Cindy And Patient

It's never too late to learn new things, and to be humbled by our dental patients

Aug. 13, 2014
This RDH received quite a surprise from one of her disabled patients, and he ended up changing her attitude about a lot of things.

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.

My patient was Tom, a young man who was hurt in a car accident. He went through the windshield and instantly became a spinal cord injury patient. His injury was at a slightly lower level on the spinal cord than the injury suffered by Christopher Reeve. Tom was able to breathe on his own, but like Reeve, he had no voluntary muscular control from the neck down. He could not move his arms or legs, or even toss and turn in bed.

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?

So, Tom had his teeth whitened with ZOOM, and he’s thrilled with the results. He still requires a very comprehensive oral care protocol, and he still needs his Sonicare toothbrush to make effective care easier for his health-care provider. But now he smiles happily. Not only did I make a difference in Tom’s life, he made a difference in mine.

Cindy Kleiman, RDH, BS, is an Oral Care Consultant and speaker. She lectures on medical emergencies, and care of the medically complex patient. She can be reached at or [email protected].