My first book chronicled my career in dentistry. I made many mistakes in every area of dentistry. I fell down – hard. I wish I had a book like this to help guide me through those difficult times. Dentists must become autodidactates. They must learn to educate themselves. Our dental school experience is not enough. Seminars leave us wanting for more in terms of applying our lessons. We work alone with very little guidance. Some of us are lucky enough to work with skilled mentors who are not only excellent technicians but also know how to transfer learning through great teaching. These are rare exceptions.
This is truly about growth and self-development. If you choose to do fillings and cleanings for your entire career, so be it. Providing meaning for patients and staff will require you to stretch outside of that world. Dentistry is a very complex field, that requires both technical and behavioral skills. Sometimes we feel very alone. You will see later that I have a vision to help dentists succeed through developing the Academy of Dental Leadership. The Academy will provide services that will help dentists and staff bring all of the skills together, to help them create successful lives by providing meaningful dentistry for their patients.
I promise that if you read the lessons in this book and apply them in a slow, methodical manner, you will reach your desired outcome. This book is about transformation – yours, your patient’s, and your staff. Maybe it is about the transformation of an entire profession. This is a book that should be read more than once. It should be studied and applied. Sixteenth-century philosopher Francis Bacon said, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Hopefully this book will serve to satisfy your hunger. This book won’t provide you with all of the knowledge you will need to practice winning dentistry but it will give you the wisdom to know what really matters.
I have practiced private care dentistry for over thirty years. I face the same difficulties that many of you do. I live in the same world you do. I didn’t go to specialty school. Most of my technical training came from The Pankey Institute and Dr. Peter Dawson. I am not a pretentious person, meaning that, in order to have a successful practice, I had to be me. I resent the idea of becoming something other than who I am. Barry Polansky practices as Barry Polansky – sometimes politically incorrect, but always as me. This book will never ask the dentist or a staff member to be anything other than who they are.
To borrow a cliché, this book will teach you how to persuade your patients to say “yes” to your treatment plans. In essence, it will also teach you how to have everyone in your life to say “yes” to you. Your world will expand to a new reality by helping others get to what they, too, really want – happiness.
THE TAO OF DENTISTRY
The working title of this book was Practice to Win. I changed the name to reflect a way of mastering any skill. To become a master of anything you have to perfect not only the technical side of the skill, but your own spiritual being as well. I thought of using the TAO, a principle of Eastern philosophy that means “the way,” or a pathway. Some years ago I developed an acronym T-A-O for the attributes, Trust, Appreciation and Ownership. In a separate chapter I will discuss how those three letters can be a foundation for a rewarding practice. On the surface a comprehensive examination seems like a pedestrian activity not suited to illustrate the metaphysics of the TAO, but looking at its proper execution reveals a mental, technical and spiritual feat of extraordinary complexity. Perfecting the examination process, and all of its component skills and processes, can become the transformative key to your practice and life in the same vein, as so many books have been written on mastery of any skill.
Tao is a Chinese character often translated as ‘Way’ or ‘Path. A common theme in Taoist literature is that fulfillment in life cannot be attained by forcing one’s own destiny; instead, one must be receptive to the path laid for them by nature and circumstance. Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher who is credited with developing the the religion Taoism, based it on the Tao. He claimed that “The World is ruled by letting things take their course. It cannot be ruled by interfering; nature is stabilized by order, and humans, everything, exists within nature. Attempting to force one’s own path is futile and self-destructive.”
Over the years I found that when I tried to force or manipulate things, they didn’t turn out as I expected. As L.D. Pankey turned to the Greeks for much of his philosophy, I turned to Eastern thought. I found much wisdom in both Aristotle as well as Lao Tzu. This book will describe a pathway to a successful life using much ancient wisdom which is quite appropriate for the present day.
Who should read this book?
This book has been written for all dental professionals. The dentist-leader should be the first person to read the book in order to guide team members toward creating the team’s own examination process. I highly recommend that the dentist–leader read my first book, The Art of the Examination, for a sounder philosophical base. Dental assistants and hygienists can get a solid foundation and will be given all the necessary tools to create a practice system. When I first began writing about the examination, I wrote for the restorative dentist in private practice. I have had letters and e-mails that recommend my first book should be in the hands of all specialists. I have given copies to my own specialists, and they have told me how valuable it was for their offices, as well as helping them to understand my philosophy.
Dental students all over the country have told me how the book has helped them to get off on the right foot. “I only wish that I had this book when I started out,” is a lament I hear from many veteran dentists. Dentists who are having “inspirational crises” tell me that the book has turned around their professional lives. And dentists – who just want to make more money in an ethical, more complete way – also have enjoyed the book.
I believe this book and my first one should be required reading in all dental schools, but then again, I’m biased. Consultants have used The Art of the Examination to get their message across. There are several consultants who have used the book as a basis for their program. Dentists tend to share the philosophy behind these books and use them at study club meetings, staff meetings, and mentor/men-tee discussion groups. All of this makes me feel very proud, because my only intent was to give back something of value to the dental profession. That has become my own personal mission.
I also hope this book reaches the hands of our colleagues in the dental laboratories. In essence this is a book about creating a successful life and successful business. Laboratory technicians and lab owners face the very same issues as clinicians. As we go into the future and make use of more advanced technology, we must learn to respect the knowledge of the dental technician. I have strong feelings about the role of the technician in dentistry. Comprehensive dentistry requires a knowledge base at every level. This country differs from others throughout the world in the training of technicians. We need to raise that standard. Technicians need to become more involved in the process and need to know more about what dentists do to make the work more meaningful.
I Know What You Want
In my promise to you to keep it real, I want to tell you that I know what you want. Most dentists want to do comprehensive dentistry. They want to do comprehensive dentistry because it is the best way to practice. It is best for the doctor and staff because it is the most meaningful dentistry. It provides meaning because it focuses on a very real outcome…of health, comfort, function and esthetics. When completed it affords the professional with a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Most of us go into dentistry because we want to practice at a high level, and comprehensive dentistry is the highest level of practice.
Comprehensive dentistry is the best dentistry for the patient because it is purposeful. It goes way beyond commodity, piecemeal dentistry. Patients are most appreciative when we make a real difference in their lives, and complete dentistry does just that.
For those business minds, comprehensive dentistry is the best way to hold costs down. If you are very concerned with the expense side of the ledger sheet, comprehensive dentistry is the best way to hold overhead down and keep production way up. The biggest issue most doctors have with comprehensive dentistry is how to sell it. I want to get the concept of selling dentistry out of the way right now. Dentists who can sell comprehensive dentistry are the most effective dentists. Those who are mostly concerned with with the “how to do it” aspect of dentistry, are very efficient, but not necessarily effective and therefore not very successful. You must become proficient at both — selling it and doing it. A great technical dentist is a craftsman, don’t think that a great salesman is not equally a skilled craftsman. As part of the examination process this book will describe an effective case presentation process that, when mastered will become the key you have been searching for.
Ready to learn?
I am fond of two quotes, the first by Thomas Mann, who wrote, “Order and simplification are the first steps toward the mastery of a subject – the actual enemy is the unknown.” This book will attempt to provide you with the order and simplicity you need. The second quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes states, “I wouldn’t give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity; but I would give my right arm for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Take this journey with me, and you will find that simplicity.
And so…as Lao-Tzu says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”