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Who Does the Future of Dentistry Belong To?

July 24, 2013

Filed under: Business of Dentistry,Philosophy — Tags: , , — Barry @ 11:42 AM

shutterstock_73633585I come from a long line of small businessmen.  Independent taxi cab owners, hardware stores, candy stores.  When I look back on those businesses I don’t see many modern day versions.  Like pet shops and bookstores things change and continue to change.  The same is true of dental practices.

For those who are too young to remember there was a time when a dentist either went into the military, or public health or opened up a fee-for-service private practice.  Most dentists chose private practice.  Those were the days that we refer to as the Golden Age of Dentistry.

I used to take pride in thinking I was an entrepreneur because I owned my own business.  In truth I was no more than a small business owner.  Yes, it was something to be proud of, but I wasn’t an entrepreneur.  Today, in order to run a successful fee-for-service dental practice, the dentist must develop significant entrepreneurial skills.

There are books that discuss the entrepreneurial mindset—they call it the start-up mindset these days.

Just today I was reading a blog post at Spear Education titled What if Steve Jobs Had Been a Dentist.  It discussed Jobs’ entrepreneurial spirit.  Who was more iconoclastic than Steve Jobs?

He was never satisfied with the status quo…a true innovator who always looked to create a better future.  One of his famous quotes was, “If you don’t cannibalize yourself someone else will.”  That quote reminds me of my favorite quote by Jack Welch:  “Create your own future or someone else will.”

Both of these great men were entrepreneurs in the true sense of the word—not just business owners.

In Mitch Joel’s new book Ctl Alt Delete, which is geared toward people who need to change or reboot their careers, he defines an entrepreneur as someone “who has an uncanny desire to create the future—a future that doesn’t exist.”

The true entrepreneur is someone who sees the inefficiencies in the way we work.  They actually fix the stuff that we complain about everyday.

What do dentists complain about everyday?  A lot more these days than when I first started.

The problem with most business owners including myself, is that we get complacent.  The older we get and the more successful we get—the more content we become with the status quo.  We lose our innovative spirit and our desire to change.  As Mitch Joel says, “Business owners just try to mitigate risk and minimize mistakes.”

As time moves on—they stop creating their own future.

The gatekeepers are taking over the profession.  Fee-for-service private practice, as a business model is being threatened.  Those with an entrepreneurial mindset will control their own future.

The future of dentistry belongs to the entrepreneurs…not the business owners.

Forty years ago, when I started, being average worked.  Today new skills and mindsets are required.  The key to success is to destroy the gatekeepers (metaphorically—so calm down…I am not starting a movement), and take responsibility for our own lives.

 Today, in order to compete at a higher level the dentist must become an artist.  Learn new skills.  Develop his or her core message, make it clear, learn to express himself through excellent presentation, learn to use social media, write a blog, and use photography.

Essentially it comes down to what we already know…create your vision, develop your core message and your core promise.  Then, and here is where things have changed, use every tool available to get your message out.

People receive their information differently these days…make sure your message is clear and your reach is tightly targeted—then YOU will own the future.



My son Joshua a ceramist knows exactly how to do this—he actually teaches me.  Child is Father to the Man when it comes to today’s entrepreneurs.  Here is a link to his latest YouTube Video—clear message—expertly delivered.



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Here’s to the Crazies

June 24, 2013




During a conversation about cosmetic dentistry, my  patient turned to me and said, “Oh you Americans with your white teeth.”  She is from Belgium and she said it half jokingly.  When I reflected on the comment I realized how uniform dentists and technicians tend to make teeth…People Magazine’s version of cosmetic dentistry.

I used to have a painting on the wall of one of my treatment rooms…A New Yorker’s View of the World. 

Being an arrogant New Yorker at the time (I’ve changed and mellowed significantly), I resented the way the artist portrayed east coast myopia.  But, in both cases, the painting and my patient, I listen now when others suggest to open my eyes and take a different view of the world.

When patients present for cosmetic dentistry I ask them to bring in photographs of what they want their teeth to look like.  They always bring in the same pictures…Julia, Tom, Jenifer and an assortment of the same models hawking different products.  The smiles are very regular, very standard…stock teeth.  When I point out that most of these people have natural teeth, they tell me that’s what they want.

But in the end, what they want is not natural…it’s white, bright and regular…the same look that my Belgian patient was referring to.

What I am suggesting is to break that mold…destroy the status quo and really create beauty by taking a few risks.

That’s what artists do.  They create new things by destroying the status quo…not just teeth, but ideas and approaches as well.

The dentist and lab technician of the future will have to be creative…they will have to see things differently.  Competence will no longer be enough—even expert may fall short…only the masters, the inventors and innovators will compete in the future.

In the book Iconoclast, author Gregory Berns tells the story of Dale Chihuly, a master glassblower.  His work can be seen in the lobby of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas (picture above), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in 1986 he had an exclusive showing in the Louvre.    Chihuly’s story is an evolutionary tale of an artist, and a true iconoclast.  The word comes from the Greek eikonoklastes which means “destroyer of images.”

Essentially it is what Steve Jobs referred to when he said, “Here’s to the crazies,”  or “Think Different.”  Yes…we can do that in dentistry.

As Berns tells Chihuly’s story, as a novice glassblower he stuck to the rules.  He only produced symmetrical, balanced pieces.  That was the expected protocol, and it was rarely challenged.  He was always a freethinker and struggled to do things differently, the the available tools only allowed him to produce the same old symmetrical pieces—colorful, innovative but symmetrical.

In 1976 Chuhuly was in a car accident in which he lost his left eye.  He began to wear a patch which cut off his peripheral vision.  His handicap forced him into a new way of working by giving up holding the glass to a gaffer in order for him to get more accurate depth perception.  As a result, this adjust

English: Dale Chihuly

ment allowed him to see the glass from different angles, and his results were asymmetrical, and actually mind-blowing.  He created a new art form—he broke the existing paradigm of glassblowing.

He went from competent, to expert to master by breaking the mold—by breaking the rules of glassblowing.

Dentistry will not move forward without masters—those who break the rules—the crazies.  If our culture continues to reward the same old, same old by confining dentists and lab technicians into creating the “American Smile”  we are holding the profession back and placing cuffs on individual dentists.  They need the freedom to practice.

These days it is the “crazies,” the artists that are breaking the staus quo—and they are meeting lots of resistance.  Maybe then we won’t be making pearly whites for seventy five year old patients.












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