Can You Hit the Curveball?

by Barry Polansky on March 16, 2014 · 13 comments

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 Spring is coming…very slowly, but they tell me it’s on its way.  With spring comes baseball and lots of sunshine and fresh air.  I can’t wait.  I admire Major League baseball players for their skills and their devotion to mastering a very difficult sport.  Most ballplayers start early by learning to hit the ball.

They say that most ballplayers can hit a fastball, and what separates the average hitter from the very best is the ability to hit the curve-ball…or the slider…or any off-speed pitch.

It’s the same with dentists.  Most can hit the fastball…the low hanging fruit, but only the best can hit the off-speed stuff.  Major League dentistry is mostly curve-balls – from tough technical cases to tough patients, if you want to succeed in dentistry these days you must hit the curve ball.

Like learning anything it all starts with the fundamentals – hitting the fastball until proficiency develops and then adjusting to circumstances.  Just like driving a car…paying conscious attention to every detail until driving becomes automatic.

That’s why I get concerned when dentists ask me if I recommend doing a comprehensive examination on every patient.  I never flinch—my answer is always “yes.”I wrote that 10 years ago in The Art of Examination, and my reasoning holds true today, even though the business of dentistry has changed.

The comprehensive examination is the fastball.  It must be mastered before it can be altered.  If you watched me bring patients into my practice you might question “how” I do that…you might say it doesn’t look like what I wrote…but it is.

I have earned the right to alter it by doing thousands of exams-and if you really watch, they may all look a little different, but I accomplish everything I need…nothing gets left out…I just adjust for the various curves the each patient shows.

My examination process, at this point, is a habit.  It’s automatic.  That is the biggest reason I tell dentists to do the exam on every patient…so it becomes a habit…for them and the staff.

When everyone is on the same page, the examination process becomes the culture of the practice.

The collective mind of dentistry has devalued the examination process…and that’s a big problem today.

Dentistry has changed and dentists meet all kinds of resistance everyday.  Creating alternate treatment plans, and completing treatment over time are acceptable ways to help patients accomplish their goals.  As I said before the examination is your best opportunity to get to know and understand your patient.  The goal doesn’t have to be to “sell” them all the dentistry you can…the goal is to know and understand how you can help them…now, and in the future.

It’s worth the time investment…I guarantee it.  It’s a win-win.

The examination is the source of all meaningful dentistry.  If I have learned one thing in forty years of practice it’s that no two patients are the same.  They come to you with different needs and circumstances.  Your job is to figure out the puzzle—the dental puzzle and the human puzzle.  Patients are the curve-balls and we must learn how to adjust.


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A Great Day in Dental Practice

by Barry Polansky on February 19, 2014 · 0 comments

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stop-and-smell-the-rosesI don’t usually write posts like this one.  Usually I start off with a point I want to make…but today I just wanted to stay in the moment to describe how I feel about a great day in dentistry.

My goal I guess is for you to stop and appreciate what dentistry can do for you…because we don’t usually do that…but at the stage I am at in my career, I can sit back and smell the roses.

Yesterday my hygiene schedule was filled with patients who have been in my practice for over thirty years.

One of them, Tom, travels up from North Carolina three times a year for his maintenance.  He never misses.  Sometimes he flies in and combines the trip with seeing friends and relatives.  Other times he goes on to New York to visit his son.  Obviously Tom is more than a patient…he’s a friend, a member of our family.

I remember when he first came to us.  He was overcome with fear from a lifetime of bad dental experiences.  Slowly, over time we restored him.  He gradually accepted more complex treatment including implants which were fairly new at the time.  Tom’s dentistry has held up…because of his care and appreciation.  That’s what makes me feel good.

My next patient was a woman I restored fifteen years ago.  Same story.  Although she lives a lot closer, she never misses her hygiene appointments.  On random occasions she stops in and brings us wine or fruit platters.

She speaks very little English…but we communicate.  I commented to her how beautiful her smile has remained and that the dentistry appeared as if I had placed it yesterday.  Even I was amazed how well she took care of it.

Upon leaving, she stood up and gave me a hug just uttering the words, “Good Doctor, beautiful work.”  At that point I was consumed by what this profession can bring…pure joy.

I am fond of using a quote:  “One thousand compliment + 1 insult = 1 insult”

Knowing that…many times during a day or week when that one bad patient comes in, I still carry that patient home with me.  I am human, after all.

But on this day I enjoyed one of those moments when I know why I practice dentistry.



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