Th 133543

The renewal of a dentist

Sept. 1, 2003
Dentistry is a magnificent profession — personally satisfying and economically rewarding. Unfortunately, dentists are also susceptible to the burden of familiarity...

Dr. Keith Phillips

Dentistry is a magnificent profession — personally satisfying and economically rewarding. Unfortunately, dentists are also susceptible to the burden of familiarity, where the significance of one's contribution and the courage of the people we treat become routine. This is the story of a dentist — Robert L. Lockhart, DDS, MS — who has regained a sense of wonder in his work and in the people he encounters.

The Guatemala clinic
Click here to enlarge image

While standing in a food line at a diner, Dr. Lockhart began a conversation with the stranger in line behind him. The conversation took an unusual turn when Dr. Lockhart told his new friend that he was a dentist. "You're going to Guatemala with me to work with the Mayan people. I just lost my best friend, a pediatric dentist, in a bike accident and you are his replacement." After seven months of planning, Dr. Lockhart found himself on a plane bound for Guatemala City. Six hours later he was checking dental supplies through customs in Guatemala. The team spent the night at a mission house where the dental equipment and supplies were stored.

Dr. Robert Lockhart in action
Click here to enlarge image

The next morning, they loaded a donated Ford truck with equipment and began an eight-hour trip to Nebaj, a town of roughly 40,000 people. After an overnight stay in a local hotel, the team of physicians, pharmacists, dentists, and assistants ventured into the surrounding mountains. The next five days were spent treating the local Mayan and Ixcel Indian populations and providing food and supplies purchased at the local market to area shut-ins. One of the many surprises the team experienced was how implicitly the patients trusted them. Without exception, the patients cooperated with the caregivers and were grateful for the assistance. Each evening, team members shared with each other stories of the day's activities. Dr. Lockhart says, "There is no better feeling than serving people who enrich our efforts with their trust and thanks, especially when all they have to give us in return for the care is their heartfelt appreciation."

During the last day of work, a six-year-old girl arrived at the clinic. An accident at age two drove the deciduous central incisors facially and disfigured her upper lip. The badly displaced teeth had been impinging on her lip for four years. Through Maria, our trilingual interpreter, Dr. Lockhart learned that this young lady wanted to attend school without classmates making fun of her lip. She had gone home from school and told her mother that she was going to the dentist to fix her lip. She sat passively through the anesthesia, extraction of the offending tooth, fibrous tissue reduction of the vestibular surface of her upper lip, and the suturing process. The warm hug at the completion of the procedure made all efforts, struggles, and minor discomforts of the trip worthwhile. Staffing issues, marketing, schedule control, HIPAA, and computerization lost their sense of urgency in that moment.

Reflecting on the trip, Dr. Lockhart shares, "I returned home with a renewed sense of the contribution I make and why I work at it. My patients sense my awareness of their courage and my thankfulness to be in a position where helping makes a difference in their lives every day. Somehow they seem more receptive to my recommendations. Each of us could stand a dose of this renewal from time to time."

The author wishes to thank Robert L. Lockhart, DDS, MS, for his assistance in writing this article.

Dr. Keith Phillips maintains a private practice in Winston-Salem, N.C. He is president and founder of The Giving Hand Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to the start-up and development of free medical and dental clinics. Dr. Phillips also serves as a teaching associate at the L.D. Pankey Institute and is on the faculty of the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry.

Sponsored Recommendations

Clinical Study: OraCare Reduced Probing Depths 4450% Better than Brushing Alone

Good oral hygiene is essential to preserving gum health. In this study the improvements seen were statistically superior at reducing pocket depth than brushing alone (control ...

Clincial Study: OraCare Proven to Improve Gingival Health by 604% in just a 6 Week Period

A new clinical study reveals how OraCare showed improvement in the whole mouth as bleeding, plaque reduction, interproximal sites, and probing depths were all evaluated. All areas...

Chlorine Dioxide Efficacy Against Pathogens and How it Compares to Chlorhexidine

Explore our library of studies to learn about the historical application of chlorine dioxide, efficacy against pathogens, how it compares to chlorhexidine and more.

Enhancing Your Practice Growth with Chairside Milling

When practice growth and predictability matter...Get more output with less input discover chairside milling.