Oral problems, gender problems


I’m currently a student studying to be a dental hygienist. I am in the last year of my degree. Anyway, one day at our on-campus oral health clinic, a women comes in for a clean. She had a moderate amount of tartar build up, with the worst area being the inside of her lower incisors (this is extremely common). I cleaned off the tartar, which is usually met with a happy patient saying how great their mouth feels. Not this woman. She looked worried and said to me “my teeth feel different like there are holes”.

Turns out she had worn down gums from brushing her teeth too hard. I explained to her the reason why they felt different was because the tartar had been there, masking the fact that her gums had receded. She still looked worried so I called our supervisor who is a practicing Hygienist over (who is a woman to explain). She said exactly the same thing I did. The patient was still not satisfied and asked for the dentist (a male) to have a look. He did and explained exactly what we did. The patient was then happy and said “oh! that makes sense now!” and left.


Kim, New Zealand


10 Responses to “Oral problems, gender problems”

  1. H Says:

    Eeeugh. I totally agree that this is a case of sexism, but I also find it just as annoying that she didn’t trust the knowledge of two people who are just a little bit lower down the dental pecking order, who know just as much about this as the dentist does.

    I used to find this when I worked for my MP – constituents would never listen when you just explained the problems with their immigration forms or benefits claims or whatever down the phone. If they had, it would mean their problems would have got sorted out a lot quicker. Instead, they always wanted a letter from my MP – more like ‘MP’ because we wrote the letters and she just checked and signed them. So they got exactly the same information, from the same people, but authorised by an MP’s signature. It’d be funny if it didn’t mean getting patronised and then having to do extra work – as you found out!

  2. A Different Sam Says:

    Ah, of course. The classic idiocy of “If a man says it, he’s right; if a woman says it, ask a man instead”. Apparently, these people just can’t get it through their heads that, hey, maybe these women might actually know something about how to do their jobs.

  3. Faith Says:

    I consider myself lucky for, as a child, having had not only a strong maternal figure in my mother but also having had strong female figures in my doctors, including my dentist and therapist. I don’t think that I would have grown up as socially conscientious and feminist a woman had I not had positive female role models in many aspects of my life. Even if one woman doesn’t trust your opinion because you’re not a man, I assure you that some female child or young woman you work on in your career will probably be inspired by the fact that a woman can have as important a career as you do.

  4. Susurra Says:

    Quite honestly, at the dentist, there are times I want to get information from the dentist, not the hygienist, and if I had a student telling me that it felt like holes because my gums had receded, one of my first questions would be for the dentist and “is there anything we need to do about this”. It wouldn’t be about male or female, but about asking the higher level medical professional to get their opinion.

    I’ve had enough dental issues in my past that I am very cautious and that’s one reason why I have a dentist I trust to be very honest with me, while I seem to have a different hygienist each time I go – and don’t have that level of trust with them.

  5. Johanna Says:

    Just a comment in regards to wanting to “check with a dentist” because they “know more” – I have a friend in a dental hygiene program, and while they don’t get as much school, they have an incredibly hard course load. She’s currently in a pharmacology class, anatomy class, dental anatomy class, and organic chemistry. She also has to pass these classes with a B- or higher. So I’d be perfectly comfortable with a hygienist telling me these things. Besides, the dentist spends about 5 minutes looking at your mouth, while the hygienist spends a good 20 minutes, then points out to the dentist the problem areas.

  6. Susurra Says:

    Johanna, I’m happy that you’re comfortable with that. For me, I’ve been seeing my dentist for 10+ years and almost never see the same hygienist twice. I’m going to trust the dentist in that case because he knows my personal dental history having done much of the work in my mouth.

    Granted, this seems very unlikely to be the case in this post’s anecdote, but neither is it obvious that the reasons behind the anecdote were because the dentist was male and the hygienists female. Could it have been? Yes. Could it have been for another reason? Yes. I don’t know from the information given.

  7. rayne Says:

    Generally speaking, I don’t ask my nurse for a diagnosis, regardless of either’s gender. Likewise, regardless of the fact that a hygienist can do pretty much the same thing a dentist can, I’d still trust the dentist more than the hygienist, regardless of either’s gender.

    Not really a case of sexism, in my opinion. ~shrug~

  8. Lbutlr Says:

    This is quite possibly just a case of not believing the ‘assistants’ and having to hear it from ‘the doctor.’

    Had the dentist been a woman and the lady had insisted on the opinion of a male dentist, that would be a lot clearer, but a lot of people will hear something from a nurse (male or female) and still have to hear it from the doctor (male or female) before they believe it or understand it.

  9. TK Says:

    “The classic idiocy of “If a man says it, he’s right; if a woman says it, ask a man instead”. Apparently, these people just can’t get it through their heads that, hey, maybe these women might actually know something about how to do their jobs.”

    True. There is also, “If a white man says it, he’s right; but if a black man says it, he’s wrong.”

  10. corridor7f Says:

    I’m sorry. I’ve been in that situation before myself.

    We should all have pocket ‘staches to whip out and speak in low voices to convince people we’re credible.

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