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Dentistry Been Very Good to Me

December 3, 2013

Filed under: Article,Business of Dentistry — Tags: , , , — Barry @ 10:21 PM



Sitting in a Barnes & Noble just chilling out after a hot yoga class and looking through one of John Wooden’s leadership books.  

I come across a lesson that reads:

“If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, how will you find the time to do it again?”

My mind wandered to where I originally heard that old piece of advice.  It was repeated over and over again in dental school…over 40 years ago.  I still use that advice in my practice and daily life.  Good thoughts from the old coach.

I took out my iPhone and posted on Facebook under the heading of Dental School Wisdom.  Within minutes there were a whole slew of responses.  The problem was that no one was responding to the Wooden quote, just to the phrase “Dental School Wisdom.”

It was as if I had just said the magic words like Niagara Falls in that old Abbott and Costello skit.  If you never saw the skit it’s worth watching and you will appreciate the emotional response I got toward people’s dental school experiences.

I was severely outnumbered.  I had a great dental school experience.  Some of the best years of my life.  Maybe it was the time, late sixties to early seventies, but I felt no pressure, and I wasn’t some sort of child prodigy.  Compared to what came before it, I thought it was a piece of cake.  After all when I finished I would get the prize…a license to practice that would enable me to have a great life.  I felt fortunate…still do.

But obviously, after reading the responses, I was in the minority.

It seems that dental school bashing is all the rage these days.  Whatever happened to gratitude?  While reading the comment thread I was reminded of a blog post written a couple of years ago on the Lolabees Blog.  It was called 10 Reasons Why I Hated Dental School.

That blog post produced a ton of comments that supported the “I hated dental school theme.”  What was I missing?

I follow Lolabees blog and noticed through the years that her blog posts attract many people who seem to want to leave dentistry.

Is there something inherently wrong with this profession?  Did I miss an important meeting?

Sure I would have loved to play third base for the Phillies, but Mike Schmidt was a smidge better than me.  Look I don’t apologize for liking dental school or actually enjoying the fruits of of last forty years of labor in a field that I had total control over.

But as an author and an educator—it bothers me that so much bashing is going on when I know there is nothing inherently wrong with dentistry.

So stop complaining!

Then, in a dream one night, the word Millennial kept flashing in my mind.

I’m a Baby Boomer.  I come from a generation where a job meant something different than it does to today’s young people.  Millennials would prefer meaning over money…and so they change jobs more often.  My generation was satisfied in finding a job that provided a good life and we stayed with it forever.

When I looked at the bashing from that point of view I softened my outlook.

You see…I am very sensitive about doing meaningful work.  I spent the last forty years creating conditions that afford me the freedom to do meaningful, and important dentistry…dentistry with purpose.  Basically that is what my two books are about.

It’s tougher to do that these days.  But if you are willing to create that opportunity…it’s still there, and the grass is still not greener.

The one problem that I see is that of all the attributes needed for a purpose driven dental career...self-esteem is number one.

I have to admit that even forty years ago…my self esteem was tested in dental school.  But I am not one to give the advice to just “buck up and take it.”

No, dental education has to improve— dental schools must build their students up rather than tearing them down and destroying confidence.  Maybe I was lucky.  Maybe I was just born at the right time.  Either way—if dentistry is going to survive as a profession, the dental schools must reform.














  1. Haha… I think I saw that thread on Facebook! 😉

    I’m a dental school hater… for good reason… even 25 years later. I am NOT “grateful” for being hazed, harrassed, and belittled. I PAID GOOD MONEY for that. They should be grateful to ME. Fuck them. And, I mean that sincerely.

    But, I disagree with your assertion that dental school haters are necessarily unhappy dentists. As you probably know, I LOVE being a dentist. I really do. And, that’s IN SPITE OF my dental school experience. The best revenge is living well, as they say. But, I will NOT give credit to my school. They deserve absolutely no accolades or recognition. Rather they have won my eternal consternation and derision.

    My own blog article, “25 Years Later – Dental School STILL Sucks!” is my third most popular post (out of over 230 posts) with over 13,000 views.

    I’ve had bad dreams about dental school over the years. But, I’ve never had bad dreams about being in the Persian Gulf (I). That pretty much says it all.

    Comment by The Dental Warrior — December 3, 2013 @ 10:47 PM

  2. PS… Sweet revenge = Google “University of Tennessee dental school review” and my blog article is #4 on the first page of results. Suck on it, UT!

    Comment by The Dental Warrior — December 3, 2013 @ 10:50 PM

  3. Mike– As you can see on this post — I have softened my opinion. And I do agree that many who hated dental school ended up loving dentistry. My point is that that too many “haters” out there—maybe I missed something…we do need dental school reform.

    Comment by Barry — December 3, 2013 @ 11:21 PM

  4. Yes, I noticed, Barry. 🙂

    I won’t hold my breath for “dental school reform” anymore than I’ll hold my breath waiting for the ADA to actually work on behalf of dentists. 🙂

    And, it’s not good enough for the schools to grade themselves and proclaim, “We’ve changed.” Bullshit. Let me hear it from a preponderance of the students. THEN I’ll believe it… Maybe.

    Comment by The Dental Warrior — December 3, 2013 @ 11:30 PM

  5. Agree about the self praise coming from the dental schools. Usually it’s about the curriculum or their patient centric approach…but I think we are speaking about preservation of the spirit of the practitioner. I guess you might say that my biography became my ideology…but so many dentists never get over their fear of not being good enough.

    Comment by Barry — December 4, 2013 @ 9:24 AM

  6. I have mixed feelings about my dental school experience, but I suppose those mixed feelings tend to be more negative in nature!. For me it was about survival! Maybe because my dad’s a dentist so I knew what I was learning wasn’t real world. I felt prepared to fix teeth but I didn’t feel prepared to diagnose and treatment plan anything other than a broken tooth or a hole in a tooth! I always remember feeling that if my dentistry didn’t last a lifetime I had failed. That was a heavy burden to carry and one that often led to shy away from doing anything that was absolutely necessary and then leaving myself in a place to fail for sure.
    I don’t know what the answers are for dental school reform, but I feel things are worse than ever especially with the current costs. A few years ago as tuition was skyrocketing I asked a dean of a dental school what his thoughts were about the sky rocketing costs of tuition and his only answer was that families would have to support the kids! Unfortunately there is a complete disconnect with reality… I’ve probably spent double my dental school tuition on CE to get over dental school and that’s not going away anytime soon! Is $300K worth a piece of paper that allows you to spend another $300K?

    Comment by Doug Sandquist — December 5, 2013 @ 11:16 PM

  7. Doug…what you are saying has a lot of merit. I know you are interested in nutrition. I recommend T. Colin Campbell’s new book Whole. In it he describes his fight with the scientific community. He writes about Wholism vs. Reductionism. A parallel can be drawn between that thinking and what is going on in dentistry. My view is that change has to start somewhere and dental school seems the only logical place.

    Comment by Barry — December 6, 2013 @ 12:19 PM

  8. Well, you certainly do touch on several interesting points here, Barry.

    “It seems that dental school bashing is all the rage these days.” That’s funny. It ranks right up there with selfies and twerking, right? 😉 It is pretty sad that most dentists feel no loyalty (or actual hatred for) to their dental schools. I think Dental Warrior’s strong feelings represent those of most grads. I always said that graduate school was not like college. I wonder if that’s partly to blame for the disdain most feel for their dental schools. I mean, many are still kids going into grad school, and while college consisted of going to class 2-4 hours a day, some studying, and the rest partying, it’s quite a transition to then go to the 24-hour grind of dental school. That alone might inherently make people hate it! 😉 But, I don’t really believe that’s enough. I think it all points back to the culture– the hazing and the pompous mentality that much of the faculty seems to thrive on. It’s not supportive from an education standpoint, but it also doesn’t build people into caring, confident individuals. I can totally relate to Doug’s comment about his dental work having to last a lifetime, and if it didn’t he had failed. That is a colossal burden to carry and one that overwhelmed me throughout my years of practice.

    I remember learning in school that “if you touch a tooth, it’s yours.” I completely understand why they taught us that, and I think it’s a valuable lesson, but how do you make that fit into the real world practice? All that did for me was make me feel that I was responsible for every patients’ outcomes regardless of their role. I recognize that’s a product of my own attitude, but how does a student (or dentist) who wants the best outcomes deal with that? It is in conflict with the one key to survival in this field that we are taught out in practice: we can do our best, but we can’t take responsibility for all aspects of the outcomes. Anyway, it would be nice if the culture could change, but I wonder if the schools themselves want to change.

    Comment by Lolabees — December 7, 2013 @ 4:34 PM

  9. Ok, so I actually have more to say, but the comment was getting too long.

    I think about this all the time, and I’m not sure I fully understand it. My top 3 posts (most hits and comments) on my blog are 10 Reasons Your Dentist Probably Hates You Too, 10 Reasons Dental School Sucked, and The Pros and Cons of Dentistry. People go crazy for those posts. Did you know that I wrote a post titled 10 Reasons I Loved Dental School? (well, YOU probably did, but a lot don’t.) Or how about 10 Helpful Steps to Creating Change? My point is that my most popular posts are the ones that are negative in tone. And if you read the comments (even on a neutral post that gives equal time to the pros and cons of dentistry, they are mostly from dentists sharing their problems or challenges with their own careers and wanting a way out. In some ways I think it’s very healthy for them to have a place to go and vent with (somewhat) like-minded people who can support the taboo feelings they are having. It does help to know you are not alone. But I can’t help but wonder why none of them comment on the positive posts that I write. Are they so unhappy that they only want to vent? Or maybe they can’t appreciate the positive because they are so stuck in their own sadness? As a society in general are we just much more attracted to the drama associated with negativity? Is it too boring to not have problems?

    So is there something inherently wrong with this profession? I think yes and no. But regardless, you’ve said it many times on my blog– only 17% of people are happy in their careers, right? Maybe that’s what we’re seeing here with the bashing trend.

    At what point do we stop complaining (or maybe continue complaining,) but actually take some sort of action? Dental school would be a good place to start, or maybe just as individuals. I talk about that all the time. If you’re unhappy, do something, anything! Do anything to precipitate any type of change, no matter how small. Thank goodness for organizations like Pankey– and I’m referring to them not from a dental education standpoint, but more so as a curriculum that builds people up and teaches them to treat people, not teeth. We know how that can carry over into personal life too. Wouldn’t it be cool if they could partner up with dental schools to add that missing piece?

    Comment by Lolabees — December 7, 2013 @ 5:09 PM

  10. Good posts, Lolabees. But, I have to wonder about the quoted 2 – 4 hours a day of classes in college / undergrad. That wasn’t MY college experience. I was a full-time student. I had classes every day, all day. But, yes… dental school hours are much more. In dental school my days started at 6 am and ended at 1 am, typically.

    But, that has nothing to do with why I “hate” my dental school. It has nothing to do with the academic rigors. My complaints are 100% with the ASSHOLES running the dental school and how they treated us.

    They earned and deserve my everlasting consternation and will never be forgiven. That doesn’t mean I’m dwelling on it. I love being a dentist. I enjoy dentistry immensely. I enjoy going to the office every day and seeing my patients. I have no actual plans for retirement, as I don’t want to ever quit doing this. Really… I don’t.

    But, that doesn’t mean I “forgive and forget.” The story MUST be told, as that is the LEAST I can do with some glimmer of hope that it will wake somebody up. I’m not holding my breath. And, I HIGHLY doubt the schools will ever change. But, being SILENT about it is doing an injustice to those in D-school now.

    I just got a very nice email from a 1st years student thanking me for my blog post. She confirmed that NOTHING has changed in the dental school culture. Color me shocked. 😉

    Comment by The Dental Warrior — December 7, 2013 @ 7:14 PM

  11. Interesting thoughts Lolabees, I think part of the dental school issue is the desire to survive hell… It’s kind of running a Gauntlet, those that survived feel the newbies should survive the gauntlet also. I don’t agree with it, but I have to admit that I do think about what we had to endure in dental school(the thumbs to a wax up and do it over to the exam prep that failed because a line angle was was incorrect, but the tooth was filled anyways and probably survived a good life, but yet I failed the exam.) I actually had a pulp exposure on my classmate during my partial coverage gold casting exam and I failed because I didn’t have permission to uncover that area of decay! I capped the exposure and that crown is still doing well today, with no endo.. there are so many mixed signals it’s almost impossible to come through unscathed. I do have some nice memories of dental school as well, relationships that are still alive today. I think we focus on the negative just like many Christians pray during times of duress or people start eating better or getting in shape when they hear a friend’s cancer diagnosis… the negative is a powerful motivator far more powerful than the positive. Kind of like brush your teeth or you’ll lose them, usually works better than brush your teeth so they’ll look beautiful! 🙂

    And dental warrior I have to agree with you it’s very hard to forget, I have never given my school a dime as an alumnus… the idea that I had to put $4000 of my patients fees(of which I was never given any training on how to collect, and was work I had to do to get out!) on my credit card in order to get my diploma doesn’t sit well…. The disconnect with reality doesn’t appear to going away especially with new dental schools opening in hopes of screwing more young people on their way to a fun profession!

    Comment by Doug Sandquist — December 7, 2013 @ 8:04 PM

  12. I also had to borrow and spend several thousand dollars to pay for patients’ fees, so I could graduate on time. That will be my only contribution to the school.

    I don’t agree with the “gauntlet” metaphor. I served in the military (Navy), and my “indoctrination” was like SUMMER CAMP compared to dental school. I mentioned before that I have nightmares about dental school, but not once have I had a nightmare about the Persian Gulf.

    Comment by The Dental Warrior — December 7, 2013 @ 10:26 PM

  13. I agree the gauntlet metaphor is shaky and does work in the Navy or other schools, I had a friend graduate from a fairly tough Law School and his alumni association through a huge feast for all the guests that attended graduation and he walked away with much admiration of his school… And yet you have to believe there are some professors there that did things because they had to as well… I guess I also was closed minded enough to only believe it was my dental school experience l and wasn’t a global experience. I just don’t see the dental school culture ever changing…

    Comment by Doug Sandquist — December 7, 2013 @ 10:54 PM

  14. Seems like I am late to the party. Everyone is making interesting points. Of course…as I stated in the original post…I had a good time in dental school. In my book I chronicled how I was brought up on ethical charges at Penn for loaning a friend of mind someone else’s handpiece. I was exonerated but my friend was suspended for one year. During the so called trial by my peers I realized the types of personalities that I was dealing with. To be honest…I never sweated it. But it seems from your stories that that personality (Mike made reference to a name), still exists.
    Yes Laura…dentistry is a flawed profession, both internally and externally(culturally). It is still a relatively young profession…we only became doctors less than 100 years ago. Culturally things are moving way too quickly…75% of graduating dentists are going into corporate dentistry…a total reversal from when I graduated. The cost of a dental education averages at $221,000. All of these factors lead to one place…dental school reform…making leadership as part of the curriculum, to produce dentists with the self esteem it takes to practice in this environment. Complaining about the past doesn’t do anything. If things don’t change…we will not recognize this profession soon…medicine fell…very few private practices are left.

    Comment by Barry Polansky — December 7, 2013 @ 10:57 PM

  15. Laura…on the Pankey Institute. As you know I am a big supporter of the Institute…as well as Spear, and Dawson. But to have to depend on CE to get the necessary education to practice real world dentistry is wrong. Also…finding competent educators in dentistry is another task. They’re dentists not teachers. Even when I went to school most of the teachers were spending their day off teaching. They may have known how to prep and impress but most of them didn’t know Jack about real world dentistry. I guess that was my biggest gripe…but I tried to stay close to the graduate students…at least they showed a little passion.

    Comment by Barry Polansky — December 7, 2013 @ 11:06 PM

  16. I agree with you Barry, the schools much change…. I just don’t see how they will change..If you are a successful private practice dentists you don’t generally leave that for a full time teaching position at a dental school… if one does they goto Pankey or Spear etc… There is no education to teach a dentist to educate… I left school never doing a crown on an anterior tooth or a posterior composite! I immediately entered a practice that required those skills. Dental CE will never go away, because the schools can’t teach everything we do in dentistry these days… and with that I’m really not terribly down on the profession even though its at a crossroads…

    Comment by Doug Sandquist — December 7, 2013 @ 11:13 PM

  17. Maybe Laura is onto something here: http://lolabees.me/2012/11/29/escaping-the-cult-of-dentistry-part-2/

    Maybe the cult starts in dental school…

    Comment by Doug Sandquist — December 7, 2013 @ 11:42 PM

  18. Barry, I just want to say thank-you for your contributions to dentistry and your new book. I have been practicing dentistry since 1985 and my journey has been as a life long learner. From Pankey to Dawson,to Schuster, Pride, Kois, and Spears. Dentistry is in trouble right now. I believe it is because the younger dentists have not realized that there is a process to go through to get to the level where you really feel like you can help people. Our instant gratification instincts have to be suppressed. Greed and fear, the great enemies have taken over. Live below your means if possible, take Schuster, Kois, Spears and get the process going. It’s a process that takes years but in the end adds meaning to your life. I don’t want to offend anyone but stop blaming and take responsibility and take control of your life!! Thanks for a great book and sharing your expertise. 🙂

    Comment by David Ross — December 8, 2013 @ 9:55 AM

  19. Thank you David. I am humbled by your comment. I was touched by Irwin, Pete, Mike and Frank. These are great leaders that have changed dentistry. The profession can’t sit back and watch what is happening. It takes leaders…not only within the practice but for the whole community. I agree that too many dentists do not avail themselves of what is out there. I would venture to say that only 5-8% of general practitioners apply leadership skills to dentistry. You are one of the 5%…and you know what that takes. Now…that we have been to the top (metaphor)…it’s time to help the profession. Who else will?

    Comment by Barry — December 8, 2013 @ 10:08 AM

  20. Doug…I agree…but if this profession is going to survive…it must start in dental school. Mostly I speak with dentists who are heavily involved in CE…they get it. The ones who are still stuck in the dental school mindset…well you know the answer. It’s as if we are speaking two different languages. They can’t converse in the same manner. Reform always begins with the education process…teachers, curricula, methods.
    It’s time to put the blame where it belongs. You can’t throw a student out for cheating and then tell the world that you teach ethics.

    Comment by Barry Polansky — December 8, 2013 @ 10:00 AM

  21. I agree that change must start in the schools, but I don’t believe its even possible! I think the next best thing is to take David’s advice stop blaming and start taking responsibility… Start study clubs and allow new grads to join, mentor young docs, share Pankey or Spear or whomever experiences, expose them to the real world… The schools have no ability or reason to share the real world. I remember sitting in my senior year ‘Practice of Dentistry” class listening to Mike Shuster… He had a great presentation, I still remember it, but I’ll I could think about was finding my class II amalgam for my board exam! It’s the wrong context unfortunately

    Comment by Doug Sandquist — December 8, 2013 @ 12:38 PM

  22. Oh no! So much to catch up on! Ok, here goes:
    DW- my college experience was like that. I was in New Orleans, so maybe that has something to do with it. 😉 But college was a time I would go back to any day. I think you sentiments really strike a chord with many out there. I don’t think you are alone in having such strong feelings about it. And it does help others to be able to express this stuff. I’m shocked to hear that you and Doug had to pay for your patients’ care to finish. I actually didn’t know that was occurring. That’s really sad. We did have that with the boards though. And now that you 2 mention it, I have never given my school a dime either. I do remember upon graduation, the majority of our class discussed how we would never donate to the school– EVER! Again, sad statement. Shouldn’t we have felt proud and connected?

    Comment by Lolabees — December 8, 2013 @ 12:46 PM

  23. Barry- I agree- it’s not the responsibility of CE to do the job, and it wouldn’t change anything. They are all around now, and it doesn’t get the majority of dentists to do it. What I am suggesting is that it would be amazing if any of these great organizations could actually become part of the dental school curriculum. Maybe that’s too idealistic or challenging, but imagine how that could infiltrate dental schools and change the culture.

    Comment by Lolabees — December 8, 2013 @ 12:53 PM

  24. Ha, Doug.. I hadn’t thought about how the cult premise started in dental school, but I’m definitely seeing it now that you made that connection.

    Comment by Lolabees — December 8, 2013 @ 1:03 PM

  25. Doug (and lauda)…it’s too easy to say every man for himself. That fixes the problem at a personal level…and of course the people on this thread have done that. But what about the vast majority of dentists…and patients…society, if you will. Is that not the responsibility of…who? The profession, the government, the market?
    To use an analogy…I raise dogs…by a standard…yet most breeder (95%) don’t have raising high quality dogs as a goal…they do it for profit. So who should take a leadership role here? Not the ADA…they are political. I say dental school because that is wheee it all starts. BTW…CE is also profit based…there are a few special people who truly operated from a more altruistic position (I believe Pankey was one…but he’s dead now and not being replaced anytime soon). Dentistry has failed miserably at being part of a health care system that delivers health care in this country.

    Comment by Barry Polansky — December 8, 2013 @ 1:04 PM

  26. Hey, Barry and friends
    This is the first chance I’ve had to write on this very important subject.
    Barry, you know how I feel about this- it was part of my presentation to the Pankey Alumni meeting.
    I’m happy that you had a good experience in dental school. I share the feelings of most of the good people who have commented here. One of my so-called instructors once commented that becoming a dentist is like joining a fraternity. Dental School is like hazing and taking Board Exams is like hell night.That was my experience and it was entirely unnecessary. The condescending, “I’m great and you’re nothing” attitude of most of my instructors, which was the prevailing way in the late 70s and early 80s translates into poor self esteem, poor employer-employee relationships, and poor, authoritarian relationships with patients. As you heard, I believe it also contributes to high rates of depression and, along with our medical colleagues, suicide.
    You are a nurturer. I have learned to become that through my experiences with Pankey, Schuster, ACT, and my Seattle and RV Tucker Cast Gold Study Clubs. Those who were not as fortunate as you and I have become frustrated – or worse- when the authoritarian model imposed upon us fails to motivate today’s more enlightened and demanding patient and employee population.
    I have donated to the Pankey Institute and continue to support it as best I can through the Alumi Association. I have received calls for donations to my dental school and have told them exactly why I will not donate money to them. I do not hold a grudge against the school- it enabled me to get a degree, do meaningful work, and live a nice life. But it did so in a profoundly dysfunctional way and I will not express esteem and affection to those who hurt me under the guise of educating me.
    My dental education started at Pankey. End issue.

    Comment by Alan Stern — December 8, 2013 @ 4:25 PM

  27. Alan…thanks for weighing in. Once again you do a great job of clearly expressing a big problem in dentistry. Thanks also to everyone who has commented. You bring up a great point about the residual and collateral effects…depression and suicide, for those dentists who never get their self esteem repaired. The cultish behavior which has been mentioned contributes to the situation. It seems like many dentists get trained afterward…but I think that number is inflated. All of the issues that we have discussed here contribute to the state of affairs we are in today.

    Comment by Barry Polansky — December 8, 2013 @ 4:44 PM

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