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Laura Dorr is the executive editor of DPR's Modern Dental Network.
We polled you, our readers, for your stories of the patients that will always stick out in your memory-for all the wrong reasons. From the infuriating to the disgusting, the bizarre to the absurd, your tales did not disappoint.
So, you're having a great day. Everything is going smoothly.
And then… THAT patient walks in. The one who seems absolutely determined to ruin your day, totally tick you off, leave you dumbfounded or absolutely gross you out!
We polled you, our readers, for your stories of the patients that will always stick out in your memory—for all the wrong reasons. From the infuriating to the disgusting, the bizarre to the absurd, your tales did not disappoint. (In fact, as there were so many ridiculous anecdotes, keep an eye out for another installment of the weirdest things seen in a dental practice, coming soon!) Here are the worst of the worst stories that we compiled.
Picture it: The very start of my dental career. A lovely fresh, new dental hygienist begins her career in the daily battle against plaque. An older gentleman with a full upper denture comes in for a cleaning. I asked him if he would take it out so I could clean it. He removes said denture COVERED in food-probably a month’s worth of old, gross food. He looked at me, looked at the denture, and then proceeded to LICK the food off of it before he handed it over. I almost threw up right there.
*Editor’s note: We received over 45 stories of folks enjoying a second lunch off of their dentures; apparently this is a chronic (disgusting!) problem. Ick!
I had a patient who requested me as a hygienist and then proceeded to ask me dozens and dozens of questions about myself-including a ton about my family life. I was trying to do my job and talk dental and she literally grabbed my hand and asked me a bunch of questions about the happiness of my marriage. Thought it was weird, but went on about my day.
Three weeks later she contacts me through messenger on Facebook to let me know she'd been having an affair with my husband. Did she do me a favor? Only time will tell.
I had a nice, seemingly normal patient come in. As I was cleaning the mandibular anterior lingual, he told me that his teeth probably “weren’t too dirty,” because he had a friend that had a pet bird that would eat minerals and plaque off his teeth. He said while he hung out with his buddies, the bird would go from mouth to mouth and eat all the detritus off his and the other friends’ teeth.
*Editor's note: Interestingly, we received multiple bizarre bird stories, from tooth-cleaning parakeets to a parrot that lived inside a woman's shirt…who knew patients could be so bird-brained?!
I have been a dental hygienist for 38 years and I thought I had seen it all…until the day I was given a chart of a new patient that had been referred for a gross debridement. When I got him seated in the chair, I asked him to open his mouth and discovered his lower teeth were completely covered in a bridge of calculus-so thick you could not actually see his teeth. I excused myself to go get the dentist because I wanted her to see what I was facing. She just looked at me and said to do the best I could.
Well, I cranked up the cavitron and went to work. As the calculus came off in chunks the guy asked me if that was part of his tooth! I didn't know what I would find when I actually got to his teeth but was surprised that they were intact. I gave him a mirror and he was shocked to actually see his teeth that he hadn't seen in years.
I asked a patient how regularly he flossed and he said "No, I don’t floss; I bite my nails and then use the nail I bite off to clean in between my teeth." The patient was telling me this excitedly like it is a legitimate alternative he found for flossing. I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything and started cleaning between 2 and 3. My instrument hits something solid. Thinking it was a popcorn shell or something like that, I kept digging … only to find out it was one of his handy nail-clipping toothpicks!
*Editor’s note: Shockingly, we received a dozen stories of folks using nails as floss substitutes. We guess fingernails are just…handy?
An old man came in complaining of a toothache and saying it felt like something was moving in his mouth. He has a denture in place and said that he had not been able to remove it for about a month, and needed help taking it out. I tried to remove it, but it didn’t budge. Puzzled, I asked the patient if he had used adhesive. He responded, “No, I put bologna under it so that I could have better suction.”
Well, apparently he wasn’t the only one that liked the bologna: When I finally got the denture out, there were maggots underneath! While trying not to vomit, I told him that that was what he had been feeling moving in his mouth-and they had started making holes in his palate!
We had a patient that was a sedate-for-everything kind of guy. He was usually nice and pleasant when wasn’t sedated, but every time the meds hit his veins, he became a giant jerk. At one RCT appointment, we were trying to ignore his jerkiness and put on his temporary. As soon as he felt the temp he started cussing and carrying on, saying it was so gritty. After a few minutes of polishing, trying to make it better, he pulled a box-cutter knife out of his pocket and cut his temp right out of his mouth!
Needless to say, it was crazy and now every time he comes in we always make sure he leaves all his belongings-and knives-in reception.
When I was in school, a patient closed his mouth to the point where my fingers where being restricted by the pressure of his teeth. When I asked him to open his mouth, he looked and me and bit down hard. I asked him what that was all about and he said he wanted to let me know "who's in control." I responded "I'm in control, your appointment is over."
Chair was brought up, bib off and we sent him out the door.
Once when I was pregnant, we had a patient that was surly from the beginning, and overly concerned about pain during her appointment. She said she did not want her mouth to get hurt during her cleaning, and that she didn’t trust us to take good care of her. When I said she was in good hands, the patient looked at me and threatened to punch me in my eight-month-pregnant stomach if I hurt her!
I was once taking impressions on a denture patient for a repair. I was watching the clock and holding the impression in his mouth when I felt something on my fingers. I looked down at the patient, and he was licking my fingers! Thinking it was a fluke, I "professionally" moved my fingers to the tip of the impression tab. But again, he proceeded to lick and my fingers! It happened a third time, and then I removed the impression.
He made eye contact with me the entire time.
I had a patient who invited me to a nude beach. When I declined and said I had a boyfriend, he told me that was totally fine: He and his girlfriend were swingers and I should just bring my boyfriend with me. Uhh…pass?
I had a new patient come into the office for a cleaning. We were talking and he seemed very nice and smart. Once he opened though, I saw his gums were extremely red, and immediately asked what happened. He told me that a friend of his told him to whiten his teeth using Comet bathroom cleaner! He said he put it on his teeth but some got on his gums causing them to hurt and become red.
He then continued to tell me that he didn't think that was good, so he rinsed it all off and put more back onto his teeth-this time being extremely careful not to get any on his gums again. You know, since it hurt and made them red. So maybe he wasn’t the smartest patient after all…
My least favorite patient came in exactly every six months on the dot. He was proud to announce that he NEVER brushed his teeth between appointments-ever. He always told me that he was my 'job security.'
A new patient came in but was over 10 minutes late. He then took 20 minutes to fill out paperwork because he was on his Bluetooth phone. I finally brought him back to the operatory 30 minutes into his 60-minute appointment. I started to go over his health history and he stared at me like I had two heads. He pointed to his Bluetooth earpiece and said he was in a conference call. I told him “sir, we need to proceed with your appointment, I need to speak to you and take X-rays.”
He stared at me in disgust and said, "What, are we on some kind of a schedule here? Can't you wait till I am done?" I explained that yes, actually we WERE on a schedule and he had already used up half of his allotted time. He got mad and walked out, without ever getting off his conference call.
We had a patient come in who, after sitting in the chair, told our hygienist that “#2 is coming out." Our hygienist looked in the patient’s mouth, felt tooth #2 and told her kindly that it was very stable and didn’t appear to be coming out.
The patient said “No, not my tooth. I have #2 coming out of me right now, and need to go to the bathroom.”
One day an elderly couple came in because the lady's partial "wasn't fitting well." Once the patient was seated, we noticed that the partial is probably 10 years old and had a lot of wear. We went to try it in and realized that it didn't match the existing dentition; this partial was obviously not hers.
So, we said, "This partial wasn't made for your-" when her boyfriend interrupted and said, "Yeah, it used to belong to my wife, but she passed away. I figured you could make it work for my girlfriend.” Dumbfounded.