The Agile Dentist

I have a crown over one of my molars that was necessary due to a crack which had been causing substantial nerve pain. At the time the crown was installed, I was told by my dentist, Brian, to expect it to take up to 6 months for the nerve to settle down. That settling never occurred. In fact in recent months I had started to experience increased nerve pain due to exposure to cold temperatures and pressure. At my next appointment Brian attempted to make some adjustments to the crown to reduce high spots and noted that the fact that I ground my teeth at night could also be responsible for the continued inflammation of the nerve. I should return to wearing my ‘splint’ at night. At my last appointment Brian determined that the crown adjustments obviously hadn’t had the desired effect and that my only option now was to have a root canal. A 2 hr appointment for this dreaded procedure was booked for the following month, with an associated estimated cost of between $800 and $1000.

I had been bracing myself all week for today’s appointment. The dental assistant administered a topical anesthetic to prepare me for the ‘freezing’ needle that Brian would give me for the procedure. When he arrived, while he was re-acquainting himself with my tooth/crown, he performed some simple experiments that gave him pause for previous conclusions he had drawn. Performing further experiments in a slightly different way than he and I done in the past led to new data. There were existing highpoints that had been previously hidden to him due to the way I had been grinding my teeth and how wearing my ‘splint’ had exposed that differently. Upon seeing this new situation Brian proceeded to perform significant sculpting of the crown and then suggested that we NOT perform the root canal as originally scheduled. He said that he believed that the new data and the resulting sculpting would lead to a noticeable drop in nerve pain within a week. If not, then we could reschedule an appointment for the root canal. We reviewed the options together and decided to wait another week to see if I noticed a decline in the intensity of temperature-related nerve pain. If that occurred it was likely to continue to improve and a root canal would not be required at all.

The currently acceptable solution to the problem took 45 mins instead of 2 hrs and was provided free of charge.

This set of events reminded me of some behaviours we look for on agile teams:

  • responding to change (even late in the process) over following a plan

  • delighting the customer

  • providing multiple solutions to a problem and collaborating with the customer to choose the best option

  • deferring decisions to the last responsible moment

  • maximizing the amount of work NOT done

Regardless of how this ultimately turns out, this is one happy customer.