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The Dental Question for Our Age

August 12, 2014

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: , — Barry @ 1:46 PM



Picasso once said, “Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.”  There are many interpretations of that quote but I see it as very appropriate these days…there are too many answers and not enough questions.

Being a long time listener of Anthony Robbins, I am also fond of his quote:

“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”
Just yesterday a patient came in that I hadn’t seen in seven years.  His mouth was a wreck, and he knew it.
It was so bad that all I had to do was shrug my shoulders to get the point across.  He then explained to me, “I don’t have dental insurance so…”
I put my hands up to signal him to just stop.   “So…so what?” We had a good relationship so I didn’t feel uncomfortable interrupting his thought pattern.  Besides in my book Art of Examination I referred to the “famous nine words: ‘At risk of insulting, you must tell the truth.'”
I repeated his question in the form of a game.  I asked him to finish the sentence in any way he wanted that might change his perspective, not only about his dental condition but his overall health…hell, maybe even his financial condition or even his relationship issues.
“Go on, give it a try,” I said.
He seemed lost.  Stuck almost.
“Okay,” I said, let me help you.
If you asked me the very same question I would have said…”I don’t have dental insurance so…”
Well, I’m not going to give you the answer.  Please leave your answers in the comments below.  Our answers say so much about the way we look at our lives.
It was interesting to me that this patient’s thought process had drifted to a point that would never have happened before our cultural devolution.  Is our culture teaching answers that lead to our ultimate demise?  Is entitlement a function of nature or nurture?
How would our grandparents have answered the question?  How do successful people answer that question?
Looking forward to hearing your responses…and feel free to use this line of thinking when trying to motivate others.
Leave your comments below.


  1. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that statement from patients about not seeing a dentist in a long time, because “I lost my insurance…” I could buy you and I a very nice dinner, and maybe treat you to a yoga session as well. People have come to rely on and expect a dental office to “take insurance”, and if they do not, or if they do not have insurance, they do not want to pay or they will “just pull it”, when a tooth requires extensive, and expensive treatments to restore. Those are just facts.

    Comment by Roger — August 12, 2014 @ 1:59 PM

  2. Agreed Roger–and it’s very disheartening. When I asked him…his response was:
    “So…I need to get dental insurance.”
    Where does that take him? Interesting, that line of thinking is so commonplace that the market is accommodating people by selling them dental insurance. Do people really believe that’s even possible (I know that’s a naive question but that’s how bamboozled the market makes people think).
    So Roger—how would you answer the question?

    Comment by Barry — August 12, 2014 @ 2:24 PM

  3. I would say as a patient, I don’t have dental insurance, so this is an investment out of my pocket.

    I would say as a dentist, Well you are in luck. We don’t take dental insurance in our office, and we will not pull savable teeth.

    Comment by Mark Absher — August 12, 2014 @ 5:21 PM

  4. Mark…what I said in completing his sentence was, “I don’t have dental insurance so…I will have to do whatever it takes to fix things.”
    He looked at me like I was from Mars…and this is my concern. Is our culture just breeding irresponsibility, dependence and entitlement?
    That’s concerning a a much deeper economic level.
    How will that play out going forward in health care and dentistry?

    Comment by Barry — August 12, 2014 @ 6:32 PM

  5. Great thoughts, as usual Barry. This is the subject that we as dentists are afraid to face. We are conflict averse. We have been riding the insurance wave and now that the wave is crashing, we are complaining.
    Peter Drucker said in the 70’s, “Those that are content to rise with the rising tide will also fall with it.” – And when it falls, if we did nothing to better and preserve our work, we have no right to complain. In other words, If we are passively riding the waves, we will have no choice but to accept our fate when the wave crashes.

    We are the arbiter of oral health. It is our responsibility to educate our patients (or “bring them above the line”) about all aspects of this – including financial obligations. The realities of dental insurance – because it is a value to most, must be discussed in this realm.

    I want patients that value their oral health more than they value their insurance plan. Sometimes, even after a proper new patient experience (discovery, exam, discovery, etc.) they say no. Some will, some won’t, some will wait!

    I do my best to stay constant with not violating my values on our practice – I am not perfect, but I am doing my best!

    Comment by Brett Kessler — August 13, 2014 @ 2:02 PM

  6. Thanks for commenting Brett. This topic is truly the elephant in the room. I understand that most people, not only dentists, are trying to get by and live fulfilling lives as best they can. I understand the economic and political ramifications that effect how we earn our daily bread. You raise an interesting point—the Drucker quote is very relevant. While we take care of our individual interests our profession has not protected us from maintaining “values.” I know you know that it’s up to each of us individually to preserve those values…but collectively something is going on.
    Drucker in describing himself said he was a “social ecologist.” That blew me away—he never considered himself a business guru—but more of a writer and social ecologist.
    I think we need some social ecology in dentistry.
    Thanks as always.

    Comment by Barry — August 13, 2014 @ 2:28 PM

  7. So I had to go look up “Social Ecology” – you stumped me Barry!!!!!

    Wikipedia describes it nicely (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_ecology)

    I think it describes him and our current situation nicely.

    I have been advocating loudly in our state that if we want our profession to remain autonomous, we must take action and be vocal on our values. People are attracted to entities that stand for something (i.e. clubs, organizations, dental offices)

    If we keep doing what we have been doing, we will keep getting what we have been getting.

    Comment by Brett Kessler — August 13, 2014 @ 3:27 PM

  8. I agree Brett. Drucker worked with non-profits in the latter part of his career. He helped entrepreneurial pastors like Rick Warren and Bob Buford to get people back into the churches. In reading Drucker and Me I saw the parallels to dentistry very clearly.

    Comment by Barry — August 13, 2014 @ 8:54 PM

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