Dare to Ask: Did dentist need to be so close to her
chest to work on her teeth?
By Phillip J.
The Florida Times-Union
A male dentist leaned on my breasts while he was working on me. Was this
necessary for him to get a good angle on my teeth, or was he just getting a
quick feel? What should I do? — Laurie B., 55, Boston
By how you phrased your question, I feel certain you already know the answer.
You should have asked the dentist if it was necessary. That would make him aware
you were uncomfortable and knew what he was doing. If you go back again and it
happens again, ask him! — Johanna, 45, Stroudsburg, Penn.
If you know some of his other female patients, see if you can find out
whether he’s done similar things to them. If not, think back: Did he say
anything odd or inappropriate? Did he seem to be enjoying cleaning your teeth a
little too much? If you can contact some of his other female patients, and
you’ve all been groped, file a group complaint with the State Medical Board. Be
prepared to get treated like hysterical morons, however, because if there’s one
thing all doctors are good at, it’s closing ranks when one of their own breaks
the law … — Ann, 39, Kansas City, Mo.
I hope you’ve changed dentists by now. As a teen, I had a dentist like that,
and it made me very uncomfortable, but I was too embarrassed to tell my parents
so it went on too long. — Shirley A., 50, St. Louis
Sometimes they can get in the way.
And when they do, contact may occur, said Phyllis Beemsterboer, associate
director of the Center for Ethics in Health Care at Oregon Health & Science
“It’s possible … if you think about it being a large-chested woman,” she
said. “Especially if he’s working on an upper arch, and depending on his view
and how wide the patient can open.”
Hmm, we just realized there’s a lot going on in that last quote that just
sounds wrong. But let’s move on.
What can a patient do? Ask the dentist what he’s up to and tell him to stop.
“My guess is he probably was involved in what he was doing and didn’t realize
he was leaning as much on her,” Beemsterboer said.
Also, a third party may not be required to be present, but often people move
in and out of the room while a dentist is working, so there may be witnesses,
“We’ve had dentists do inappropriate things, but fortunately not very often.”
If there is suspicion something “not right” is going on, it becomes a matter
to pursue legally — but prudently.
“Sometimes we are on high alert to the dangers of touching … and we can go
overboard before we come to a rational approach,” Beemsterboer noted.
Agreed, said Howard Selden, who spent 30 years in dentistry and wrote “A
Dental Odyssey: Unlikely Musings of a Dentist.”
“It boils down to a conflict of 'she said/he said,’ and without a credible
third party witness, I know of no way to uncover the truth,” he said by e-mail.
“In situations like this, the dentist is at risk of having his reputation
irrevocably destroyed, along with his livelihood.”
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to phillip. firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also hear his
podcasts or watch his