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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have just returned from the dentist and I'm upset. The assistant who was working with him today has long hair -- well below shoulder-length. It was not pulled back or confined at all, which meant that whenever she leaned over, it was hanging right above my open mouth. She pushed it back behind her ears quite often.

I may be terribly old-fashioned, but I consider this to be very unsanitary. I am a retired nurse. I was taught that even clean hair is to be considered "contaminated" and should NEVER be touched while working with a patient unless you immediately scrub your hands. Hair should be pulled back securely from the face whenever you are in a patient treatment or preparation area. I kept thinking about all the loose hairs that were being dropped on the counters, instruments and patients, and it made me sick.

Am I being too persnickety? Could you please check with your dental experts and tell me if a dental assistant wearing long hair loose is acceptable? I need some extensive treatment, and I can't bear the thought of returning to this office because I have to wonder if it is as clean as it should be. -- FUSSY OLD LADY

DEAR FUSSY: You have a legitimate complaint. Open your mouth and voice it to the dentist. Both he and his assistant should know the rules of proper hygiene. A professional look is sleek and clean -- and the hair should be worn up, tied back in a ponytail or confined in a hairnet. If the personnel in your dentist's office don't comply, find another dentist.

DEAR ABBY: Your advice to "Good Old Dad," the father whose daughters bypassed him and talked only to their mother, was exactly right. I would like to add my own experience:

I am the oldest daughter of eight children. When any of us called home and my dad answered the phone, he would barely say, "Hello, how are you?" before passing the phone to my mother. When we visited, he'd sit and watch the ballgame while we talked with Mom and filled her in on all our news. If we became too loud, he'd comment on our "yakking," just like "Good Old Dad." Although we loved him, we were never able to have a meaningful conversation with our father.

Then about 10 years ago, my mother convinced Dad -- against his better judgment -- to take a course in self-awareness. I received a phone call from him shortly after he completed the course, and we actually talked for about 10 minutes! He asked me questions, listened to my answers and spoke about himself. When I hung up the phone, tears were streaming down my face. My husband couldn't believe it was my father I had been talking to.

After that, Dad made it a point to call all of his children and ask how they were doing. He also spent a little time with us when we visited. We grew much closer and discovered we really enjoyed each other's company.

Dad passed away a few years ago, and I am so grateful to him for reaching out so we could have some time together before it was too late. Abby, please tell "Good Old Dad" that his daughters are dying to be close to him. He should call them at home or take them to lunch and build a relationship with them outside the mother-daughter loop. It may be a little awkward at first, but it will be well worth it. -- KAREN CLARK, HOLLAND, PA.

DEAR KAREN: Yours is an important message. To dads everywhere (and it is usually dads who do this): If this sounds like you, please take the time and get to know your children. You and they will be richer for the experience.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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