this communication training in exchange for a free tooth-whitening treatment.)


  • Written follow-up information would make sure I don’t miss anything important. Spoken instructions can be misunderstood or misinterpreted, whereas a comprehensive info sheet can be digested better in the leisure of our homes. For example, I asked you about pain and you said my mouth might be a little tender afterwards and, if so, to take a pain reliever. There was no mention of other possibilities – such as a lot of pain, or my face swelling to the point I couldn’t wink or smile and that calling you would be a good idea. Now, Doc, if you did tell me this, I didn’t realize you were talking to me, or I may have been  focused on trying to bring both halves of my frozen jaw together.


  • In fact, full written information on all your procedures would be helpful.  Along with my appointment card, your receptionist could give me an info sheet such as  ‘You & Your Root Canal: Neat Stuff to Know’.  It could include facts on why I’m having the damn thing in the first place, what’s involved (i.e. three appointments), what will happen at each appointment, God willing, as well as payment expectations and the possible side effects.


  • Now, here’s the biggie communication challenge – understanding you during the procedure. My speechreading ability is limited during dental work, either because you are not in my line of sight or because you wear surgical masks to protect us both from deadly germs. Some good clear masks have  been invented that allow speechreading, but no one uses them – why is that, Doc?  Clear masks not only help people with hearing loss, but also have been proved to relieve anxiety with patients.

As it is now,  you have to pull down your mask to tell me something.  I understand when you throw me a “you OK?” and I respond with a visual thumbs up.  But today, we did have a slight communication issue. As you turned away for a moment, you pulled down your mask and said, “Would you care to apologize?”

Me:     Why?

You:   Because it’s the next step.

Me:     The next step in my root canal is that I have to apologize?!

You:   Huh?

Me:     Can you repeat what you said?

You:    I said, now we’re going to do a polish.

Me:     Oh, I thought you said I had to apologize. Sorry.


So, Dentist, My Dentist – you do take good care of my teeth and I thank you. With just a bit of improved communication in the clinic, I would nominate you for Dentist of the Year Award.


Sincerely yours,

Gael Hannan


  1. As always, funny and eloquent, Gael. I’m up for two implants at 2300 bucks a piece! Yikes.

    But I like this so much I’m forwarding this. Have you thought about sending this to the Colleges of Dentist?

    Should be required best practices.


  2. Bruce has a great suggestion! Send to all Dental societies!
    A reluctant dental visitor, who, as you can guess, is pushing for better voice recognition systems for real time captioning of everything he (or she) says, yes, even in the dental torture chamber ;-).

    Since a voice recognition system is easy to train to one voice, the dentist can take a few moments to do this once; then speaks into the system which puts his (her) voice on that screen above your head, as Gael suggests.

    Hooray for technologies. Save all the paper.


  3. I can completely relate to your experience. Regarding TV, I have my closed captioning on the TV all the time. I personally feel it should be the default setting. If people want to change it, they can. But it should be the rule in public waiting rooms.
    My dentist is not Canadian by origin but he speaks very slowly and gives thorough information. He may be aware of my hearing aids. I certainly appreciate it. Maybe I should ask him to bring this to the attention of the rest of his staff. Not just for me but for people in general.
    I asked for a change of hygienist, because the one I had before talked too much. I didn’t have to explain. They just made the change. But I should have said why. I do like her but it was a strain to keep up with her rapid conversation.

  4. Hi, I’m a hearing loop contractor and reading your post gave me an idea. You mentioned the counter loop at reception, but why not a loop in the procedure room? There are small wireless bluetooth mics that could be easily and unobtrusively worn by the dentist. The sound of his voice would pass right through the mask, be picked up by the mic and fed to the loop system. Then you wouldn’t have to read his lips. A receiver and headphone could even be provided for patients without t-coil equipped hearing aids or CI. Just a thought.

    1. Bluetooth microphone that works with a hearing loop? I’d like to know more about that. Could you post a link to more information on how that works? Thanks!

    2. Not at all sure a loop would work well in most dental offices… there is a ton of electro-magnetic hash from their stuff… but most modern dental units forbid cell phones because they interfere with devices in their offices… not sure blue tooth would be different.

      1. John, I’ve taken an EMI meter into my dentist’s office. There is quite a lot of noise near some of the equipment but it doesn’t generally extend out very far. The chair location was fine for EMI.

  5. I must be truly lucky, my dentist and staff have no TV in the waiting room or in the various rooms. They do play music that I can’t really hear, but that doesn’t bother me. The dentist stands in front of me, smiles and tells me what he’s going to do before he does it. He stops again to look and explain. He touches my hand to get my attention when my eyes are closed–almost always. The staff are attentive too, speaking to my face. The office manager takes me into her office and explains the billing and asks if I need more info. So I am blessed indeed.

  6. You live in the wrong place… there are several deaf people who go to our dentist… they have a big flat panel TV in the waiting rom running either Pulse24 or CTVNews and the captions are on…the volume is off… there a TV on the ceiling above the chair and it is normally captions on since they don’t want to shut at each other over the TV… they have a hand held white board and markers for asking me details.. the hygenist steps back a couple of feet and pulls down the mask to talk then puts the mask back and crawls back into my mouth.. remember my slogan… advocate or suficate… if it is going to be, it is up to me… gently remiond the dentist that his time is worth about $6.00 per minute..buying a $5.00 white board instead of repeating everything has a very quite return on investment.

  7. Gael you are so funny! I really enjoy your posts and have a good laugh as I relate to the absurd translations.

    Good Pie!
    i mean goodbye…. for now!

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