Dentist’s Religious Preferences Cause Discomfort

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Dear Miriam,

I moved a couple of years ago and am still in the process of finding new doctors in the area. I recently started going to a dentist, who is apparently very religious, which is fine. But his office is decorated with Bible quotes; before Easter, there were business cards at the check-in desk that simply said “He is risen” and, at one appointment, I realized that he has Jesus music playing over the speakers. He has never discussed religion with me or even “blessed” me or anything like that. I have been happy with the dental care I’ve received, and yet this makes me uncomfortable. I certainly have friends of different faiths, but I wonder if a professional office is the place for it. Am I making a bigger deal of this than it needs to be, or is it worth changing practices? I’d love your opinion!

Signed,

Religion at the Dentist

Dear Religion,

Had you asked me about continuing to receive care from a dentist who has strongly held religious beliefs different from your own, my answer would be easy. I would have said that as long as you are happy with the quality of the care, your provider’s religion doesn’t matter, and that diversity in all such things is a beautiful part of life in America.

But his religion doesn’t appear to be incidental to his dental practice. He seems to be using his office and his patients as a forum for sharing his beliefs in a way that transcends typical professional boundaries. That lack of boundaries would inevitably lead me to question his judgment in other areas. Perhaps the atmosphere he’s created makes the dental experience more comfortable for his Christian patients — indeed, I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to visit a dentist who has pictures of rabbis on the walls and Klezmer music in the background — but since you’re uncomfortable, you should respect your own feelings.

Your best options are either to continue to see him and ignore what’s happening around you, or to find a new dentist. If you decide to stay, I encourage you to bring headphones to your next appointment so you don’t have to listen to his music. I would not suggest dropping hints about your discomfort or about your own religious beliefs. Any sort of confrontation about the religious atmosphere will be uncomfortable and will likely result in opening up a religious dialogue of the type you’ve managed to avoid with him so far. You’re definitely not going to change his mind about his religious beliefs, and to suggest that he should not have them on display will only make future dental visits awkward.

If you do decide to leave the practice, after you’ve found another dentist you’re happy with and are sure you won’t be going back, it’s fair to write a letter to the office explaining why you moved on. If you have access to online review forums and the interest in sharing with others, you could write a review stating that the care you received there was excellent but the atmosphere was explicitly Christian. That way, future potential patients could make the decision before stepping foot in the office.

Be well,

Miriam

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