human behavior

American smile

Posted in American Culture & Politics, Health & Medicine by humanb on January 6, 2007

office-lynnhavenAmericans are famous for their perfect smiles. While the US doesn’t provide universal healthcare, medical and dental care is provided free to most Americans who work full-time by their employers. Consequently, the American with a full-time job can have a first-class smile.

But I have recently discovered another, after my visit to a local Virginia dentist.

Almost everything in my town in Virginia seems new – as if the town were itself only 10 years old. The dentist’s office is located in a new bright brick building with an expansive parking lot surrounded by flat, deforested land. And inside the dentist’s office is something I imagine could only be found in America.

It is early January, so the office is generously decorated with Christmas trees, nutcracker soldiers, a menorah, and every other imaginable holiday bell and whistle. But this is only the temporary adornments.

The dentist office has an actual movie theatre for children while they wait for their appointments or for their parents. Literally, there is a dark room with movie-style seating and a giant screen playing the latest Disney movie. Lining the walls elsewhere are glass and mirror-encased collectible cartoon figurines: Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, the Jetsons, and every other American cartoon character. The owner of this practice must be affiliated with Disney, emotionally attached to his childhood heroes, or especially concerned about the fears of children when going to the dentist.

Move further in and you find an enormous fish tank with coral, exotic over-sized fish and a giant catfish cleaning the fish tank floor. Through a wall-sized window you can also view a seven-foot tall fountain filled with suds for the holiday to create the illusion of snow in southern Virginia. Proceed towards the dental procedure rooms and you stumble upon Kids World – a play land with shelves stuffed with toys.

Enter any actual dental room and you will find – unbelievably – the most surprising feature: large flat screen TVs connected to each dental chair, to be operated by each patient, and conveniently positioned a foot and a half away from your face. Imagine at least a dozen flat screen televisions playing all at once, any of a number of daytime television programs: soap operas, talk shows, cartoons, etc. I was so distracted by Oprah having been left on in the room I was in, I could barely concentrate on the dentist speaking. I had to turn her off. Others, however, found the TV pleasantly distracting to watch while waiting for their dentists to return with their terrifying instruments.

The staff were incredibly friendly, warm, attentive, collaborative and racially diverse. The care is first class and they have clearly paid every attention to patient comfort. As over-the-top as this office may seem, I must confess that I had none of the anxiety there I feel when going to my local dentist in Sydney, whose office is like every other quiet, solemn, stark and bare dental office I have visited in America. Few things have filled me with as much fear in the past as a visit to the dentist, but this new American dentist filled me with a sense of fun. Granted, I was accompanying a patient, not a patient myself.

Since I outgrew my childhood habit of 6 hours of television a day on weeknights and 10+ on weekends, I have grown concerned about the American addiction to TV. I dislike TV’s stubborn encroachment into spheres outside of the home. But I must admit that its encroachment into the dental office – while gratuitous – has seemingly paid off for all parties involved. That office was packed with happy customers. Who knew TV could be the new secret behind the perfect American smile?

Out of Oz and blogging occasionally from America until 26 January.


One Response

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  1. Club Troppo » Wednesday’s Missing Link said, on January 11, 2007 at 1:05 am

    […] American smile – ‘Human Behaviour’ describes a typical(?) American dentists’s surgery.  It doesn’t quite make me yearn for root canal therapy but … […]

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