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MyView: A mother in denial

June 17, 2013

By Kenneth D. Jones Jr., D.D.S., J.D.

"I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it." —Garrison Keillor (1942 - )

It's hard to believe it's only been eight years since Lori died. You remember Lori, don't you? She put her car into a light pole. She and her boyfriend, Harry, were my initiation into the world of crystal meth and other illegal drugs. (See "Spotting Meth Mouth, in print Aug. 8, 2005.)

I saw Lori's mom last week in the local grocery store. She still has custody of Lori and Harry's three kids, even though Harry is recently out of jail. Mom is still convinced that Lori was an innocent bystander to Harry's meth use and drug sales. But, she says Lori would have wanted Harry to take care of the kids. She says the jail time might have made Harry into a good father.

That's her denial.

I spoke to Harry's probation officer. He said Harry hasn't yet made an attempt to get involved in his kids' lives, and, since he's probably going back into the drug scene, that's OK. I guess he still thinks he can quit whenever he wants to because he doesn't have a meth problem.

If so, then that's his denial.

Some of us deny that we, too, may be active participants in our patients' drug abuse. I still find dentists who prescribe 30 Percocet or Vicodin when referring a patient for endo or extraction, even though the patient will be seen the same day. I still see specialists who almost demand that patients be sedated for every procedure, and routinely give large amounts of post-op narcotics when ibuprofen will do very well. I talk with criminal defense attorneys whose clients know well which dentists are the easy touches. I talk with prosecutors who know the very same list.

We deny a lot of realities of life. A while back, I gave a drug abuse continuing education talk to a group of dentists and dental staff. When I finished, a rather upset attendee proceeded to let me know how wrong I was about his patients and his community. Today I got a call from that same dentist, apologizing. He'd started to pay a little more attention to his patients and started to listen to his staff just a little bit more. It also probably helped him recognize his abject denial when his son was picked up for reckless driving and was found still smoking a joint when he finally pulled over.

As these stories show, often, our denial isn't just drug-related, it's responsibility-related.

Many of us deny the pervasive lack of parental accountability that increases the caries rate and reduces good oral hygiene among society's young and often single-parent families, many of whom are on Medicaid. To be honest, though, many of you deny it because you don't ever see those patients. Not enough ready cash and good insurance plans. Or as one dentist told me, "My talent's too valuable to waste on someone who won't take care of it."

Maybe it's time to stop denying our own responsibilities. Maybe it's time to act like professional health care providers and to help educate the public. Maybe a discussion with a parent and child in your operatory could stop just one family from the devastation that peer pressure and drugs can cause.

Maybe a friendly word of advice could stop a 16-year-old from having, if not the first, then maybe the next couple of kids before mom and dad are out of high school. Maybe not.

But, just maybe, it would give them a chance to be productive citizens instead of a drag on the economy that the rest of us pay for. Maybe we could help reduce the future number of 47-year-old great-grandmothers who head four-generation, single-parent families, all on governmental assistance.

In reality, dentistry's claim to fame has been prevention. We should be good at it. I won't deny that we can't do it all on our own, but who says we can't help?

Dr. Jones writes a monthly column for the Ohio Dental Association. His comments, reprinted here with permission, originally appeared in the April issue of ODA Today. A retired private practice dentist and attorney in Mansfield, Ohio, he may be reached at jonesddsjd@aol.com.