Tooth be told: A customer experience about my teeth

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I was 15 the first time my jaw got stuck open. My parents were probably delighted as I was unable to blab about school or sing Hanson at the top of my lungs, let alone talk at all.

That’s when I was introduced to TMD, or temporomandibular joint dysfunction.

Your temporomandibular joint is a hinge that connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull, which are in front of each ear. It lets you move your jaw up and down and side to side, so you can talk, chew, and yawn. Problems with your jaw and this joint can lead to your mouth getting stuck open, a popping sound each time you eat, headaches, tension, etc.

The dentist told my parents I needed surgery to realign my jaw. Recovery time was several weeks. In the 1990s, both of my parents worked full time and no one was able to take time off to care for me, so surgery went out the window.

While my teeth were straight and I had no need for braces, my jaw became an ongoing issue.

Flash forward to the present and while my jaw doesn’t get stuck like it did as a kid, there is still popping and pain. I decided to do some research into treatments.

I went to a couple different dentists and orthodontists, all of whom said the same thing:

Surgery is an option, but the recovery time will be rough, but you also have the option of braces.

BRACES! As an adult? I know a lot of people do it, and props to them, but I wasn’t sure I wanted that for myself.

If I didn’t get treatment, I was likely to develop arthritis in my jaw within the next 15-20 years. OUCH!

To be proactive, I decided to go the braces route. Luckily, my condition qualified for Invisalign, which are invisible aligner trays that you wear for 20-22 hours a day. It sounded simple enough.

While it is very expensive and wasn’t covered by insurance (thanks Dad for chipping in), I know that it is a privilege to get this and my future self would thank me for finally doing something about the TMD.

The orthodontist office I decided to go with is very kind, organized and efficient. They are located in a convenient area, highly regarded by others in the industry and received great reviews on Yelp.

From the time we began talking about my treatment to the day it was installed in my mouth, I was told that there was minimal pain, some discomfort along with minor inconvenience. My expectations were set around this threshold of “minimal” and “minor”, as I continued to hear it from all the staff.

First day with Invisalign. Don’t let the smile fool you

The day I had it put in my mouth, I felt incredibly uncomfortable to the point I was nauseous. Maybe I’m a wimp but it was awkward to have this new plastic over my teeth squeezing my bones together, plus these extra attachments that stuck out and rubbed against the inside of my mouth. The assistant let me know that these pieces rubbing against my mouth are annoying and will just need to deal with it to let it callous over. They let me know I can call or come in at anytime if I have questions. I was then sent on my way out the door with 32 weeks of trays in hand.

Later that day, it was time for my first meal. I removed the trays and began to chomp down on my salad. I then proceeded to bite my cheek, tongue and lip multiple times, as if I was learning how to eat for the first time. It was quite the scene! The applicators on my teeth made chewing difficult, which I didn’t expect nor was that communicated to me.

With the trays out of my mouth, the applicators were also closer to my skin and one of the front applicators felt razor sharp with every bite. I ended up holding my lip out to the side as I tried to eat. As the next few days went on, the razor applicator cutting of my inner lip continued to be very painful. The sore it left kept getting bigger and bigger, and it just didn’t feel right. I regretted doing this at all!

Not too long after, I called my orthodontist to ask them for help. I couldn’t just “deal with it” anymore. There was a voicemail recording that said:

“The doctor is out of the office for a week and our office is closed. If necessary, we can schedule emergency appointments between 1pm and 5pm. Please leave a voicemail.”

The kicker is that they didn’t inform me they would be out of the office the week after I started this treatment plan. That was a big letdown on a situation that was already making me regret my decision.

Luckily, they called me back 24 hours after I left a voicemail, inviting me in to get this looked at.

The dental assistant on duty was kind and said what was happening to me “is totally normal” and she can fix it right up by removing the painful attachment.

But wait – if it was so normal, why didn’t anyone tell me about it?

With anything new, we may not know the right questions to ask. Is it really up to me to know what to ask?

And, will I trust this company to tell me exactly what to expect moving forward? Or, am I wiser now and able to ask more questions to prod it out of them?

The more I thought about all this, the more it made me wonder about what we tell customers about difficult situations:

Do we communicate the truth to customers, even if it is really gruesome and painful? Or, do we minimize the impact as to not freak someone out and scare them away?

I went to Twitter to ask the #CX Community:

And here are some great responses:

As I think back on my earlier interactions with the orthodontist – would things be different if they would have told me I’d have trouble eating, bite my cheek constantly, have a razor sharp piece of plastic cut my mouth 24/7 and other uncomfortable things?

Yes, I think my choice might have been different. Or, if not different, I would at least have been able to prepare myself for what was to come.

For now, I’m continuing with the treatment to realign my jaw with Invisalign. While my present self isn’t too thrilled, I know my future self will hopefully be jaw-pain free.

What’s your take on this? Have you had a similar experience? Share with me in the comments, over on Twitter, or send me an email.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you for sharing your very compelling story, one which The TMJ Association hears frequently. You bring to light an issue which needs to be seriously addressed – clinical treatment informed consent. We have developed a TMJ Patient RoundTable to address a number of important issues surrounding TMJ treatment and research. We invite you and others interested in changing the system to contact us at [email protected] and visit our website, http://www.tmj.org.

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