She came into the clinic huffing and puffing. That’s how Bhakti usually is on Saturday mornings when the kids have to be ferried around for multiple classes. Art, violin, football, dance, french, tennis. Gosh, we never learnt so many things as kids. I barely had structured learning of any sort till I was 13 years old. Then I finally realized I will have to study to pass 10th standard and get out of school. My only motivation for getting out of school was to wear colored clothes in college, and the fact that I would get to see some beauties of the opposite sex up close. 10 years in all boys’ school can do that to boys and thankfully growing among all boys I did not give in to my desperation by falling in love with one of them. The lovely female school teachers are responsible for keeping most of us”Straight’. Not that I have any problem when others fall in love with the same sex, but I prefer the opposite any day (and night:)).

Anyway, I asked Bhakti, what’s the problem? Is everything Okay? She snapped, “The clutch is gone”. Since I was working on a patient, I did not put much into that statement and Bhakti herself went on to the other operatory to work on her scheduled patient. I had been a happy soul past couple of years as Bhakti started to drive on her own. She seems more empowered and in control of her time now and I don’t have the guilt that my kids have to keep waiting endlessly for rickshaws to go from one place to the other. I know how busy my weekend was going to be socially, and I was to be using the car a lot. And with the clutch gone I knew it would be a nightmare to drive if there is breakdown. In a reflex, as soon as I was done with the patient, I called my local car mechanic and asked him to have a look. He promptly came and checked everything. He came to meet me in the clinic after he checked the car and he had this strange expression on his face that said, “Are you crazy, what’s the matter with you?”. I looked at him and after a few minutes of awkward silence, in which I think he was abusing my family origins, he said to me, “The car is absolutely fine, there is no issue with the clutch or any other part of the car at all”

Bewildered, I paid him his consultation fees and apologized profusely as I would need him again some other day when there was an actual emergency. I rushed to the other room to ask Bhakti about the clutch and explained to her what the mechanic said. She burst out laughing uncontrollably and after few moments told me that her “Clutch” that she had just purchased from some “Jimmy Choo” had a defect in design and according to her it was gone. It was of no use to her. The only “chu” I knew from my dental education was “Stephen Chu”. I was flabbergasted at my actions. I barely could manage a smile on my now pale face and I walked out of the room. I knew a new type of “Clutch”. Boys and girls see the meanings differently.

I realized that crisp, clear and complete communication is an absolute must to prevent such awkward moments in life. I communicate too, in short bursts, assuming that the person I am talking with is as intelligent (allow me to call myself that) as I am. I tell my patients you have a “MO” on upper 6 (a type of a cavity that affects contact surfaces of teeth). He has no clue what I told him and I am here assuming that he has understood everything and wants to proceed with treatment as he obviously has no choice. The other day I had a petite female patient who walked into the clinic with a friend. She had missing teeth and I told her she needs implants. She said, “yes a plastic surgeon told me that a few days ago”. The stupidity of my incomplete statement became evident now as I fumbled and tried to keep my eyes on hers and  quickly added that she needs  “Dental” implants!!

It’s not only me. I have seen several clinicians speak to patients that way. They even have instruments in the patients’ mouth while they are asking them questions. The poor chap is trying to reply choking on the instruments and barely able to speak but he has to, otherwise the doctor will think he is so rude. The greatest problem with communication is where we clinicians communicate with the lab. I recently visited my lab and saw some prescriptions for shade matching of ceramic veneers. It was a hilarious experience. One clinician had written, “Make all teeth A1-A2 and sprinkle some A3 as you would normally do. Please make good teeth and make the case look ‘Up There’ so the patient is happy. Use your creative judgement and send final finish in 48 hours’. I pity that lab and I can already see the patient, clinician and lab guy fighting after a few days because each person’s judgment will be different.

We all need to communicate better and in a language that our patients and lab guys(and in my case the spouse too) understand. We now take care to write down all parameters we need  incorporated in the lab work for the smile designs we do and leave no ‘grey’ areas. The patient will have a clear idea of how her teeth will look when we finish with the smile makeover and the lab knows exactly the length and shape of each tooth and what colors need to get in to finish well. That has left us over the years with happier patients and one happy lab to work with.

I now communicate as if the person listening to me is utterly ignorant. Just as I was when Bhakti told me about her “Clutch”. You never know how dumb the person listening to you is on some subject matters and what actions he may take based on your short, allegedly incomplete communication!!

Author: Dr. Ali Tunkiwala is an expert who likes to share his views by writing informative blogs on subjects pertaining to dentistry and life in general. He is a Prosthodontist and an Implant dentist. To know more about him and his work please visit