Open Wide and Say WTF


"Your mouth, just hanging open like that, reminds me of river carp, Connie. This may sound odd, but it's almost like I'm viewing you mounted on a lodge wall."

I don't know if Dr. Norman Eid ever spoke to his patients in such a manner, but the Minnesota Board of Dentistry recently found it necessary to discipline this Plymouth dentist for "belittling" those who sat in his chair.

"You call this cleaning between your teeth, Hank? My brother's a quadriplegic and flosses circles around you."

I doubt those words were uttered by Dr. Norm, but some disparaging statements were apparently passed along during routine checkups. The board didn't specify.

Belittling is the last thing you expect from your dentist. A football coach can stoop to such mockery, but a dentist is supposed to stick with constructive criticism ("You've purchased the toothbrush, and that's an important first step, Glen. But now let's work on removing if from the package and getting those bristles wet").

Who puts up with ridicule from their dentist for more than one visit? How does such a doctor maintain a practice?

The board also found that Dr. Norm failed to "properly manage his patients' pain." This alone would get most folks scouring the Yellow Pages for a new practitioner. A dentist lousy with pain management should find a new career, but to be belittled while you're in pain? Norm must have been serving the suburban S&M crowd.

Surprisingly, despite the fact that an outside evaluator has recommended that this dentist no longer practice dentistry, the Minnesota board has decided to let him keep his license, as long as he agrees to "behavior monitoring" (sounds like it's going to get crowded around the dental chair). He's also being ordered to "complete courses on the use of local anesthetics." Are patients aware that there are other dentists in the Twin Cities with openings in their schedules?

It doesn't stop here. According to the board, Dr. Norm "failed to provide proper safety and sanitary conditions" at his office, and he was found to have a "narcissistic personality disorder with antisocial features."

This guy must offer scotch in his waiting room. Something beyond convenient location is bringing people in. Maybe he's funny. I know if a dentist can make me laugh, I'll put up with a little unpleasantness. Of course, in this case, he'd have to trump Conan O'Brien.

Revealing that Dr. Norm also has obsessive-compulsive issues is almost piling on at this point, but that too can be found in the board's report. It rounds out the image of a dentist one might visit out of a macabre curiosity but otherwise only if doing research for a film role. Then again, given that most dentists offer the banal cheerfulness of TV weathermen or Walmart door greeters, a rogue in the bunch could be fun. Maybe it's just what the profession needs.

Perhaps it's TV weathermen and Walmart door greeters who should be taking their cue from guys like Norm. Certainly a belittling door greeter at Walmart would find a smorgasbord to feast upon ("Sir, if you could keep your head tilted back your mullet would hide your butt cleavage"). And what a labor of love it would be for forecasters to tell their earnest news anchors, "It's just weekend rain, gang, not an AIDS diagnosis."

While this could be wonderfully refreshing, it's a tougher sell with dentists. We're too vulnerable in that chair. The inside of the mouth is an intimate area, and there, on our backs, we display it so submissively, like hatchlings before a mother bird. We need a professional next to that interrogator's light who has compassion and humanity. It's too easy to imagine the negative thoughts going through their minds:

"Is that nose hair or the rain forest, pal?".... "Lady, your makeup must have been applied with a trowel this morning".... "What's with the breath, Gary? Been French kissing the beagle?"

We accept that such thoughts might be present, but we silently acknowledge a tacit agreement never to utter such things, and to make the quirky ordeal move as swiftly and painlessly as possible. The dentist who violates this agreement, callously commenting on our flaky, dry skin or turning a blind eye to our wincing and flinching, deserves his or her own rung in hell.

I'm okay with narcissism, however. It can be tough to find something to fall in love with in dentistry. One should at least try to fall in love with oneself.