The joy of changing a person`s life by creating a beautiful, healthy smile is one of the intangible rewards of being a dentist that can`t be measured.
Dianne Glasscoe, RDH, B.S.
The profession of dentistry is an extremely complex field to enter. It is both challenging and rewarding. Do you remember what motivated you to enter dentistry? Have you ever wondered if you would choose dentistry again if you were given the opportunity to make another career choice?
When undergraduate students are asked why they want to go to dental school, their replies usually reflect some idealistic expectation of what the profession can give them. Job security, financial independence, and professional recognition are three primary reasons. Memories of a childhood dental experience or, perhaps, the fact that another family member is a dentist, may influence the decision to pursue dentistry as a career.
These same students may mistakenly think that the job is not physically taxing, you make tons of money, and you get to call all the shots. While there may be a grain of truth here, the reality of operating a dental practice is much more complex than can be imagined. Let`s examine some of the complexities and the challenges.
Anyone who thinks dentistry is not physically taxing is greatly mistaken. While the fatigue that comes from a day of physical labor generally can be overcome by a good night`s sleep, the fatigue that arises from the mental and physical stress of producing dentistry seems to be cumulative. Carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic back problems, and hypertension abound with dentists. Some days, you feel as if you are swimming against the current all day.
Many patient variables can increase the stress. Working in such a small and confined area as the mouth, is tedious. Some people have a very limited "opening" capacity; some have tongues the size of car hoods; some wince in pain at the sound of a drill; some salivate or bleed profusely; and some gag at the sight of a mouth mirror. Adding to the stress can be the struggle to stay on schedule and keep up with your hygiene checks. One late patient can throw a serious kink into your schedule.
Even though dentists can have impressive production/collection numbers, a great proportion of incoming money is eaten up in overhead. The high cost of supplies, staff salaries, taxes, maintenance, etc., can leave the doctor with only a small percentage of the gross.
What about the exorbitant costs of technological advances? Changes in this area are occurring so rapidly that some doctors find themselves being left behind. The "gurus" tell you that you must have the latest computer system, an air-abrasion unit, intraoral camera, etc., to be successful. It becomes quite a challenge for some practices to stay ahead of technological improvements.
The depression deepens
One of the unkind jabs of reality is when you discover you`re not perfect and you can`t control everything. What a revelation! Things do go bad sometimes:
* You break an endo file in the canal;
* You adjust through the porcelain on a PFM crown;
* You break the clasp on a partial denture while attempting to adjust it;
* A simple extraction becomes surgical when the root snaps;
* A crown doesn`t fit;
* A beautiful restoration fractures within 24 hours of being placed;
* X-rays reveal an overhanging restoration that you placed;
* Your patient will not get numb;
* Children are screaming;
* Patients are picky and impossible to please;
* Some patients won`t pay their bills; and on and on it goes.
There`s even more. Staffing can be a major challenge for some dentists. Knowing when to hire and fire, keeping staff happy financially, providing benefits, and dealing with attitudes can be frustrating. In addition, the rising influence of managed care and dental insurance can make dentists feel like a puppet on a string.
The preceding paragraphs have painted a depressing, dark picture of the trials and tribulations of practicing dentistry. If this were all you had to look forward to each day in the dental profession, very few of you would be able to withstand the pressure of such a joyless existence.
However, let`s shift our focus away from the negatives in dentistry. There is a good side as well. Just across the bridge, the sun is shining. It`s time to cross the bridge to the positive aspects of dentistry - the joys and rewards.
Dentistry`s tangible rewards
Recently, Dr. Ted Thibodeau of Norwell, Mass., posted his thoughts on dentistry`s intangible rewards on the Internet Dental Forum. With his permission, please allow me to share some of these thoughts with you in the box at right.
Well said, Dr. Thibodeau!
According to Dr. Thibodeau, being a dentist is fun! In addition, he says he can`t think of anything he would rather be doing than his principal occupation. Happy is the person who loves his/her work.
How about you? Do you still experience the joy of dentistry? Or has stress and some unfortunate circumstances caused you to train your focus on the negatives? If so, you probably have lost the feeling of exhilaration and pleasure that you once had from this profession. Maybe you need to reread Dr. Thibodeau`s thoughts!
A final thought
While each day presents its own set of unique joys and challenges, let us not forget that the greatest rewards are intangible. The joy of changing a person`s life by giving him or her a beautiful smile cannot be measured. The satisfaction of restoring a person`s dentition so he or she can enjoy food again is worth more than gold. The opportunity to relieve pain and suffering is a rare privilege.
When your day goes bad, learn from it and keep going. With each day, you learn and grow until you reach that full level of maturity where you can pat yourself on the back and say, "I did good today!" Some days, you`ll do better than others.
Dr. Thibodeau`s thoughts about dentistry`s intangible rewards
"As a private-practice dentist, assuming you have not entered into any indentured servitude contracts with some insurance behemoth, you are as nearly master of your own fate as anyone can be in today`s world. You control your destiny, day to day.
"You decide what days you will work, what hours (did somebody say `flex time`?), and how many patients you will see in a given day; what procedures you will do vs. what you will refer; how many or how few auxiliary facilitators you will employ; what they will be allowed or required to do (within legal limits); what materials you will use; what quality lab support you will retain; what you will send to the lab and what you will do yourself; what holidays you will or will not observe; when you will vacation, how often, and how long.
"You decide what your services are `worth` and you price them accordingly, varying those fees to suit the situation or not.
"You decide on your practice philosophy and how to implement it - hopefully with the collaboration of your staff if you have one. You evaluate your successes and your failures, and institute corrective measures (if necessary). You decide whether to be a nice person or an SOB.
"You can`t get `fired from the job` because you have as many `bosses` as you have patients. You would have to be pretty bad for all of them to `let you go` at once! Talk about job security!
"During your day, you do good for a lot of people. You relieve pain and make it possible for people to eat comfortably and enjoy the process. You make it possible for people who haven`t smiled in a long time to lay a big, healthy grin on the world and be seen as they really are. You change lives in many, many ways - most of which you will never know. But, occasionally, you will get a heartfelt `thank you` that makes you glow all day. And, once in awhile, you may even get a hug and a teary eye that lets you know you are earning your place on this planet. For that, you can take honest satisfaction.
"Ours is an ephemeral art form. What we do will be gone from here fairly soon after we are. The glory, the satisfaction, the joy is in the doing; in knowing that we gave it our best shot; that it may not be `perfect,` but that it is as excellent as we are capable of doing at that moment under those circumstances. And with each patient, each time we see that individual and do something, we get still another chance to `go for the gold.` "