This week, I had the dubious pleasure of attending an appointment at the Genius Bar at my local Apple Store to deal with my son’s malfunctioning phone (for non-iPhone users, this is where techies help non-techies like me figure out how to troubleshoot and diagnose problems with Apple products).

What does this have to do with dentistry? Stick with me, I promise it will become clear! My son’s phone powered down and crashed earlier in the day, and I made an appointment online for 4:25 the same day.  We arrived at the appointment at 4:20 and we were told the appointment was bumped to 4:35. Ok. We waited along with other grumbling customers, most complaining they’d been waiting 45 minutes past their scheduled appointment time.  Meanwhile, we watched the store “Genius” group (the tech support) running around the store helping customers.  It was BUSY. WE were called at 4:50, problem diagnosed and solved, and we were out the door at 5:10.

Contrast this with a story a friend told me last week about her experience visiting a emergency dental service. She had a dental emergency, her regular dentist was unavailable but left the emergency dental service number on the voice mail, and she made an appointment. Outside the building of this office was metered parking with a maximum time of one hour. She arrived early to her appointment to fill out paperwork, and at her scheduled time of 1:15 the dentist came out to the reception area with her patient, an attractive male. The dentist then “flirted” with the patient for the next 15 minutes in front of my friend and using her scheduled time. When the dentist finally saw my friend, she noted during the exam “wow, I’ve never seen anything like THAT before!” and recommended she see her regular dentist on Monday. My friend was out the door within her metered-parking hour with an idea of what treatment would be needed from her regular dentist the following week.

See a difference between the two stories? Both tell a tale of appointments delayed, both also end with finishing in an appropriate amount of time, but different experiences occurred based on customer service. Everywhere I go as a consumer or patient, I am always evaluating customer service. Aside from doing the best dentistry we can, in our office we also focus on how we serve each and every patient we see, and we are always looking for ways to improve. Running a dental office is a bit like working in the Apple store tech department. The customers would rather not be there, they hope the solution to the problem is quick, painless, and inexpensive, and everyone is in a hurry to leave.

Even when a dental office schedules appointments for “regular” treatment (rather than emergency care), we can estimate the length of appointment we need but we may actually need more time than we thought. Why? Patients often arrive late, or on time and need to go to the bathroom, brush their teeth, call the office…all of which can delay the start of treatment. Sometimes one dose of dental freezing isn’t enough to complete the job, so more time is taken to freeze again. Sometimes the problem is larger than first appeared, so it takes longer to solve. Patients often have questions about treatment, or about treatment of a family member that we need to answer during the allotted treatment time. We want to be sure every patient receives our very best care even if that takes longer than we planned.

The next time you visit your dentist and your appointment doesn’t start on time, you can bet there’s a good reason for it. We really do try our very best to keep exactly to our schedule, so if we run late, we apologize! We also promise to offer you our very best level of care when it’s your turn!

Dr. Andrea Stevens is a cosmetic and family dentist in practice in Kanata, Ontario. If you have dental questions, you can call her at 613-271-7091 or visit her at drandreastevens.com Please also feel free to leave comments or questions below, and Dr. Stevens will be happy to answer.