A little humor never hurts

Fighting perio requires a commitment from the patient that can be a, uh, bummer ... there`s no magic wand here, right? It takes some hard work from everyone involved. So, if the moment`s right, why not infuse a little humor into the therapy?

Sep 1st, 1999

Fighting perio requires a commitment from the patient that can be a, uh, bummer ... there`s no magic wand here, right? It takes some hard work from everyone involved. So, if the moment`s right, why not infuse a little humor into the therapy?

Mark Hartley

Years ago, the boss sent me off to interview Dr. Charles Jarvis, a dentist in San Marcos, Texas. He had retired from dentistry and was living in a nice home in the hills behind Aquarena Springs. Although a golf course meandered behind the homes, the boss wasn`t interested in the quiet, pleasant life of a retiree. Dr. Jarvis had carved out a niche on the speakers` circuit as a humorist. We`re not talking about dental meetings. We`re talking national awards meetings for social organizations - sort of what Will Rogers and Mark Twain would do for some extra cash, if they were still around.

I was expecting to be entertained. But during the entire two-hour interview, I don`t even remember smiling. Dr. Jarvis treated me to a two-hour clinical analysis of how to project humor upon an audience.

Ditto for this Editor`s Note. However, I will say that I listened to some tapes by Dr. Jarvis during the drive home. He was hilarious, and I`m lucky I did not kill myself in a traffic accident. At the end of this column, I list some Web sites that will make you chuckle after reading this serious discussion of humor.

Cathy Seckman writes about initiating a simple conversation with patients in this issue. At some point during most friendly verbal exchanges, one person will try to raise a smile while the other one obliges with at least a smile.

Why should it be any different in the hygiene operatory?

If you saw the movie, Patch Adams, you watched as Robin Williams generated laughter with some very sick patients - the type of patients where you tend to feel sorrow. Terminally ill patients may or may not appear in your treatment room. But one similarity between periodontal disease and these medical illnesses is that recovery is an uphill struggle.

Fighting perio requires a commitment from the patient that can be a, uh, bummer. Although the long-term prognosis for periodontal disease is usually good, there`s no magic wand here, right? It takes some hard work from everyone involved. It`s a pretty good bet that some of your patients will become bored and lose willpower.

So, if the moment`s right, why not infuse a little humor into the therapy?

The reason the medical profession pays attention to the virtues of gleeful mirth is that the immune system gets a jump-start from laughter. However, I came across a startling statistic while reading the March issue of the APA Monitor, the publication for the American Psychological Association. According to the article, psychologists and researchers say "children laugh about 400 times a day; adults perhaps 15 times a day." What a shame, since that means both adults in the hygiene treatment room are predisposed to not laughing.

Some other quotes from the article include:

- "[Humor] is not a therapy. It`s a complementary treatment. It facilitates that which we do as therapists," said Dr. Ed Dunkleblau, a psychotherapist in Des Plaines, Ill.

- "Personally, I don`t go about trying to impose or directly inject humor in the process of therapy. Humor often comes out spontaneously as patient and therapist disclose to each other who they are," said Dr. Joe Richard Dunn, a psychotherapist in Jackson, Miss.

- "During training [as therapists], we get some of the humor beaten out of us. We`re afraid of not being taken seriously, or that our patients will feel they are not taken seriously," Dr. Dunkleblau said.

The three quotes above, of course, were inserted into the article for the benefit of psychologists. However, I see some parallels to dental hygiene. The wisdom of these statements makes you pause and reflect that maybe humor is too hard and too risky. It`s your call.

However, if you are interested in incorporating humor into your soft tissue management program, I liked the Web sites for the Humor and Health Journal (www.intop.net/~jrdunn/index. html) and the home page for Dr. Steven Sultanoff (www.humormatters.com). If you get really serious, or funny, you can join the American Association for Therapeutic Humor (www. aath.org). Jokes are plentiful on these Web pages; however, there`s solid information and research too.

Editor Mark Hartley can be contacted at markh@pennwell.com

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