It was July 17, 2001: the day we officially met for the first time. It was our first real date and the day my budding romance with dentistry began. Everything was new and exciting. There was no time to notice any red flags because I was too taken by the potential of how amazing my new life would be. Our 10-year relationship was off to a great start, and I looked forward to the long life we would share together.
During the initial phase of our courtship, dentistry showered me with a lot of wonderful gifts and unexpected attention. Life felt new, and I felt recharged. The good times were great, and the bad times were likely to pass. I was sure of it.
Having been a full-time student my whole life, at 27 everything changed. I celebrated every moment, knowing I no longer had to attend a class. I appreciated the luxury of leaving my work at the office and having the opportunity to focus my attention on anything else; or not having to devote all of my “me time” to studying for a test, writing a paper, or reading a textbook. I suddenly felt free. And I finally got to feel what it was like to get a paycheck, simply for putting in the same hours of work I did while in school.
Who would have ever thought that this very committed relationship would leave me feeling so independent and free?
It was scary too though. I went from being a big cheese senior in dental school to someone who, once again, didn’t know anything. I had to now learn to work with other people, and acquire the minor skills they neglected to teach us in dental school: how to lead an office; how to work with an assistant; how to work with office managers and receptionists; how to get the team to rally around you. Oh, and how to manage patient relationships and treating more than 2 patients in an entire day.
Life was so exciting, though, that I was too distracted to worry. New city, new job, new friends, new paycheck. It was fun to meet new people and watch them react, shocked to discover I was a dentist. The ultimate was the dirty old man at a friend’s wedding. I was talking to this much older “gentleman,” and he asked me what I did for a living. When I responded, “I’m a dentist,” he stopped in his tracks. “Wait! What? Oh, Aw, Um, No way! Honey, honey, come here,” he called over his wife. Before I could respond, his wife came rushing over. “Honey, guess what this Laura, here, does for a living?” He couldn’t leave it at that. He felt the need to now insert foot into mouth. “Okay, I’m gonna give you 3 choices. She is… um, a stripper? Uh, or… uh, a teacher? Or a dentist?” I didn’t know whether I should have felt flattered that I didn’t fall into the dentist stereotype or insulted that the first thing that came to his mind in order to fool his wife was that I was a stripper. Which reminds me… here’s a good one all of you lady dentists will relate to:
Stranger: What do you do?
Me: I’m a dentist.
Stranger: Oh, so you clean teeth? You’re a hygienist?
Me: No, I’m a dentist. You know, root canals, fillings, pulling teeth.
Stranger: Ohhhh, wowwww! I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to… wow!
Hygienists, this is not an insult to your profession. It is a great one indeed. It’s more a commentary made by this not-extreme-feminist woman who finds it funny that many people do not expect that a woman can possibly be a dentist.
While the reactions from people were never dull, people were always very respectful to me (except for implying that I was more likely to be a stripper.) It was generally always positive. In fact, I miss saying that I’m a dentist when people ask me what I do. I don’t miss the inevitable questions that follow: “oh, hey, my dentist wants to put caps on my eye teeth. What do you think? Do I need them?” Or “I went to a place where I got x-rays and an exam and a cleaning and tooth whitening– all for only $29.99! Didn’t I get a great deal? They said I need something called deep cleanings and 14 porcelain fillings. Are they scamming me? What do you think I should do?” Regardless of the response, everyone knows what you do when you say you’re a dentist. It’s an easy one-word answer. There’s no explanation. As I settle into my new identity, it’s hard for me to tell people what I do now without first explaining that I’m a “retired dentist” going through a career change. Right now, it’s still a part of who I am. I guess some old habits die hard.
So anyway, here I was, in this blossoming partnership, getting to know dentistry with a fairly open mind, hoping we would fall for each other. As with many relationships, we had a lot going for us but also a lot of challenges to overcome. I didn’t want to see those obstacles. That’s the value of getting to know someone before taking the plunge. Over time, certain truths come out. Once you’re so tied together, it’s harder to break up. For me, obviously there was no other way to find out if dentistry was the one for me. I had to take the plunge, but I truly don’t think that at any point in our relationship it ever would have been easy to break it off.
I guess there will always be a place in my heart for dentistry, and I hope we can remain friends. I smile everyday as I ask myself do I miss it?
And that smile lingers as I answer… not a chance!