If your doctor or dentist won’t get vaccinated, do you still visit them?

Why I opted out of working with my dental hygienist

Shamontiel L. Vaughn
Apr 30 · 7 min read
Photo credit: Ri_Ya/Pixabay

My dental hygienist and my dentist are two dope women. Getting dental insurance that doesn’t cover this office is a deal-breaker; I won’t even humor the idea of finding a new place to go to after several years of visiting them. Last year, when the location closed down for three months after coronavirus really started taking a toll, I shrugged my shoulders. Missing one dental cleaning since I was a small child wouldn’t hurt me. Although I’ve always been a stickler about those six-month visits, especially considering I have soft enamel and know how sensitive my teeth are to cavities, I fully understood why they shut down. It made sense.

By the time my second visit came around, I just didn’t want to go. Dentists are the only place where it is mandatory that I take my face mask off, and the U.S. still hadn’t had a legitimate vaccine. I made an attempt to go one time, but I got a document to sign that was filled with risks of airborne illnesses after taking my mask off. By the time I reached the end of that list, I called in and canceled. Interestingly, the front-desk receptionist told me people were making appointments often, in spite of this warning document, as if COVID-19 was not even happening. They are braver than me, and that’s totally their business.

But this past week, after getting one of two vaccines, I was running out of excuses and finally drove there to get my teeth cleaned. One side of my mouth started feeling tender while brushing my teeth, but that seemed to be due to me trying to use a manual toothbrush after two years of using an electric toothbrush. (It is hard to revert back, and I’ll never try that again.) When I stepped inside, I saw plastic flaps around the receptionist’s desk and a sign near the front doorbell to call before entering. If the dentist was not ready for the patient, we were told to sit in our cars. I was pleased to see all of this. That meant they were taking coronavirus seriously.

When they buzzed me in and pointed to one of three rooms to enter, I walked on (still fully masked), grabbed disinfectant wipes and wiped down the chair from top to bottom. Maybe they did it already. Maybe they didn’t. I was taking no chances. I always have sunglasses in my purse and car, so I wasn’t worried about disinfecting the shades they usually put on my face to stop toothpaste from flying all over my face. While I sat on the edge of the chair, still uncomfortable with leaning back in it like a La-Z-Boy, a thought just kept nagging at me. No. There’s no way. Of course they are. Don’t ask that.

Photo credit: Michael Browning/Unsplash

But I just kept thinking of a buddy of mine who said she didn’t trust the COVID-19 vaccines and wasn’t getting it until several years from now, when she can prove there are no long-term side effects. (Meanwhile she has a collection of meds for her back and a daughter as a nurse. But in her mind, a vaccine is “political” and she refuses to budge, still believing she can “just tell” when someone is sick.) But there’s no possible way that health care professionals would be anti-vaxxers. Of course they’re getting vaccinated.

When my dental hygienist walked in, I smiled behind my mask. I always liked her. The first time I met her, she looked at a handmade tote bag of mine with a black woman in locks and asked, “Is that Lauryn Hill?” I didn’t even notice how much the woman really did look like one-third of the Fugees, but from that point on, the lady on the bag always reminded me of her. She’s a nice lady around my age, who I chatted with for as long as I could before dental tools went into my mouth. But that vaccination question just kept nagging away at me.

She said, “Hey!” as soon as she saw me and referred to me by nickname.

Before I could stop myself, I blurted out, “I’m so uncomfortable. I’ve been dreading this visit for a year now.”

She gasped and said, “Why?”

I told her, “There’s no way to visit you without taking off my mask. Are you vaccinated?”

I winced when she shook her head, “no.” In several years, I’d never ever asked to have any dental hygienist or dentist but those two. I didn’t even know who the other assistants were (and can’t stand the co-owner/other dentist for a reason too long to write here) in either of their locations.

I asked her, “Is there someone who is vaccinated who can clean my teeth?”

She nodded and said, “If you’re uncomfortable, we’ll try to find someone else. Can I at least take X-rays?”

I shook my head again. I already knew I had to remove the mask, open my mouth really wide multiple times, and she had to be within a six-foot distance in order for me to do this. I felt bad. I wouldn’t have felt an iota of sympathy about my stance if I didn’t already like her, but she was the equivalent of my “dental homegirl.” I was always happy to see her. But as much as I like her, I like me waaaay more. I have to live in my body all day long. No one will protect my body quite like the person living inside of her.

I followed her directions to go sit in my car and wait until someone else was free. She called a few minutes later, explaining to me that if this was a hard stance I had on vaccinations, that I may be better off going to a different dentist. From that moment, I went from feeling guilty to annoyed. Asking health care professionals to follow health care guidelines for a worldwide health epidemic is not too much to ask.

I understand anti-vaxxers but just don’t agree with them

Although my primary care physician knows I’m going to say “no” every single year he asks me to get a flu shot, I expect him to ask and know the lecture is coming. I respect that he continues to try to convince me to do it. (I rarely if ever get sick. I won’t go so far as to say vegetarianism upped my odds, but I’ve been a vegetarian for 16 of 39 years and cannot recall the last time I had a common cold. But the last time I got a flu shot, I had a dry, smoker’s cough for two months, was sick for weeks and had to go back to that same doctor to get antibiotics. I was absolutely fine before I got the flu shot. So I understand why people say “no” to meds. But in 2019–2020, 22,000 died from influenza and 400K were hospitalized. Meanwhile, 572K died and 32 million U.S. people were infected with COVID-19 in the past year. That’s not even touching the worldwide numbers. I’m not going to act like those numbers don’t make a difference.)

Photo credit: Uriel Mont/Unsplash

After a bit of back-and-forth to confirm that there was another dentist (who I was unfamiliar with) and dental assistants who were vaccinated, I returned to the office and got my teeth cleaned. I made sure to confirm with both of them eye-to-eye that they were vaccinated before I removed my mask. And as instructed (because of course I have another damn cavity), I insisted that on my return visit, my dentist and dental assistant be vaccinated, too. When the front-desk receptionist tried to schedule me for someone who she “couldn’t promise” was vaccinated, I told her to find a person she could “promise” was. She rescheduled my follow-up for 24 hours later.

Considering the adamancy of my PCP wanting me to get a flu shot, I’ll assume this is a non-issue for my annual physical. I don’t know yet. But the good part about seeing other kinds of doctors is at least I can keep my mask on for everything other than a temperature reading — and even then, if my parents have a forehead infrared thermometer, they probably do too. While I cannot force health care professionals (or neighbors or condo board members or contractors or even family) to get vaccinated, what I can do is ask. If they choose not to, that’s their business. But it’s also my business to walk right out of the room and into my car, waiting on someone who will.

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We Need to Talk

Often oddball views on family, dating and activism.

Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Written by

Check out her six Medium pubs: BlackTechLogy, Doggone World, Homegrown, I Do See Color, Tickled and We Need to Talk. Visit Shamontiel.com to read about her.

We Need to Talk

Let’s chat about my oddball thoughts on family, relationships and activism — with a dose of comedy, too.

Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Written by

Check out her six Medium pubs: BlackTechLogy, Doggone World, Homegrown, I Do See Color, Tickled and We Need to Talk. Visit Shamontiel.com to read about her.

We Need to Talk

Let’s chat about my oddball thoughts on family, relationships and activism — with a dose of comedy, too.

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