Solving Mysteries, Caring for Patients’ Mental Health

When a last-minute high school assignment required Dr. Lauren Kuhn-Nuth to do job shadowing, she found herself put on the spot to consider her future. Fortunately, her mother was a dental hygienist, and there seemed to be something about dentistry that drew people to the industry. “All sorts of people want to be in the dental field, especially dental hygiene,” she said. “So, I told my mom: ‘Let me see what you're up to’. I have to say, I gained a lot more respect for my mom's field after shadowing her.”

Dr. Kuhn-Nuth expected the hustle and bustle she experienced as a patient: Whisked back to the operatory, a few minutes with the dentist, then back to the front desk to schedule the next appointment. But working closely with her mom, Dr. Kuhn-Nuth saw a completely different side to the profession. “She was so thorough with charting and really took time to answer patients’ questions. ‘Is getting a crown really a good thing? How long do they last’ ‘Is getting a root canal scary?’ She answered their questions, educated them and put them at ease.”

This behind-the-scenes experience transformed how Dr. Kuhn-Nuth saw the profession. Being a dental professional took more than a degree or a title—it took a well-rounded, versatile person who was willing to wear several hats (healthcare provider, friend, confidant) to care for more than just patients’ oral health, but their mental health, too, putting their dental anxiety at ease. The decision was made: Dr. Kuhn-Nuth was on the path to a career in dentistry. From Gonzaga University, she went on to Harvard School of Dental Medicine for her DMD—where she also somehow found time to become Miss Massachusetts and place in the top five at the 2015 Miss America pageant—then Medical University of South Carolina for a MSD in endodontics.

Ask Dr. Kuhn-Nuth, and she’ll tell you that “endodontics is the greatest specialty of all time; it’s like solving a mystery.” Sometimes a patient’s pain is of undetermined origin. Similarly, the patient may feel that their pain is coming from a specific tooth, when in fact, it’s an adjacent tooth that requires treatment. And then there are the cases where the patients’ chief complaint can’t be replicated when they’re in the dental chair! So, what if there’s something on the X-ray but tests are inconclusive. Now what? “I feel like I've become a detective,” she said. “I have to figure out how to solve a problem even when I don't have all the clues right in front of me.”

Dr. Kuhn-Nuth had the opportunity to come full-circle with her mom recently when her mother, Dawn Kuhn, flew all the way to Minnesota for evaluation and treatment by her daughter due to a toothache. “I trust my daughter implicitly,” Mrs. Kuhn said. “I could have seen another provider, but I wanted to go see her.” With her wealth of dental experience, Mrs. Kuhn felt that her throbbing, heat-sensitive tooth was probably #31. However, when Dr. Kuhn-Nuth reviewed the CBCT scan, she noted condensing osteitis at the apices of #30. Pulp vitality testing also confirmed that #30 was the culprit. Weeks after the root canal treatment of #30 (not #31) Mrs. Kuhn confirmed, “I haven’t had any issues. We definitely got the right tooth!” The CBCT scan added confidence to both mother and daughter’s diagnosis and treatment recommendations. “Plus, the CBCT helped me realize that my mom had an additional canal, and since all the canals were very calcified, I was grateful to have that knowledge before ever accessing the tooth,” Dr. Kuhn-Nuth said.

Most important, she finds joy in seeing the anxiety leave her patient by the end of an appointment. “Something that drew me to endo was the opportunity to exceed expectations. People think root canals are scary and painful and that they don’t work. When it’s not scary and painful and it does work, people are very, very satisfied. It gives me personal satisfaction when I see a patient leave the appointment with all their questions answered; they’re happy with me as their doctor and they are confident in the treatment they’ve chosen.”

Solving clinical mysteries is satisfying; but solving the mystery of a patient’s underlying fear, concerns or hesitation about treatment is what makes it all worth it for Dr. Kuhn-Nuth. Patients leave her operatory feeling better than when they walked in, and she can be proud knowing she performed more than just her duty as an endodontist but cared for the heart and mental health of patients.

To learn more about how CBCT could help you uncover clinical mysteries and better care for your patients, click here.

The Digital Stream Carestream Dental Blog Administrator