I love movies that teach life lessons.  Al Pacino’s new film, Danny Collins is just that kind of movie…great acting, very entertaining and if you’re attuned…a great message.  It’s one of those “what could have been” movies.  If only Danny Collins would have seen a letter from John Lennon, written to him forty years ago, what could have been.  In reality Danny Collins is everyman.  I won’t give up what happened in the movie but let’s say Danny Collin’s career may have turned out differently.

He may have used his creativity to write and perform original songs rather than covering other artists after his early success.  His whole career was about following the money rather than following his bliss.

Hollywood has never been kind to dentistry.  I remember scenes from Little Shop of Horrors, Marathon Man, and Leaving Las Vegas that didn’t shine a positive light on dentistry.  Danny Collins stays true to form.  The aging Collins as a burned out singer tries for redemption by finding his only son to make amends.  He winds up staying in a Hilton Inn in New Jersey.  When his Mercedes pulls up there is a lone display that highlights the week’s big event: a meeting of the New Jersey Dental Professionals.

Now, I try not to be cynical but I believe there are no accidents, and the director specifically used dentists as a metaphor for lost dreams.  I guess to those in Hollywood dentistry isn’t an exciting profession (my apologies to Bill Dorfman).

Let’s not kid ourselves, dentistry usually is a default vocation.  I for one told myself the reasons I chose dentistry…but I made them up.  Friends would always mock me, “are you going to spend your whole life putting your hands in people’s mouths?”

I would always answer it’s better than being a proctologist, besides the money is good and you can make your own hours.

So what does all of this have to do with creativity?  Dentists aren’t folk singers.  No, but Danny Collins was more about creating a career and creating a life than it is about creating hits, and that’s what we all share.

The movie makes the point that making a lot of money isn’t the key to happiness.  He burned out early, all the while making a fortune while abandoning his passions and ignoring the traits that people usually use to describe someone at their funerals…like compassion, empathy and kindness…the issues of character.

In my own career…the early years were my burn-out years.  Dentistry was just a job.  Later on when my mentors showed me the light, I created a career, that’s what saved me.  Now, at the end of my career I am discovering my calling…writing and teaching.

But I came of age when it was much easier to create a career in dentistry.  I regained my autonomy by attempting to master the art and science of dentistry.  That alone made me more passionate and helped me to sustain the career.

These days it’s harder.  Young dentists, with their outrageous school loans must subjugate their autonomy to other forces.

This has become my pet peeve because the world of work is so important to a person’s success and happines, regardless of whether they are a rock singer or a dentist.

Work matters.

Today young dentists are graduating and joining dental service organizations and working in corporate dentistry.  They are promised the autonomy, but end up singing other people’s songs.

I am sure you have heard the warning by so many philosophers through the ages…”don’t die with the music still inside of you.”

Before leaving the blog, take a look at what Wayne Dyer has to say about this.







No one can argue that a dentist’s best friend is a patient with symptoms.  Symptoms represent the highest level of motivation for patients to get treatment.  The other day I noticed my lab technician rubbing her jaw.  I asked her what the problem was and she explained that her jaw had been killing her lately.  I did a quick examination and saw plenty of signs that revealed occlusal disease but the discomfort was taking center stage.  So I made her an occlusal splint.

The very next day…after a good night’s sleep with the splint, she came in smiling and thanking me for helping her get out of pain.  I was a hero.  It felt great to be an overnight sensation.

We all know how easy it is to treat symptoms and help people get out of pain…physical and emotional.  There’s nothing like an easy pulpotomy or a Class IV composite on a central incisor to turn that frown upside down.

It’s the signs of disease that I am concerned about, because can we really cure an asymptomatic patient?

When there are no symptoms we must rely on our extraordinary communication skills to build trust and motivate the patient toward proper treatment.  This is a great source of frustration for many dentists, because we see signs of disease all the time and have difficulty persuading patients to take action.  That’s why we love symptoms.

And that is why splint therapy should be a big part of the dentist’s armamentarium.  The splint helps patients to realize that there are subclinical symptoms present.  In my lab tech’s case, she realized that the splint uncovered more than just muscle soreness.  It exposed the clenching she had been doing (now we could talk about the signs), and the headaches she had been getting which were leading to a few bad moods.

The point is that our examination should go further than finding signs…it should expose symptoms from the overt to the covert.  A starting point for that is a full understanding of the role of occlusion and the use of splints.

When I first employed splint therapy into my practice, I never fully understood the behavioral component of the splint.  I made many splints for patients who never fully understood “why” I was recommending the splint.  Needless to say I had some very unhappy patients.  Knowing how to make a splint and why “we” use splints doesn’t help the patient understand its value unless they “feel” the importance.

Including an occlusal examination for every new patient is a great starting point for helping the young dentist explain complete treatment better and building trust.










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March 1, 2015

      The University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine back in 1969 had strong leanings toward periodontics.  Our dean D. Walter Cohen, after all, was the co-author of dentistry’s premier text in periodontics, the appropriately named Periodontal Therapy.  Future deans helped the pedigree by emphasizing periodontics.  Included in that group was my commanding […]

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