(856) 264-9890
Download Our Free E-Book
Join The Academy Buy Our Books Attend A Seminar Contact Barry

Was L.D. Pankey Dentistry’s First Positive Psychologist?

April 21, 2011

Filed under: Article,Pankey — Tags: — Barry @ 9:27 PM

Most dental seminars and courses share similar traits. Lecturers generally speak for hours on some concept or technique while the audience sits back and takes notes. During breaks or at the end of the day, questions arise that have less to do with the technique and more to do with how to apply the technique in their own practices. In other words, after watching the speaker show incredible cases by applying the newest technology, the dentists have questions mostly concerning how to persuade their patients to accept the treatment.

It’s like listening to a telephone call from a patient who wants to try to break an appointment. They begin by making small talk and lead to the crux of the matter…”by the way, I can’t make it next Thursday.” People save the best for last.

Persuading people to do do the very best dentistry for themselves has always been the dentist’s greatest challenge. It requires many skills, mostly in the area of relationship building, communication and human behavior. Of course dentists see the value in learning these skills, but seem to spend more time and effort concentrating on the technical skills.

Further exploration of the the persuasion skills leads to the bigger questions. You see if you can’t get the dentistry off the shelf, the shelf just gets overloaded with all that great technique. That is frustrating, and is the source of much disappointment and unhappiness.

So at the heart of those questions about marketing, and persuasion are the bigger questions. Questions like:

“How can I find happiness and success in my practice?”

“How can I learn to love and stay engaged in my work?”

“How can I put more meaning in my work?”

“How can I get my patients to do all this incredible dentistry?”

These are the BIG QUESTIONS…the ones that were answered for me many years ago at the Pankey Institute. The unexpressed questions that are still being asked at every dental seminar today if you are really listening.

L.D. Pankey understood dentistry’s BIG QUESTIONS. That’s why he studied philosophy and created his own philosophy: to help dentists live better lives. He studied Aristotle. He could have studied Abraham Maslow or Carl Rogers as Dr. Robert Barkely did. Both Pankey and Barkely had a deep sense of what would truly help dentists create fulfilling lives and practices. They were unique in that regard. I was lucky to have seen them both. I haven’t seen that type of lecture in many years.

The word used for many years, even by L.D., to indicate the definition of a fulfilling practice is HAPPINESS. The problem with that word is that it has become a buzzword that has lost its meaning these days. Even Aristotle used the word as to represent man’s sole purpose in life. The problem is that “happiness” is an empty word that needs more explanation.

In 1997 Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania coined term “positive psychology.” Its goal was to describe what a life worth living looked like…a healthy model, rather than the dis-eased models of Freud. Seligman and his followers further described the goal of positive psychology as “well-being,” and use the term “flourishing” to describe those who have achieved this goal.

They measure well-being through 5 elements:

1. Positive emotion

2. Engagement or flow at work.

3. Meaning…or serving something that is bigger than the self.

4. Accomplishment–pursuit of success and mastery

5. Positive relationships

When I looked at the list I realized that is what I learned at the Pankey Institute. Those are the elements that allow me to get my dentistry off the shelf. Those are the principles that L.D. Pankey taught so many dentists during the fifties and sixties. And that is why I have a Pankey-style practice.


I’m not sure if Pankey had the language to express his philosophy that succinctly, but after reading Seligman, I believe that L.D. was dentistry’s true positive psychologist. Sadly, I am not sure that exists in dental CE anymore. There is way too much emphasis on high tech dentistry, high profit dentistry and high speed dentistry…that will never answer the BIG QUESTIONS.

Isn’t it time to stop the craziness? Time to slow down, maintain positivity, engage deeply in our work, find more meaning by treating people, not teeth, accomplish more through mastery and build great relationships. Start thinking about how to make dentistry work better for ourselves and our patients…start creating flourishing lives instead of reacting to the demands of insurance companies, irrational patients and salesmen.

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.