“Dentists and Intimacy”

By John Diamond, M.D.

Virtually every dentist is stressed by the statement that he likes his patients. If I ask a dentist to name the patients he saw the day before, he usually has difficulty remembering even one. But he can remember their mouths. If he does name a few patients − “I like Mr X,” and so on, he will usually find this stressful.

Generally this is related to a syndrome I have designated the “intimacy” problem. It is a major problem in dentistry because the dentist is in such intimate contact with each patient. When we discuss it, nearly every dentist agrees that he finds this so − it is, in fact, of such significance that it has often led to thoughts of his giving up dentistry altogether.

Does the same problem apply in his marriage? He has knowingly entered into an intimate relationship with his wife. He has made that choice. How could he choose to be on such intimate terms with so many different people, at such a frequency as his patients? It can be done.

Part of the solution involves the dentist wanting to be close to his patients, wanting to get involved with them, wanting to like them. That will come about when he ceases to see them as just a mouth, and instead sees, feels and responds to their totality. This, of course, does not imply that the dentist desires a sexually intimate relationship with his patients. We are speaking on an entirely different level here.

The dentist must be willing to know who his patients are, to learn something about them as total people and to see them as more than teeth. When he relates to them in this way, he will perhaps be less affected by the required closeness of the therapeutic situation.