A Reb named Doyle

Historians trace a couple of profane expletives common to dentistry back to the War Between the States. A Reb named Doyle dragged his platoon from Richmond to Vicksburg for one engagement after another. A few ailments developed along the way. Too many "chaws," as we now know, lead to oral health problems. Doyle uncorked his bayonet from his rifle to cure these toothaches. Needless to say, Doyle preferred soldiering to wet-fingered dentistry.

Apr 1st, 1998

Mark Hartley, Editor

markh@pennwell.com

Historians trace a couple of profane expletives common to dentistry back to the War Between the States. A Reb named Doyle dragged his platoon from Richmond to Vicksburg for one engagement after another. A few ailments developed along the way. Too many "chaws," as we now know, lead to oral health problems. Doyle uncorked his bayonet from his rifle to cure these toothaches. Needless to say, Doyle preferred soldiering to wet-fingered dentistry.

Anyway, the long marches tested his temper. All of the grumbling from his men grew tiresome to his ears. "Be a team player, son," Doyle would wearily mutter. "Just try to keep going." Or if he was driven to exasperation, he would snap, "Stop being a prima donna, man!"

Almost 140 years later, husbands, sons, brothers, etc., don itchy uniforms and re-enact Pea Ridge, Gettysburg, Shiloh, etc. Since they drive the Cherokee over to the battleground, they`re not muttering, "Try to be a team player, son, just try." They don`t hear the phrase at all, unless they happen to develop a contemporary version of a toothache. Since bayonets no longer have the Seal of Approval from the American Dental Association, they hop back into the Cherokee and go over to Doc`s place. If the ailing soldier is unlucky, he might just hear a common profanity in dentistry. He just might see Doc gesturing obscenely at the back of a hygienist returning to her operatory. He just might overhear Doc say, "Prima donna!"

The dirty words are firmly entrenched into the dental vocabulary. If the profanities were directed at you, you likely bristled at being told to be a "team player," shocked to the bone to be called a "prima donna."

Obviously, prima donna is offensive in any occupation, not just dentistry. But, for the most part, team player is not a dirty word. It`s just that here, in the world of operatories, the profanity perpetuates a patriarchal image. The guy is up here on the pedestal, and the girls are down there, regardless of any licensure, pay scales, or clinical skills that differentiate the girls. If any differentiation is attempted, you`re not a team player, or so it goes.

A recent example of a battleground in dental politics was in Washington state. Hygienists attempted to have voters themselves decide about independent practice, among other things. A battle is currently brewing in Kansas, where dentists are lobbying state legislators to allow dental assistants to perform duties traditionally delegated to hygienists. The news media witnessed both battles. Granted, the autonomy of dental hygiene is a sensitive issue - one that causes tempers to flare. But one lingering impression from these states is that voters overhear some mudslinging from their dental professionals. Some voters, no doubt, now have the impression that there`s divisiveness among dental professionals. Is this what we want to convey to patients? We need to state, in whatever battlefields dental politics are fought, that patients are still being treated by team players who are devoted to better health. These team players may have political disagreements, but they still respect each other`s clincal skills. And that definition of team player is not a dirty word.

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