In my chair? Get off your phone: One dentist’s thoughts on the cell phone epidemic

You know you have a problem when you can't stay off Twitter long enough to learn how to avoid dry socket. But the issues with the cell phone epidemic stretch far beyond the dental practice. Here's what one dentist has to say about it.

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Cell Phone Addict
No way this is you, right?

Imagine you are at work and you are having a normal day. As a productive member of society, you are helping people. You are a nurse practitioner. You are talking to a concerned mother whose child has undergone a minor surgical procedure, such as wisdom teeth extraction. As you might imagine, her teenage child is a little woozy from general anesthesia and slowly sliding down the chair. Her little angel is sleepy. There are lots of things she needs to know—however, she is checking her text messages as you are trying to do your job. She is not paying any attention to you. Do you ask her to put the cell phone down or do you accept nature of modern society? What do you do? Can you tell I am a little bitter?

I am a 37-year-old professional. I grew up in a middle class home of a right-wing liberal family. I am a first-generation immigrant from a former Soviet bloc. I grew up with basic respect for common moral rules, courtesies, and respect for "big brother," who is constantly watching. However, as I got older and Russian society blew up in the late 1980s, no one was watching us anymore. I have done a lot of stupid things in my life, but disrespecting people is not one of them. Would it be OK to disrespect a cashier at your local grocery store? Let’s say your kid is a grocery bagger and the customer is chatting away as he asks "paper or plastic?" Instead of appreciation, this 16-year-old high school kid gets a smirk, glare, and nod toward "paper." What will this teenager learn?

READ MORE | Rampant staff cell phone use, including dentist, concerns staff member

Convenience or disrespect?
Let’s go back to the original conversation. When did it become OK to behave like animals and make proverbial love to our subject of conversation—the cell phone? The cell phone is one of the best inventions of 20th century. None of us will argue otherwise. I feel naked without my cell phone. Once I was compelled to drive home because I forgot my phone on the charger. This feeling was similar to forgetting a garage door open or leaving the stove on. In a fear of burning down your house, you rush to the rescue.

Cell phones are spectacular! My cell phone keeps me informed, entertained, and connected to the world. I can look anything up within seconds and make a reservation at my favorite restaurant. I can contact my friend in Colorado without speaking a single word. My wife can call me and tell me to pick up paper towels and organic spinach on the way home. My coworker can tell me what she is eating for lunch while your son is asking "paper or plastic?" Is it OK for me to act annoyed at this snotty teenager who is trying to make minimum wage and learn early life lessons? Would it be OK if somebody disrespects my baby daughter while she is taking someone’s order at McDonalds?

READ MORE |How strong is your employee cell phone policy in your dental practice?

Where do we draw a line between convenience and disrespect? How do you teach a kid to put the phone down, when his own parent interrupts a teacher-parent conference by unapologetically picking up a phone? And no, it’s not an emergency; her best friend just met the best guy ever. Her friend is a single young lawyer, looking for love in all the right and wrong places. This time it was a Starbucks coffee line and your best friend ordered the same drink as this gentlemen of interest. Due to a miscommunication, she received a charming smile, and had to share this news with her best friend. You are sitting across a teacher who is trying to explain that your son is very disruptive during class. He is constantly reaching to his phone, and he got upset when this teacher asked to turn it in. Of course, instead of apology and understanding, every other student in class got upset with this "Nazi" teacher who is suppressing self-expression.

Twitter > dry socket
There is nothing wrong with following rules once in a while. It pays to be nice. Let’s discuss the original story. This young teenage boy went through a minor atraumatic surgery on his wisdom teeth. He is a little groggy, sleepy, and drowsy. His dear mother is very relieved that everything went well. To celebrate, she is checking her text messages while nurse practitioner is doing her job. This nurse is a professional. She hits all the points, gives all the prescriptions and all post-operative instructions, including very vital information on how not to get a "dry socket". How do you get a dry socket? By ignoring instructions for spitting and drinking through the straw! As you imagine, this young teenage boy went to the bathroom to brush his teeth that evening and rinsed his mouth against the advice of an experienced nurse. And a few days later we get a phone call screaming for help and compassion. Do you shame this mother for “tweeting” her friend during postoperative instructions, or you politely tell her it just happens? We always help.

READ MORE | Cell phone use in the office revisited

Do you want another story just for the fun of it? Sure you do.
Are you convinced yet that we have an epidemic of rude cell phone users? I am a dentist. I have been practicing for over 10 years, and I am in the prime of my skill, attitude, and experience. Not much drives me bonkers, except a ringing cell phone in the middle of a procedure. So, it’s a usual Tuesday morning; I’ve had my coffee and cinnamon oatmeal. I am pumped and ready to rock. My first patient is a young man of 19 years of age; I am getting him ready for a complicated procedure that will take us over one hour. He comes in five minus late, and does not get off his phone. I asked him to put his phone away. This young man wanted to hold his phone due to slight dental anxiety. I am very understanding and empathetic of dental fears, so I let him. However, he would not stop messaging someone on Facebook. I made a request for him to turn his phone off because he is not letting me do my job.

I can't treat him. Instead of being embarrassed, he starts disrespecting me and my staff, telling me that it’s my job to treat him because he already paid for the “service.” As a response, I ask him to leave my clinic and never to come back. If you think it ends there, you are mistaken, my friend. In response, he screams profanities and racial slurs. We had to call his mother in, and when she joined us, he let her have it too. I will not repeat what he said to her. It ended by his mother dragging him out of the clinic and begging us not to call the police. This young man disrespected his own mother in front of everyone!

If you have not changed your mind about the cell phone epidemic, please do not become my patient. Otherwise, my doors are always open!

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Alex Shklyar, DDS, received his degree from the University of Maryland in 2005. Dr. Shklyar’s practice, Greenway Dental Group, is a center of comprehensive and cosmetic dentistry where he is deeply committed to creating beautiful healthy smiles through a positive patient experience. He stays current with the latest advancements and enjoys providing quality, gentle comprehensive dental treatment to patients of all ages in a friendly and caring environment. Dr. Shklyar is committed to ensuring all patients are comfortable and treated with integrity. Dr. Alex Shklyar can be reached at (301) 345-2880 or alexshklyardds@gmail.com

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