I have spent my entire career working with patients who are medically compromised, or who, due to a traumatic incident, have became disabled. I generally consider myself capable and compassionate in providing care. Having worked in rehabilitation (rehab) hospitals, acute care, homebound, and nursing home care, I thought I had seen it all. However, I made a miscalculation in caring for one of my favorite patients.
Tom faced major obstacles, with full dependence on care providers for all of his activities of daily living, including oral hygiene. I was very concerned about Tom’s medication use and the xerostomia that would certainly result. I recommended several products to help him protect the health of his teeth, and make his mouth more comfortable.
Tom graduated from rehab and I was able to continue his care in a private practice setting. He was put on a three- to four-month recare program, he received good homecare, and we had a very comfortable relationship.
Then one day it happened. Tom asked me a question that shocked and humbled me. He asked why I had never suggested that he have his teeth whitened. Philip’s ZOOM was right in the next room, and yet I had never even thought of suggesting it to Tom. Because he was so disabled, I never gave it a thought that he might be interested in whitening. Was a smile not as important to him as to an able bodied patient? Do I often judge patients regarding who I think would want a nice smile and who would not? Have I made judgments without giving it a second thought?