Pause to praise the unsung heroes

April 1, 2002
A number of articles published recently in the dental press talk about the issue of access to care.

By Joe Blaes

A number of articles published recently in the dental press talk about the issue of access to care. The authors seem to be forever pointing their fingers at dentists. It seems that we are always at fault for not providing care for everyone, even those who do not want to see us. The plight of children is the worst example cited. But who is responsible for all that tooth decay? Doesn't the ultimate responsibility belong to the parents? I had an email from a colleague suggesting that rampant decay be considered a form of child abuse. Perhaps he is right.

What's missing in all of this rhetoric is mention of the thousands of hours that dentists devote to volunteer programs serving those who do not have access to care. Dentists routinely volunteer their services on the staffs of these programs all over our country.

At the Chicago Midwinter Meeting, Ivoclar honored some of the people who have started these programs as "heroes of dentistry." What a moving program! But I believe that the real unsung heroes are those dentists who give up their days off to give back to their communities on a regular basis. Many dentists have a policy of providing access to care for those who cannot afford it on a no-charge basis. As a group, dentists have always been willing to give more back to the community than any other profession.

There are two articles in this issue about volunteers in dentistry. One refers to an event in my hometown, St. Louis, and the other is the cover story about volunteers at the Winter Olympics. I encourage you to read these stories and then let me know what you are doing in your own community to help solve this access-to-care problem. I would like to continue publishing these stories about you, the unsung heroes in dentistry. I know of several programs, but there are many more of which I am unaware. I look forward to reading your emails and letters and to featuring you in an article about the programs with which you are involved.

I'll bet that, if you have a mission statement in your practice, it probably mentions that you value creativity. We all like to be creative! Everyone talks about it. Creativity should be one of the driving principles of your practice, and it is essential to your success. But in our day-to-day quest to see more patients and produce more dentistry, sometimes that creative spirit gets lost. Indeed, the idea of being creative inside a practice culture seems like a frustrating paradox. When someone on your team dares to think outside the box, too often their brilliant, box-busting idea is little more than a recycled version of an old idea: "Let's get yellow bibs for our patients."

The creative spirit thrives in the practice that cultivates it on a regular basis. One of the best ways to foster creativity is to have regular brainstorming sessions for your team. I am sure you are familiar with the rules of brainstorming: There are no bad ideas, and don't worry about implementation – that comes later. Some of the best ideas in my practice have come from regular brainstorming sessions. Doctors, be careful of your body language! Sometimes a look or a gesture can stop creativity dead in its tracks.

We celebrate the creative geniuses of the Edisons, Michelangelos and Picassos of this world, but it is the unheralded moments of creativity happening every day, large and small, that move the world forward through history. Remember this the next time that lightbulb comes on.

Creativity is one of the great gifts of freedom, and, these days, squandering that gift is even more of a shame than usual!

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