Do you know your dentist behind the mask?
There was whispering behind the reception desk when I arrived to work.
“Morning!” I said cheerfully and carried on downstairs to get changed to my uniform.
I was a dental student working as a trainee and was very happy that I was earning little extra on top of my student allowance. There wasn’t many dental practices who took in trainees on those days to work as nurses until they graduated.
I put the uniform on and went upstairs to the reception before setting up my surgery. There were two nurses and a receptionist still whispering as the reception was filling up with that morning’s first patients. I was a newbie but understood that something was going on. Something that made the nurses very annoyed. I heard a word Harry.
One word and I knew what was going on. Even though I had been working as a trainee only for a month, I knew almost all the secrets the practice had. Harry was a dentist and a partner of the practice which meant he had lots of freedom to decide how things were run. He was the one who paid our wages. Or to be precise, he made the money that paid our wages but it was the other partner of the practice, Sally who run the payroll. She had no dental education and dealt with all the finances of the practice.
Harry and Sally had been lovers on and off many years and had had this dental practice in the heart of the city for a long time. It was a very popular practice amongst celebrities who had extensive cosmetic treatment done by Harry. Veneers, crowns, implants… yes, implants as well even though he wasn’t an oral surgeon. He was a regular dentist who never attended any annual dental show case to revise. Worrying combination.
Now back to that one morning when Harry had once again done something to stir up feelings at the practice.
Harry had arrived to work drunk. Wasted. Pissed. Drunk as a skunk. And it wasn’t the first time. One would think that a dentist cannot work when drunk as they use various instruments that can cause serious damage to the patient, nurse and the dentist himself if used incorrectly. The drill for example, that is used for drilling through the enamel of your tooth – the high-pitched one – rotates up to 400 000 rpm. Imagine it in the hands of a drunkard. Scary as hell in my opinion.
Did Sally or Harry’s colleagues stop him from treating patients? No they didn’t. Neither did I but my excuse is that I was a newbie and didn’t have any say on anything really.
On this particular morning Harry was guided by his trusted nurse Tina from downstairs office which he shared with Sally to upstairs where the surgeries were. Half way up the stairs Tina realised that on her own she’s not able to prevent him from falling so she called help and another nurse came to her aid. Together they managed to steer Harry safely upstairs.
“Not that way!” I heard Tina whisper to Harry who was entering a wrong surgery. Tina pushed Harry from his shoulder to the direction of his surgery where the first patient was already in the dental chair with safety classes and a bib on. Tina sat Harry down to his chair and put a face mask on.
This is as much as I could see what was happening. The patient was treated and she left without complaints. So did the next one. No-one ever complained that the dentist was drunk. Didn’t they notice? They must have as the smell was obvious.
Why didn’t Tina say anything? She had worked with Harry for ages and had seen everything that is going on. How did she put up with this kind of behaviour and malpractice? I got an answer to this question couple of years later (already after I had left the practice) when I found out that Tina was Harry’s mistress. Love is blind, it sure is in many ways.
One day Tina was off sick and I was told to replace her as Harry’s nurse. I soon realised that the nurse was expected to do much more than what nurses normally do. And that was probably how Harry could carry on as he did. When Harry wasn’t able to do the treatment, Tina did it. Thankfully Harry realised that I wouldn’t be able to replace Tina fully. I wouldn’t use turbine (the high speed drill). So he was only hung over on the day when I was working with him. Phew!
What I saw that day, I never forget.
A 70 year-old man who had had two implants done to replace lower front teeth. The plan was to have an implant supported bridge done once the implants were fully integrated to the bone. He came in to complain odd feeling and appearance of the area where the implants were done.
The patient had a very low alveolar bone and the mucogingival junction was almost on top of the alveolar bone. The alveolar mucosa had probably pulled the area where the surgery was performed and opened up the incision. As a result the alveolar bone was exposed.
“Should it be like this?” the patient asked.
“Well it shouldn’t!” I thought.
Harry examined the area quickly and slurred something vague. Then he sent the patient home until the next scheduled appointment. My eyes were as wide as saucers but of course Harry didn’t see them as he was out of the surgery already before the patient was.
A 50 something year old lady who had started a restorative treatment for her lower teeth. The plan was to restore the bite by two rather long bridge. The bridges were going to be cemented today.
Harry fitted the bridges. He had difficulties in getting them in place and he had to use a drill to file away some of the metal of the bridge. Eventually the bridges went in and the patient was asked to bite the teeth together only to notice she wasn’t able to. Only the very back teeth were in contact leaving the mouth quite open. Harry took the high speed drill and started to file away the ceramic.
He drilled off a large area of ceramic and part of the metal structure underneath. I wanted to close my eyes as he was destroying the beautifully shaped cusps of the bridge but then the mouth of the patient would have flooded. So I carried on watching this mad man’s way of cutting corners.
Once Harry was done, he cemented the bridges into their places.
“The bite does not feel right…” the patient said.
“It will feel odd at first. It needs some getting used to.” Harry replied and left the surgery.
The patient left the practice with horrid looking bridges and bite that was not anywhere close being balanced.
I was in shock after that day. I knew this wasn’t going to be my future work place. Not a chance. And it wasn’t.
If you are interested to read more on the subject in another blog, visit here.