Can We Talk??

August 25th, 2010

Have you ever been out to lunch with someone and they ask you a question when your mouth is full?  What do you do?  If you’re like most people, you probably never thought about this – and I wouldn’t think about it either – if it hadn’t been for this story someone shared to me about a recent dental visit.  But, I’ll get to that later.

Coming back to our original story here.   How do you answer a question when you’ve got a mouth full of food?

Ann Landers would say that the polite person notices your mouth is full of food and waits to ask you a question.  Or maybe she would say that you hold your hand up before responding, finish chewing and then respond.

And in this hurry up world of ours, I often find myself answering questions with my mouth full. I know – not a pretty site.  Since I love food, I tend to rush while I’m eating anyway.    If I’m answering as I’m in the midst of a mouthful, chances are good that I’ll answer the question quicker or less thoughtfully than if my mouth was empty.

Which brings me to this story about the dentist.  Have you ever noticed that the dentist asks you questions with his hands in your mouth?  Talk about having your mouth full!

I can understand when a dentist is probing for sensitive areas and has to get feedback as he’s poking around.  It makes sense that he would say something like:  “Does it hurt when I touch here?”   It’s easy to give yes or no feedback – even a grunt will do the job.

But, when they ask things like, “When did you first notice this pain in your gums?”  it’s almost impossible to fill them in on the whole story. If you’re anything like me, I struggle to give a complete response so I give them less information than I would otherwise.

The other thing that has surprised me is though I know what I am saying, it comes out pretty unintelligibly and yet they seem to get what I’m saying.  How do they do that anyway?

And when they don’t have all the information they need, it makes it harder for them to do their job.

Once I heard this little vignette, I tuned into my own dentist’s modus operandi.  I’ve been with her a long time.  I also have to say that I’m a dental nut.  My beloved Uncle was my dentist and he instilled in me the importance of good oral hygiene while I was in utero.  I interviewed my dentist extensively before deciding she was a good fit for me and my family.

Anyway, here’s what she does every time I see her.  She reviews the notes from her assistant which are on the computer, she comes and stands in front of me, asks me whatever her questions are and THEN probes around checking for sensitivity and other issues.

If she asks me something I can’t answer fully, I stick up my hand and let her know.  Why?  Because I want to get the best care possible and I know she needs all the facts to do this.

When she’s done examining me, she tells me what she’s found without her hands in my mouth.  I make sure I understand her instructions and then we usually share a quick laugh about something to do with our kids.  I have always appreciated her – but I never knew why – until I heard this little story about dentists talking to patients with their hands in their mouth.

The world moves quickly as we all know. It’s up to us to stay connected enough with our own experiences to let our provider’s know when what they’re doing is interfering with our ability to either give information or understand what they are saying.

Here’s the important part.  If your dentist is asking you questions and you can’t respond fully as their hands are in your mouth, stick your hand up or find another way to let them know you’ve got more to say.  If a doctor is probing around and telling you about treatment options, findings, or anything else – and you’re feeling distracted by what they’re doing to you and trying to listen at the same time – say something.

You may think they don’t have time to listen or that this is no big deal – and that may in fact be true some of the time.  But, tune in to when it’s not true and when you’re censoring yourself because you’re really not in a spot to talk about what’s going on with you or you can’t listen fully.  By gently noticing this, you can trust that you’ll know when it’s time to find another way to get your healthcare needs met without “talking with your mouth full”.

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