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The Garden of TAO

August 18, 2014

Filed under: Happiness,Philosophy — Tags: , , — Barry @ 12:37 PM




I love metaphors.  They help me explain things better. Metaphors not only make our thoughts more vivid and interesting but that they actually structure our perceptions and understanding.  And perception, as you know is everything.

Think of the metaphor, “time is money.”  I used to think of that as a rule.  That I should live my life and run my practice like that.

Until I realized that that metaphor was causing me all kinds of stress.  But who was I to argue, after all, I had heard that metaphor throughout my entire life as if it were handed down from high above.

I’ve since learned that time is not money…time is time, and money is money, and these days time is worth much more than money.

Recently I was assessing my last forty years in dental practice.  I was using Clayton Christensen’s ideas from his book How Will You Measure Your Life?

Tough times make one very reflective.  Christensen advises to look back on your career and focus on all of the people you have helped through the years.  We tend to focus more on our setbacks.  It’s called a negative bias.

So I did.

Over the past forty-one years I have seen over 31,000 patients.

But my practice these days has slightly less than 1000 active patients.

Well, they’re more than patients—they’re members.  People who have subscribed to my approach to dental and health care.  People who know, like and trust me.  People who have mutual trust, appreciation and ownership of their health.

The nutriments of a healthy,  long term fee-for service practice….and the title of this Blogsite.

They’re like family members.

I am sure there would have been more.  People have passed on, people have moved…things happen.

Of course, there are people who just didn’t “click.”

There is an online marketing concept known as 1000 true fans.  It was taken from the idea of the long tail in using keyword search.  The idea is that a business doesn’t have to serve the entire market—just the long tail, to thriveWired magazine editor Keven Kelley created the concept of 1000 true fans from the long tail, and describes many successful businesses as thriving by concentrating on that “niche” market.

Then the metaphor came to me.

Through my years I have been developing and growing my garden…my Garden of TAO.

By using my examination process and nurturing the above mentioned nutriments of trust, appreciation and ownership…I have grown a very nice garden.  Trust, appreciation and ownership are blended into the soil.  They make relationships grow and thrive.

It takes time to build a garden.  Great relationships, in contrast to what the practice management people tell us, take time.  I didn’t know that early in my practice.  It’s the reason I wrote and developed the Arts of Examination and Case Presentation.

Of course, like any gardener you have to be very protective of the beautiful flowers you are growing.  You must tend to the soil, provide nutriments and supplements, but most importantly, keep the weeds out.

That is one of the reasons I am purely fee-for-service.

I have my own philosophy developed through the years.  The last thing I want is to hybridize the garden with foreign thoughts and ideas.  That’s how I maintain my autonomy…that’s why I have learned that time is not money.  You can always lose your money…time is more precious.




The 7 Triggers of Fascination

July 7, 2014

Filed under: Marketing,Philosophy,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Barry @ 10:00 AM

Carl Rogers Quote



I am obsessed with human motivation.  For over forty years I have studied what makes people tick.  For myself it is an exercise in self-development…but in my practice, I believe it is a key to helping people improve.  Now I’m not a psychologist but I’ve done my share of literature review from Maslow to Carl Rogers.

At a recent study club meeting I presented the Art of Case Presentation from my book by the same name.  Afterwards I heard someone say, “You can’t change people.”

Later on I reflected on that statement.  I was bothered by it—more about the attitude behind it than the validity.  Did I really waste forty years of research and study, and over a year in writing a book if that were true?

I will say with all humility.  I am living proof that people can change.  People are capable of changing, and as a dentist I see myself as a change agent.

Change is difficult…I’m sure you know that, but it starts with the subjectivity about change rather than the objective nature of change.  If you say you can…you can.

My discomfort with the declaration caused me to do more reading and reflection.  I am fully convinced that all change starts with the emotional brain.  We must find our own emotional reasons to begin and maintain changes.

There are many books written that discuss the role of mental triggers…things that enter into our minds and get our attention.  One such book, Fascinate by Sally Hogshead (see a review at the end of this post) discusses 7 triggers that communicate ideas, they are:

  1. Lust
  2. Mystique
  3. Alarm
  4. Prestige
  5. Power
  6. Vice
  7. Trust

These 7 triggers instantly reach the emotional brain and provide meaning for the observer.  It’s the meaning that compels us to pay attention and possibly inspire action.

Dentists spend a lot of time trying to appeal to all patients.  Maybe it is true that we can’t change everyone…after all during my career I have seen upwards of 30,000 different patients, but only about 1200 remain active in my practice.

So how well am I doing my job if “changing people” is going to be part of my job description.

One story, reproduced below , that guides my thinking, has really helped me through the years.



A friend of ours was walking down a deserted Mexican beach at
sunset. As he walked along, he began to see another man in the
distance. As he grew nearer, he noticed that the local native
kept leaning down, picking something up and throwing it out
into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things
out into the ocean.

As our friend approached even closer, he noticed that the man
was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach
and, one at time, he was throwing them back into the water.

Our friend was puzzled. He approached the man and said,
“Good evening, friend. I was wondering what you are doing.”

“I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean. You see,
it’s low tide right now and all of these starfish have been
washed up onto the shore. If I don’t throw them back into the
sea, they’ll die up here from lack of oxygen.”

“I understand,” my friend replied, “but there must be thousands
of starfish on this beach. You can’t possibly get to all of
them. There are simply too many. And don’t you realize this is
probably happening on hundreds of beaches all up and down this
coast. Can’t you see that you can’t possibly make a difference?”

The local native smiled, bent down and picked up yet another
starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied,
“made a difference to THAT one!”

-By Jack Canfield
and Mark V. Hansen

 I guess that’s how I judge how far I go to change people.  In the end it really comes down to values—shared values.

The shared values creates the political climate in the practice…for me—it’s about the values of TRUST, APPRECIATION AND OWNERSHIP.

Hmmm…I should write a blog about those three words.


Related articles

Reality Dentistry

August 7, 2013

AlokOnLake_t479There is a Zen story about a woman who goes to a calligrapher to have a painting made.  The Zen master interviews the woman to find out exactly what she is looking for.  He tells her to return in 3 months.

When she returns she is told that the calligraphy isn’t quite ready…he needs 3 more months.  She understands that he is a master and grants him more time, but she is a woman of some wealth and is a bit frustrated.  Three months latter she returns.

This time the master apologizes, saying that it is becoming quite difficult to complete the job.  He will need 6 more months.  The woman is close to pulling the plug, but she agrees to wait.

In 6 months, exactly one year from the time she made her original request…she returns.  This time the master leads her to a room where he is about to reveal the calligraphy.  The woman looks annoyed and says “What in the world could have taken so long?”

The Zen master opens a cabinet and out falls thousands of drawings of her calligraphy as he reveals the one master-piece.

My question is how realistic is it for us as dentists to try to mimic that level of mastery?  The answer lies not only in the commitment of the dentist but also in the patience of the clients.  The dentist must find the balance of providing the best he or she is capable of and the desires of the marketplace.

Of course, if the dentist chooses he can create a practice that concentrates on only those clients who expect the very best and are willing to wait for prodigious results.  Those practices exist.  Those patients exist.

But is that reality?

Dentistry, since the late nineties, has been portrayed to the public as a profession that caters to those patients who desire these exceptional cases.  And dentists attend courses that depict dentistry as something only worthy of masters.  But that isn’t what we see everyday.

We see patients who refuse to look at the crowns and veneers that we labored so hard to reach.  We see patients who come into our practices because of our outstanding reputation in the community only to reject the best dentistry.  As a lab owner I see dentists expecting the finest cosmetic cases without providing the best information.

There is a gap.

That gap leads me to the premise of this blog…trust, appreciation and ownership.

It proves to me what author Jim Collins said in his landmark book, Good to Great:  “First who…then what.”

A practice…a life… should be built on relationships.  Your success and happiness depends on it.  That’s reality….everything else…just talk.









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Losing Your Religion

February 18, 2013



Time was expiring on my Groupon at a hot new restaurant in town.  We called ahead for reservations, but they didn’t accept them.  They asked if we had a Groupon.   When we arrived, the maître d’ seated us, throwing the menus on the table.  I sensed displeasure.  Twenty minutes later she took our order.  Are you starting to get the picture?  The only thing acceptable about the experience was the shrimp marinara which she threw on the table with the same gusto as the menu.

I am not a big fan of social e-commerce, for many reasons, mostly because of what they can potentially do to a business and the people who work there.

The maître d’ in this case was also the waitress, and the owner.  She was understaffed.  A lone busboy and another waitress helped her with the crowd.  The stress was palpable. 

I think “roller skates” is the term we use in dentistry. The scene reminded me of the way I practiced dentistry many years ago…when I participated in all of the dental plans.

I shouldn’t have been surprised.  This is what happens when we work with partners with incongruent business plans.

I changed my way of practice many years ago…to a practice driven by TAO—trust, appreciation and ownership.  Hence—the way—I practice.

I spend time getting to know each and every patient so I can serve their individual needs.  We serve the best food too.  High quality materials and and dental laboratories…really good shrimp marinara.  But what I really take pride in is the service…the very intimate caring service that can only be performed by a happy staff and a happy dentist.

Or else I couldn’t have survived in dentistry.

It all comes down to a business model.  When I decided not to base my practice on price, everything changed.

An insurance based practice doesn’t have the time to spend getting to know patients.  Dental insurance is nothing more than a (G)coupon for dental services.  The concept devalues the personal service so necessary in health care.

Yet so many health service businesses are using the Groupon model.  And dentists seem to be the number one perpetrators.  Examinations, cleanings, tooth whitening, Invisalign are just some of the services being devalued.  I met a girl last week who only goes to the dentist every six months by taking advantage of a Groupon deal.  This isn’t the dentistry that I grew up with.

I could say that I really feel sorry for the patients, but that would be presuming that the dentistry was just bad…I won’t do that, because I don’t know.

What I do know is that for a dentist to enjoy his work over a long period of time a certain amount of mastery and passion is necessary.  I can’t imagine working the way I used to.  So many dentists have a hard time living up to their business model and they let the wolves in the door.  And the wolves have changed the entire profession.

A business model is a statement of your philosophy…it should be sacred…and you never want to lose your religion.








How To Get a Discount From Your Dentist

January 27, 2013





Nothing bothers me more than the bad rap dentists get these days.  It truly bothers me when I read how uncaring and greedy dentists are as told by dissatisfied patients.  I know that there are many people who love their dentist.   They are the ones who have the beautiful smiles and the pleasant breath.  In my forty years of dental practice I can say I honestly believe the majority of dentists are good, honest and caring people.  Sure they went into dentistry to earn a good living, like everyone else.  But remember they had to go through many barriers to entry like the high cost of education, the minimum four years of study and the tremendous amount of work needed to graduate.  A person really must be committed to their work to do that…and like most humans they want to “do good.”

I truly believe that most dentists want to help their patients first.

Then why all of the complaints about dentistry these days.  I have read some nasty rants on Facebook that really should have been censored.  But who am I to restrict someone’s freedom of speech.  Yes, dentistry can be uncomfortable but most dentists try to make it as comfortable as possible—no we’re not sadists.  There has never been a better time in history to get painless dentistry.  Yes, dentistry is expensive…but that’s not the dentist’s fault.  Your iPad is expensive too.  But between fear and cost…Houston, we have a problem.

Last June Frontline did a story on dentistry that was more about the current state of the economy than the actual state of dentistry…it is worth watching if you haven’t seen it.


People are staying away from the dentist.  I heard that even people with dental insurance are leaving 95% of the benefits on the table because they can’t afford or don’t want to pay out-of-pocket.

People believe that they are entitled to dental benefits.  That’s a political discussion I would rather not get into.  Entitled or not…most people aren’t covered to the extent that covers their dental needs…there will always be out-of-pocket under the current system.

After working with dental insurance companies for many years…generally I  can tell you they are not the hero of your dental story.  They are in business to make money.

The government?  Not yet…and when they do get involved…to the government it’s just a matter of making the numbers work.

So who can you turn to?

Yep—the man behind the mask.  He or she is your only friend if you want to keep your teeth.  Learn to trust him…stop saying such bad things about him, stop writing in the social media how greedy dentists have become.  Be nice, don’t cancel, pay your bills on time and be courteous to the staff.  When it comes down to it no one is entitled to anything in this world.  Be nice because if you truly need some important dentistry he’s the one who can discount it for you…if he likes you.

Travis and Louie Teach Me The One Thing for Success

July 2, 2012

Filed under: Book Reviews,Philosophy,Uncategorized — Tags: , — Barry @ 10:57 PM

When I speak I tell the story of “The One Thing” from the movie City Slickers.  Remember the scene where Curly (Jack Palance), tells Billy Crystal that the meaning of life is just “one thing,” and everything else don’t mean shit.  Well, I have been looking for that one thing that will make my practice successful.

A few years later, Marcus Buckingham wrote a book, The One Thing.  He wrote about the one thing successful people do.   (more…)

How to Interpret a Story

June 18, 2012

Mary Osborne is one of dentistry’s greatest treasures.  She is a wonderful teacher and a master storyteller.  I was recently reading LeeAnn Brady’s blog and came across a video of Mary telling one of her favorite stories.  I had heard the story before but this time it took n new meaning.

That is the power of story.  It touches each of us in a different way each time we hear it.  Take a listen.

This time I was reminded of one of my favorite lessons about why I spend so much time with new patients during my comprehensive examination.  When I teach this principle I usually refer to Stephen Covey’s works on trust.  I love when he says, “With people, fast is slow, and slow is fast.”

When I quote that I usually get a lot of blank stares reflected at me.  Think about case acceptance…when you take your time with patients up front, they make their decisions must faster.  And when you rush people through an exam, it seems they never make a decision.  This is what Mary’s story means to me.

What does it mean to you?

I am in the middle of training a new puppy, Annie.  The same principle works with dogs—so it’s just not with people.

Relationship-Based Dentistry Brings Satisfaction.

April 8, 2012

A new patient waited for me to do her examination.  She held a book in her hands.  When I entered the room, the first question I asked was, “What are you reading?”  She told me, and so began my preclinical interview.  I learned she was an avid reader and she was recently diagnosed with diabetes.  Audrey H. became my patient.  I completed her dentistry twenty five years ago.

Audrey never missed a dental appointment.  She always carried a book with her, and we traded reading lists.  My first questions to her were always, “What are you reading and how is your blood sugar.”

Through the years she slowly lost her ability to read.  First she went to Large-print, and then to audiobooks.  She had a difficult time controlling her blood sugar and eventually had to go on dialysis.  Through all of this, she never missed an appointment.  Audrey couldn’t drive after a while so she would take a taxi to her appointments.

Eventually she went to an assisted living facility.

She still came for her hygiene appointments. (more…)

T-A-O – One Definition

February 27, 2010

Filed under: ARTICLES,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Barry @ 10:58 AM

Check out this 2006 article from the Pankeygram.

The Tao of Dentistry
Contributed by Dr. Barry F. Polansky, Cherry Hill, NJ

In ancient China, the keeper of the Imperial Library, Lao Tzu, was famous for his wisdom. Perceiving the growing corruption of the government, he left for the countryside. On his way, the guard at the city gates asked Lao Tzu to write out the essence of his understanding to benefit future generations. Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching and was never heard of again. The “Tao Te Ching” (also called “The Tao”) is one of the most influential books in history. It is the source of famous Chinese sayings such a “Even a 1,000 mile journey starts with a single step.”

In the Tao Te Ching, “tao” is generally used to indicate (more…)