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The TAO – Introduction (1)

February 24, 2010


“Success follows doing what you want to do. 
There is no other way to be successful.”

––Malcolm Forbes

In March 2002, I self-published my book, The Art of the Examination. Drawing on my 30 years of experience as a dentist, I told the story of how I developed my philosophy of practice, how important that foundation was to my everyday work, and how the initial patient examination could allow patients and staff to understand your values, share in them, and benefit from them.
Since the publication of that book, I have been asked by many dentists to provide them with a more information about the examination process.  They told me that the book should be required reading in every dental school.   The TAO of Dentistry is my response to those requests.  I believe the examination process is the heart and soul of success in dentistry. My definition of the examination is not simply the investigation of the oral cavity. It includes every step necessary from the first encounter with a patient through the completion of appropriately individualized dentistry. Because every aspect of a dental practice is tied to the examination process, I consider it to be the central component of a successful practice – more importantly to a successful – fulfilling career in dentistry.
In writing the Art of the Examination I realized that the examination is not only the key to a successful practice, but also a metaphor for designing a successful life.  The examination process contains all of the components necessary to achieve success in any endeavor through proper planning and preparation.  Examination forces us into awareness, the first step toward success in any arena.

It’s a Process

The comprehensive examination is a template for success.  If we look at our own lives as closely as we look at our patient’s mouths, we can discover clarity within our own lives and truly plan for our success.  The examination is a process, and it has been said that the most successful among us live by process.  As the above quote by Malcolm Forbes says, finding out what you want to do, then prioritizing, and creating a strategy will yield the results you want.
Many promises are made to teach the “secrets” of success.  The secrets are already known.  When dentists come to visit my practice to observe my examination technique they wonder why they aren’t getting the same results  I get, even though they are doing exactly what I wrote about in The Art of the Examination. I tell them that just like magicians know the “secrets” or methods of performing a magic trick, every magician brings his own style to the table.  The performance is more dependent on the magic the person brings than in knowing the secret of the trick.  The same is true in life.  Your success depends on the magic you bring to your practice.  Your success lies in the magic you bring to your process.  It’s the singer not the song, and success is nothing more than a by-product of mastering the process.
I am Visiting Faculty at the Pankey Institute, and I am often asked what is the difference between the Institute and other teaching facilities.  So many of the methods and techniques are taught at just about all of the “institutes.”  My answer lies mostly in Dr. Pankey’s Cross of Dentistry.  Most Pankey dentists are committed to a program of personal development.  They take the “Know Yourself” arm of the Cross very seriously.  They know what Socrates meant by “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  Having a positive self-concept and confidence is tantamount to success.  They also know that the Apply Your Knowledge arm will be extremely variable, especially with so many of the softer skills of life…those skills that depend so much on a positive mental attitude, passion, service and commitment.
I would never suggest a “cookbook” approach for a system as complex as the examination process. Instead I will explain the way I do my examination and the value in each step. I trust my colleagues to decide how they can customize the process to fit their own temperament and practice complexion and to bring the magic into their lives. I believe that no two of us practice in exactly the same manner. Companies like Volkswagen and Harley Davidson are proud that no two of their vehicles are exactly alike. I, too, want to provide you with an “unfinished finished product” that you can customize and mold into your own.
I don’t believe that it’s possible to copy someone’s style. If your practice is to become a vehicle for your personal freedom and self-expression, then the examination process you develop must be your own. I want to provide you with a framework that you can use to dress up to fit your own needs.  Along the way I will challenge many of your current beliefs about success, money, happiness and the most important beliefs of all…what you believe about your own potential.
Just as no two practices will look or feel the same, no two dentists have the same definition of “the successful practice.” Your idea of success is more important than achieving it. This book promises to get you off on the right foot by helping you clarify your own definition of success. It then guides you with a model for achieving your goals via the comprehensive evaluation.  Along the way I will explain how to use the process for your own personal transformation.  You can become successful.  You need first to define success, and for me it’s doing the very best I am capable of doing.  Doing more than I am capable of brings on stress and takes me away from authenticity.  Doing your best will take you to the edge of your ability…to your full potential.

To be continued…


  1. Barry :

    TAO project is a great idea! I wish you the very best!

    you have my attention, let the show begin!!


    Comment by Vivek — February 27, 2010 @ 6:27 AM

  2. Thank You Vivek:
    Hopefully we can create a community based on patient care, comprehensive dentistry and ethics. Your comments are appreciated.

    Comment by Barry — February 27, 2010 @ 8:29 AM

  3. Barry, thanks for including me. I know how difficult it is to get the ball rolling on something like this, and you are to be given a lot of credit. Moreover, it’s very frustrating to put this level of work into an opus, and not get any kind of feedback whatsoever.

    There is no question that our skills as dentists are nowhere’s near as important to patient acceptance as are our skills of presentation. The entire evolution of the Barkley concept of co-discovery plays such a major role in success, and can be the difference between high-end and dead-end practicing.

    Unquestionably, the newer you are in practice, the more you need to study under someone like Barry, or Dawson, or at Pankey. Your diploma is your license to learn to become competent, it is by no means the end of your study, it is just the permit to begin to learn more than most of the drones who teach part-time in dental schools with no didactic training whatsoever.

    Dentists practice in isolation. Without mentorship, and sharing, and trust there will be no growth. Barry and I practice 4 miles apart. We speak the same language, and treat very similar patients. Read his book, The Art of Examination. Ask for advice. Share your cases and your successes, but more importantly, admit to your failures. Understand your limitations, and don’t get in over your head.

    Comment by Steve Markus — March 1, 2010 @ 9:45 PM

  4. Thanks for the kind words Steve. I know this is a big project, but it is truly a labor of love. Thirty five years in practice has taught me a lot – nothing more important than all dentists are fighting the same battles. Sir Bob Barkley was one of my heroes. One of the few dentists who championed the softer skills that helped dentists and really all dental professionals to live happy and successful lives.

    Comment by Barry — March 1, 2010 @ 10:31 PM

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