Over the past thirteen years I’ve had the opportunity, through teaching, continuing education and international dental organizations, to meet dentists from all over the world. I’ve noticed we each have unique reasons for pursuing dentistry and individual talents within our profession. But, there are some common beliefs we all seem to share.
First, we strive to make dentistry painless. I think there is still a prevalent misperception by the public that dentists enjoy inflicting pain. This seems to be confirmed by the portrayal of dentists in movies, TV shows and theatrical performances. For the record, it’s not true. I don’t know any dentist who wants to cause pain. Dentists invest in education and new technology to make dentistry more comfortable for people. Every time I start a dental procedure I tell my patient to raise his or her left hand if he or she has ANY discomfort of any kind and I will stop what I’m doing immediately and make them more comfortable. I say “I do not want to hurt you”. I really mean it. I never want to cause pain and I always want to make people comfortable while they are in my office.
Second, we are trying to help you save your teeth and your money when we tell you about your dental problems. I’m not trying to buy a boat or send my kid to college. Let me explain. When you have your teeth cleaned and have x-rays every six months then you are allowing me to help you find little problems before you have pain. Little problems, like small cavities, can be filled painlessly with small fillings that cost very little. When you choose not to have your teeth cleaned and x-rays taken then small problems grow into big problems. Big problems will eventually cause pain and usually require more involved treatment like root canals, crowns, extractions or implants. Some of these treatments cost twenty or thirty times as much as a small filling. It’s disheartening when people accuse dentists of making up problems. I don’t know any dentists who do this. When I point out problems I see on x-rays or during an exam it is to allow my patient a chance to stop their disease before they get a toothache and have to spend money on expensive treatments. I’m actually trying to help you save your hard-earned money.
Third, it’s not easy becoming a dentist. Being accepted to dental school is competitive. An applicant has to have a high college GPA and entrance exam scores to be considered. The year I started dental school there were over 2,000 applicants for 50 available spots. Most of us sacrificed at least eight years of our life studying, living in near poverty and accumulating debt in order to accomplish our dream, challenge ourselves and help people. It’s normal for a new dentist to graduate with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. And yet, almost every dentist I meet is glad they accepted the challenge and worked hard to become a dentist.
Fourth, we remember our patients and we like to form relationships. One big advantage of a profession in dentistry versus other types of medicine is that a dentist can take the time to build relationships with patients. I remember when a patient shares with me that her mother has cancer or his son is graduating. I am still surprised how many patients ask me if my daughter is walking or talking yet and what foods she likes to eat. I like seeing my patients and catching up on life, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Fifth, we get excited about doing a great job! Dentistry requires practice and dedication. Many dentists spend weekends away from their families learning new skills and improving their current skills. Dentistry is not just a 9-5 job. Some of us spend weekends teaching other dentists. We do this so we all can offer great care to our patients. Last week a patient said to me “I want to thank you for all you have learned and all the ways you have helped improve my life.” It doesn’t get much more rewarding than that. She explained that she no longer snores, sleeps better and has more energy all day because she uses an oral sleep appliance. She has a beautiful smile now that she’s had some cosmetic dentistry and she’s no longer scared of losing her teeth and needing dentures like her parents because she is treating her gum disease with great technology. I love having a job that allows me to improve lives, not just smiles.