The story of Mel

March 28, 2019

Mel is a 29 year old.  He never graduated from high school and is unemployed.  He has a very narrow upper arch and wider lower arch, so his face is affected.

I met him while I was volunteering for an organization I belong to.  The teeth in the back were all gone.  He eats soft foods and avoids laughing or smiling.

He came to me one day and said that he had made some new year’s plans to get his GED and to get his mouth fixed. I told him that I’d like to help and that I knew some really good dentists who could help. He said that no, he had a good friend that had referred him to a really good dentist.  He’s supposed to be really nice. 

He told me that he hadn’t been to a dentist in 15 years because he’s afraid – that he had a recurring nightmare that he would be lying in the chair and that all this stuff was in his mouth and that something starts to pull it down his throat and he chokes to death. So he goes to the dentist and gets the traditional treatment. 

They are friendly and his hygienist tells him that she is going to take a full mouth series on him and she starts putting all this stuff in this mouth. He says that nobody has told him about this and he wonders why they are doing this.

The hygienist says that she’s taking necessary x-rays.  He says wait a minute.  I have to talk to someone first.  I don’t like this.  The hygienist says just a minute, I’ll get the doctor.

The doctor comes in.  Obviously he was busy doing something else and says that he doesn’t have time today to explain it in detail to him but that we’ll go over that when we have the x-rays so we can tell you what your problem is.

Mel gets out of the chair and leaves.  Just walks out. He is in tears and calls and asks if I can help him to choose a dentist. I choose a dentist who is very skilled and good at the behavioral side of dentistry.

I volunteered to go with him to the dentists and he said that would be OK.  I asked if it would be OK if I told the dentist the story.  He said that he could tell it if someone would listen.

In the car to the office he tells me his story:

  1. 15 years ago I quit going to the dentist.
  2. He had nightmares about dying in the chair.
  3. His teeth had rotted to the gum line in back and they weren’t extracted.
  4. He was in constant pain for 10 to 12 years.
  5. He was embarrassed to be in public.
  6. He really can’t eat food well and hasn’t eaten a salad in years.
  7. He purees his food at home and eats baby food.
  8. He has a social problem because he knows people notice his teeth and think he’s uneducated and stupid.

He is a mess but doesn’t feel safe enough to do anything about it.

We arrive at the office, and here is what happened.

Most dentists are not good at this, and they don’t have the time to do it.  They sat at a round table.  The doctor said:  “I want to help you in a way that is important to you, and I don’t know what that is so I want you to make me smart about you. So here’s what I want to know.  Let’s assume that you and I have figured out a way to work together and we have accomplished everything you had intended and today is the last day and we are finished. Tell me how you’re going to live your life, go to work, see friends.  How will you be able to do it differently?  How will it be better for you when we’re all done?”

Mel said: “I would be able to get through a day without taking tons of aspirin and Tylenol. I would be able to smile in front of my friends.  I wouldn’t be embarrassed.  People wouldn’t see me as uneducated, stupid, or dumb. I’d like to stop ordering soft fish or potatoes at a restaurant and be able to eat real food. I’d have confidence that I could go to a dentist’s office and be treated with respect and that I wasn’t going to die and I wasn’t going to be hurt and that I’d know what was going to happen ahead of time and that I was included in the decisions and that I’d be treated like a human being instead of a high school dropout.”

Great story!!

Here’s what the doctor said: “I guess we have our treatment plan, don’t we?  All I have to do is re-arrange the landscape in your mouth to make all these things happen.  I can do that!”

Here’s the rest of the story.

The entire treatment plan cost was $75,000.  I’m telling you this not because I think you should be doing $75,000 treatment plans.

Here’s what the treatment plan involved – it was a multidisciplinary case.

  1. Rapid palliative expansion.
  2. Mandibular advancement at the oral surgeon’s office.
  3. Six implants have been placed with more in phase 2.
  4. All of the root tips have been removed.
  5. Periodontal issues have been addressed.
  6. Reconstruction of some of the teeth as the front teeth were like bucky beaver teeth.
  7. Started orthodontics.
  8. He is working with some heavy hitters in the dental field: Frank Spears, John Kouise, Peter Dawson.

Now ask yourself.  Where did a guy who is a high school dropout and unemployed get $75,000?

  1. He has no obligation to tell people that he doesn’t work because he is retired or
  2. That he is a Microsoft worker and that he worked for them for eight years and retired with $13.5 million dollars.

You see that what you don’t know is always more important than what you do know.  What you don’t know will be more influential than what you know.  If you made a decision based on a snapshot, you may make the wrong decision every time.

  • Mel has time ……………………………….. he is unemployed
  • He has money ……………………………… he’s retired
  • He has energy ……………………………… he’s 29
  • He has no courage …………………………. that’s the price he wasn’t willing to pay
  • He wasn’t willing to pay the price of courage for someone’s hardware.

He was prepared to pay the price for quality of life issues that the dentist was willing to deliver.

There are many more stories like this:  small ones and big ones. Our job is to be more intentional in the process of meeting patients.  The doctor must be curious about what is in it for his patient.  He wanted to know why he wanted what he wanted. He asked questions and then asked more questions.  That got him to a place of understanding and respect.

Once Mel felt understood and respected, he accepted the influence of all these good people.  Not because they were the “wizards of dentistry” – he doesn’t know John Kuisse, Frank Spears, or Peter Dawson from Adam’s house cat.

The people who are most influential are influential not because of their credentials but because of their understanding and respect. People will always allow you to help them when they feel understood and respected.  You can’t do that if you are in judgment. This piece is so simple but so critical to dental offices.