There is perhaps no more tragic phrase in the English language than “I did not realize.” These four words communicate in subtle brevity two of the major factors that prevent us from reaching our true potential: perspective and time. Ironically, these two factors are so intertwined that in understanding one, you come to more fully appreciate the other.
One of my favorite stories that illustrates this tells of a cruel Roman general who, having captured a great number of barbarian warriors, had the task of turning them into slaves. He tried various methods of breaking their will, but it seemed the harder he tried, the more resilient the warriors became. He was about to give up when his stable boy advised him to place heavy chains on the necks and shoulders of the prisoners and let them be for a time. The general did this, and over the period of a few months the once-proud warriors became meek and malleable to the general’s will.
Perplexed, the general asked his stable boy why this was. The stable boy simply replied that the chains weighed down the warriors’ necks and lowered their gazes so they could not see the horizon, and time convinced them that it was no longer there. As dentists I believe that we let the heavy chains of circumstance and preconceived notions lower our gazes from the horizon of possibility, and over time we believe that we can only do what we have always done. This thinking causes us to become just another dentist.
I want to share with you my thoughts and feelings about being a dentist and how my preconceived ideas had the potential of holding me back were it not for the influence of some dear friends.
Work smarter, not harder
I purchased my office three years ago from a dentist who decided to retire after twenty years of hard work. His practice was his life and he loved his patients, but his passion for dentistry had died. In the last few years he had slowed down and was referring more and more cases to specialists. I bought the practice after a number of other doctors passed on it saying that is was dated and had too few patients. I knew it would be a challenge, but I believed that I could do it.
I visualized myself being successful, and I visualized patients accepting the treatment. The staff that I inherited with the practice saw my enthusiasm and jumped on board. We worked very hard, but I felt that there was something keeping me from becoming the dentist I had envisioned back in dental school. After some soul searching, I discovered that my skills were not where they needed to be. So I faced my first decision: I could continue to offer the services that I was comfortable doing or I could raise my perspective and seek out the skills that would allow me to provide great dentistry.
I attended the Implant EZ: Level I course taught by Dr. Jon Julian of the Dr. Dick Barnes Group. I hoped to pick up a few pointers so I could better advise my patients. At the end of that course, however, my world had changed, and I found myself saying, “I didn’t realize that I could offer such comprehensive care to my patients.” I can’t express how grateful I was to make that discovery so early in my practice rather than after twenty years of doing what everyone expected.
It was one of those transformative moments in which I caught a glimpse of the horizon of possibility, and in so doing I was able to cast off the chain of “general practitioners shouldn’t be doing implants” that many of my colleagues and I had been carrying since dental school. That course was my first exposure to the Dr. Dick Barnes Group, and it began a relationship that has allowed me to see a whole new world of possibility for me and for my patients.
Create value for the patient
Every time I hear Dr. Barnes speak, I take away something new. At the core of his message is something many of us forget as we go about the daily business of dentistry, and that is the creation of value for the patient. Patching teeth and single-tooth dentistry does not create value. It only reduces us to practicing expense-based dentistry, and our patients will naturally respond to any proposed treatment with “how much is this going to cost?” Too many dentists feel like the proverbial car mechanic with a list of things to be fixed, only to be told by the customer or the insurance company to do the bare minimum to keep things going. Who are we helping when we allow our patients to look at their dental health as a series of expenses rather than an investment that will continue to pay dividends for the rest of their lives? More importantly, why do they think of dentistry as an expense rather than an opportunity? Lastly, are we as dentists doing something to create this attitude in our patients?
Expense-based dentistry not only is detrimental to the patient in the long run but it drastically reduces the satisfaction that one is able to derive from being a dentist. Why then do we continue to practice in this fashion? It is because we shackle ourselves to outside influences like the economy or what we think a patient can afford. Instead of presenting the needed dentistry confidently and as an investment, we try to get patients to accept what we think they can afford—the net result being that patients see the whole experience as an expense. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t get into dentistry to be a salesman. I got into dentistry because I wanted to help people by providing them with the best dental health care possible. With skills in implantology and other aspects of dentistry that I have gained through the Dr. Dick Barnes Group, I have been able to elevate the level of care I am able to provide.
When I speak to patients, I no longer try to convince them that I am a good dentist by using a lot of technical jargon that in the end only sounds expensive to them. I speak to them as active participants in their long-term dental health. I have come to realize that the concerns—financial and otherwise—that arise in the course of presenting these treatment plans are not the patients saying no, but the patient striving to understand the opportunity.
I now come to work each day energized because I am developing the skills needed to do amazing things. Though I am a relatively new dentist, I am doing things that I thought were impossible just a year ago. I have incorporated new technologies like lasers and digital radiography into my practice. The net result is that I can bring a level of value to my patients they can’t get anywhere else. I know this because I get referral after referral from patients who couldn’t wait to tell their friends about the investment they made in themselves through comprehensive dentistry. I am constantly seeking to add new techniques and technologies to my practice, and in so doing, dentistry is becoming a passion that I cannot imagine growing tired of.
The last thing I want to share is simply this: If we as dentists have lost sight of the potential we have to influence and improve the lives of our patients, then we have become slaves to a job that in the end will burn us out. Don’t become one of those dentists who, after thirty years of practicing expense-based dentistry, has the misfortune of uttering the fateful words “I did not realize.” There has never been a time when so much potential has existed for the general practitioner to offer true comprehensive dentistry. Today is the day to shake off the chains that keep your perspective earthbound and to use your time to pursue the possibility of becoming the best dentist you can be. Such a pursuit will lead you down challenging paths, but I promise you that it is a journey that you will never tire of.