Twilight Time in Dentistry

February 2008

By: Dr. Scott R. Harden

Twilight is my favorite time of each day, when the sun settles below the horizon and its light diffuses across the sky often reflecting a spectacular sunset with colors of red, orange or purple. It is majestic and spiritual. Twilight is defined as a state of obscurity. It is a time of diffused illumination. To me, twilight is symbolic of nature’s final canvas for each day that blends together all our efforts and reflects a sense of accomplishment coupled with peace and tranquility.

Twilight is a fitting entitlement for this article and the experiences I have shared with numerous terminally ill patients in the last few weeks. The blending of their lives and experiences from all around the world consolidated to Woodstock, Georgia and the option to receive dental care while confronting the most challenging chapter in their lives. Why are they in my office concerned about their teeth, when they have so much else to contend with? This philosophical question remains as a testimonial.

Far beyond coincidence, and inviting of divine correlation, a convincing number of terminally ill patients have collectively presented to receive dental care. Linda, one of many to inspire this article, and following a round of chemotherapy several days ago, presented to our dental office just this afternoon to complete her full mouth reconstruction with great enthusiasm. Debbie is another inspiring patient from yesterday, herself battling cancer, flashed her beautiful smile makeover that she completed last year, and unveiled redeeming self confidence while concealing her inner emotions. Harold has been a regular patient for nearly twenty years and shared with me just today about a recurrence of his lung cancer. He shared that he had better than a 90% chance to overcome his illness, and I reassured him about the great privilege and blessing he has, due to today’s advancement in healthcare. Our conversation concluded with the level of friendship and mutual respect we have always shared and even swapped a couple of jokes to add some levity to the situation. Richard, a Delta pilot, came in only several weeks ago, fighting a debilitating round of treatment for leukemia. A man in his prime, fastidious about his dental health, Richard came to my office directly from the hospital and after temporarily removing the mask he wore to prevent infection, asked me to examine his teeth. This wonderful man who brought me dental cartoons on a regular basis and shared many terrific stories about life in general, passed away only three days ago.

Of all the patients I remember, Mary best epitomizes the answer to our pending philosophical question. In addition to cancer, Mary possessed agoraphobia, fear of leaving her house. She used to muster up all her courage in order to leave her house and come to my dental office. Her dental goal was to refute any potential recurrence of her periodontal “gum” disease that we eliminated for her years ago.

The benefit of writing this article has helped me unveil the answer to our question. Why were these people in my office concerned about their teeth, when they had so much else to contend with? The answer is in plain view. It is truly not all about their teeth. It is about relationships. They have a connection with my dental staff and me that offers them a value far beyond dentistry. Leave it to me to think like a dentist and believe it had to all be about their teeth. It is way beyond this. They are seeking a sense of belonging, a person who can listen, understand, and comfort them in a time of need. Who better than a health care professional outside the medical circle? In dentistry, we maintain a continued relationship every six months that has translated into decades with many of these patients. A routine of taking care of their teeth that maintains a state of normalcy in their lives, and establishes a friend who is happy to listen. We extend the opportunity to let them focus on something other than their illness, which may include a new smile or no more unsightly fillings, and thus they find a spark of happiness in another realm of their lives. Who knew?

Ironically, as I have written this article, I remember a song called “Twilight Time”. It was my late mother’s favorite song, which she recorded as a professional singer on a “78 vinyl record” back in the 1940’s, prior to this songs popularity by The Platters. With such lyrics as, “heavenly shades of night are falling, it’s twilight time”, and “deepening shadows gather splendor as day is done”, coupled with the coincidence of my mother having sung about the very title I chose for this article is spiritually sanctioned.

The benefit of relationships goes far beyond our professional daily existence. The ability to improve people’s dental health is a small part of what we can do to enrich their lives and carry forward a valuable sense of self esteem. Possessing this honor and further realizing this opportunity exists every day is what makes every day a new privilege. This is truly a fantastic time in dentistry.