#1306: Flirting vs. Professional Friendliness at the Dentist: EDITED

Hello Captain Awkward!

I’m a single woman in her mid-20s and I went to a new dentist, who might be in his late-20s, for an appointment the other day. He was extremely nice and very conversational. At first I thought he was just being nice (or flirting with his assistant – who is also young looking and beautiful).

But then he started asking me about food and restaurants, things I like, how long I plan to live in our state.

Then I saw he didn’t have a ring (which I know isn’t always a clue, but I used it) and so I started wondering, “is there more to his nice-ness?”

What are your thoughts? Was he being professional and nice to his new patient? Was he flirting with me and I have to make the move since it is his place of employment? Was he doing it to be nice around his assistant? Or something else I’m not seeing?

Thank you so much!

Edited To Add/Remove: I have been completely corrected on this one and I’m replacing my answer with corrections from readers.

I was wrong. I do think women should ask men out more, and I got kind of caught up in the “next time you can’t tell if someone is interested, instead of trying to parse out a dude’s hints forever you could ask and know?” part of the question, but let us not look for excuses to cross the streams of professional courtesy and romantic attraction. This was a complete flop on my part, and I am deeply sorry.

Here are two of the many corrections I am grateful to have received.

“Dear Captain,

I have been reading your blog since for I don’t know how long, but at least 5 years.  I got sucked in by geek social fallacies (explains *all* of my friends from my whole life!). Your blog is literally and exactly the best blog in the whole internet and I routinely refer patients to read it!

The response to the message today, though, was the first response of yours I have ever been really sad to read (and I happily read the entire back catalogue when I first found your blog!!)

As a healthcare provider- please do not support the interpretation of friendliness of a healthcare provider as dating availability (just as you do for servers and retail workers). Please please please, even if the the provider is single and *known* to be available.

We (healthcare providers) have a lot of power in the situation (unlike servers!), but it is so awful when people are thinking of you as a potential romantic partner when you are providing care.  A good provider will have a major goal of maintaining and developing “therapeutic alliance”- that is developing a warm and trusting relationship! Good dentists routinely ask the sort of questions described by the OP to distract people during dental exams as most people are so horrible uncomfortable during them!

Also, it is very unprofessional for a provider to be expressing romantic interest *during* patient care- if that happens to you, find a different provider!

It is so uncomfortable, when a patient mistakes relationship building in the support of medical care as romantic interest and it makes providing competent care so hard! (Ask me how I know!)

Sorry for this long missive.  I understand why you don’t have comments open, and I fully understand that this would be better as a comment, but I just had to say something because this was so very triggering for me.

And also:

Hey Captain!

I thought it might be useful to know that, in my jurisdiction flirting with a patient while providing dental services would be a serious ethical breach, subject to potential disciplinary action by the regulatory body.
Dentists, like doctors, should keep very strict boundaries with their patients, and should terminate a patient relationship before embarking on any kind of personal, and in particular, romantic relationship.  
We don’t always think of dentists as being in positions of power and trust as much as doctors, but they are. Actively demonstrating romantic interest to a patient in a medical setting is way off-side for a whole host of very good reasons, and I hope for OP and her dentist’s sake he was just being friendly. 
Love what you do!

My sincerest apologies, and thanks to all who wrote in with gentler corrections than I deserved. I will remember this lesson and endeavor to be less embarrassing.