What’s a Little Hearing Loss Between You & Your Dentist?

Gael Hannan
December 15, 2020

Today, I had a minor thing done to my two front teeth which had chipped, and from start to finish it was an accessible and pain-free experience. That made it an unusual experience.

A few years ago, I wrote an article in the form of a letter to a different dentist, who had given me a root canal, a process that seemed to go on for weeks. In this article of advocacy, I provided pertinent suggestions in a friendly, slightly humorous manner which I thought would alert dentists to the needs of their patients with hearing loss. When asked my dentist if he’d read the article (which I’d sent him), he said he hadn’t had time, and the topic never came up again.

I’ve excerpted the letter – do you think I was overly critical? Keep in mind that this was seven years B.C. (Before Covid).

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 (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 and focus on something to calm my nerves.  You should keep the CC on permanently for all of your patients!
  • May I suggest sensitivity awareness and communication training for your staff? Your receptionist is lovely but tends to talk to her computer 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 with hearing loss don’t do well on the phone, so may I suggest email communication? (Note: I would be happy to provide this 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 ensures I don’t miss a thing and can be digested better when I’m at home. 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. Well, there was a LOT of pain and face swelling. Now, Doc, if you did tell me this, I didn’t hear it; perhaps I was too focused on trying to bring both halves of my frozen jaw together.
  • In fact, full written information on all your procedures would be helpful, like an info sheet such as  ‘Your Root Canal: Neat Stuff to Know’.  
  • Now, here’s the biggie communication challenge – understanding you during the procedure. My speechreading ability is limited during dental work, because your masked face is not in my line of sight. A clear mask would allow speechreading and relieve anxiety with patients. I understand when you throw me a “you OK?” and I respond with a 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, blah blah


So! What do you think? I was polite and helpful, wasn’t I?  My dentist today passed with flying colors, although my tinnitus always flares higher after a session of drilling. That aside, our communication was more or less perfect. One demerit point: he doesn’t have a TV in the waiting room, probably because no one arriving for their appointment has to wait more than a minute or two before the tortur..uh..treatment starts.

  1. Brilliant funny (as always!)

    Loved it

    So many excellent points

    I’m saving this … so that I can show it to any of my docs, dentists, etc
    Of course, their response is contingent on whether or not they read and speak English!

    Way to go!

  2. Your right . Sometimes they need hel and yes written instructions for sure. My previous dentist was a complete dope. He tried to pry my Jaw open one time. Now I know to remind the staff to please tap my jaw when you want me to open or close. My new dentist is just awesome and so is his staff. It’s a learning experience for all of us every time I go.

  3. These were all great suggestions, Gael. I find that professionals are often more receptive to suggestions like this if I make the first approach verbally. For example, before leaving the office, offer one straightforward comment/suggestion face to face (along with appropriate praise for whatever was handled well) and ask if you could share other suggestions in writing. Unless the professional knows you really well it may be hard to differentiate between helpful advice and a list of snarky suggestions, especially if that list arrives out of the blue and he/she reads it after a hard day at the office.
    Best regards!

  4. Great, informative, useful info for the dentist to understand the needs of his patients who have hearing loss…..but the first sentence is a bit harsh…..not encouraging for him/her to want to go on reading the important info you’re sharing.
    “Escaped from your dental chair” ……some judgement there. And “the experience being painfully fresh”??? You’re trying to get his/her support, right?

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