The oil change: a dental analogy that just keeps on giving
I really don’t know how a car works. I’m good with the fact that you need to put gas in it. I can even change a flat tire. But the part where you turn the key and it runs is just plain magic to me. I know, I should probably turn in my man card. I also know you’re supposed to change the oil every x number of miles (3000? 5000?). I spent a fair amount of time in oil change places recently. Both my car and my wife’s van were quite overdue for oil changes, so I finally got over to the oil change place to have it done.
It seems like the mechanic on duty always suggests a barrage of filter and fluid changes in addition to the oil change. The suggestions are always in flashing red letters on the computer monitor helpfully placed next to the driver’s side window. A harried mechanic always manages to bring an air filter over to the window that looks as if it was recently plucked from a sandstorm. It seems like there’s always something more that I should be doing to maintain my car and there’s no such thing as a 10 minute oil change. I go in wanting an oil change and come out with a radiator flush, new wiper blades and the guilt associated with telling the mechanic that I’m not going to have him clean my brake fluid reservoir. My quick $25 maintenance almost always turns into an hour or more costing $200!
Why do I feel taken advantage of? Why do I dread going to get my oil changed? There are a couple of reasons. First, I don’t like to feel stupid. I don’t know how cars work and the oil change places know this. I don’t really know if what they’re suggesting is necessary. Even when I do everything they ask, they always suggest more the next time. It’s a knowledge problem. They know more about the how a car works than I do so I have to trust that they’re being honest and that I really need the services that they’re suggesting. Of course, they’re both diagnosing the problems with my car and selling the “solution.”
Secondly, I feel guilty when I’ve gone over my mileage. Life is hectic and sometimes I don’t get back before 3,000 miles have gone by. Of course there’s that sticker in my window that reminds me that I’m overdue every time I get in the car, too. On top of that, the oil change places say 3,000 miles, but the manufacturer says 5,000. So which is it?
All of this strikes me as a near perfect analogy to dental checkups. How are you supposed to feel when your dentist tells you that you need a filling but nothing even hurts? Why does it seem like they always want to take x-rays? And you just know that they’re going to give you a hard time about not flossing enough. It seems like every time you come in there’s something else you have to pay for and it’s awkward to constantly tell them “no!”
Dentist’s have more knowledge about teeth and dental problems than patients do. That’s why they’re dentists. So there can be a conflict. Dentists get paid to diagnose and fix problems, just like the oil change places. The difference is that dentists have a code of ethics that they are supposed to follow that means they always put the patient’s best interests first. Does that mean that dentists are always great at it? Not necessarily. But it’s something that most dentists I know aspire to.
Our office wants you to make great choices about your dental care. So we do some very specific things to make your dental office experience unlike a trip to the oil change place:
- We take a lot of pictures: We’ve got all kinds of cameras (intraoral, extraoral and microscope mounted!) and we take photos for our records. A lot of times a photo can help a patient understand a diagnosis or a treatment better than just a spoken description.
- We strive for informed consent: We try to explain (in words and pictures) our findings and suggest treatments to solve the problem. On top of that, we explain the consequences of not treating the finding. We’ll make sure you understand what the treatment entails and also what the treatment costs before you choose a treatment.
- The patient can always say “no.”: This is a big deal. You’re in charge and you always have the final say. Sometimes we dentists get all wrapped up in all the cool stuff that we can do for a patient without making sure it’s what the patient wants to do!
- We build relationships: Most of our patients have been with us for a long time and we’ve built up a level of trust. We always try to build this same kind of trust with new patients and we understand that this doesn’t happen overnight. Patients need to understand that we’ll be here when you’re ready!
- we won’t scold you: Many new patients tell us at they’re embarrassed about their teeth and they know it’s been “too long.” We’re just glad you’re here now. Scolding you only makes you feel guilty and it doesn’t help anything. So we won’t.
So, the next time I get my oil changed and they recommend that I should have my bearings packed and antifreeze tested I’m going to follow my own advice. I’m going to ask them to explain what the bearings do. I’m going to ask them to show me my antifreeze and why they think it should be tested. And I’m going to make sure I understand (at least a little) what they’re suggesting and I’m going to ask them what the consequences are of not doing it.
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If you’re looking for a dentist in Saginaw, we’re always happy to accept new patients! You can request an appointment online or call the office at (989) 799-9133. And, as always, you can email me at email@example.com. I always answer my own emails!