The Power of Introspection


Discovering Why We Do Things the Way We Do.

One of the biggest obstacles to becoming a truly productive dentist is failing to ever question the way you do your work. As a dentist, it’s critical to analyze how and why you perform your dentistry in a certain way—from the way you run your offices and the techniques you use chairside, to how you present treatment to your patients.

Having an introspective mindset should be a daily habit. Make it a goal to choose at least one procedure from your day and ask yourself why you did it the way you did. It might seem like a simple exercise, but there is power in reflecting on that question and perhaps challenging how and why you do things.

An alternative—and more common—approach is to blindly keep repeating the same processes simply because that is how you learned to do it, or because of tradition, or because it is more comfortable for you to do it that way. I attribute much of my success as a dentist to having an introspective mindset.

Here are a few questions I asked myself about the way I approached dentistry that were helpful throughout my career.

1. “Why do I prep the way I do?” Early on, like most dentists, I prepped teeth the way that I learned in dental school. Taking an hour or more to prep a tooth seemed natural because that was considered fast in dental school. In a dental practice, however, if you take an hour to prep a single tooth, you are limited to a maximum of a eight units for an entire day. And that is easily an overstatement because no one works a full day without breaks.

After dental school, I knew I had to change my approach to prepping. I forced myself to examine where I was having difficulty, and what my obstacles were. I then set a goal that I would be able to effectively prep a single tooth—any tooth—in about five minutes.

Having a goal and understanding the obstacles allowed me to aggressively make improvements. In a remarkably short time I was able to reach that goal. My production increased because I could prep several teeth in the time it used to take to do one. In addition, my patients were happy because they didn’t have to spend so much time in the chair.

No longer satisfied with the status quo, I then imagined myself doing more complicated types of cases with my enhanced prepping skills. Pretty soon I was able to complete a full arch reconstruction in an afternoon appointment, rather than in a series of separate visits. Everything changed simply by asking why I was prepping the way I was.

2. “Why am I doing the types of cases that I’m doing?” In the early days of my practice, I was busy doing “everyday dentistry,” or what I came to realize was patchwork dentistry—attending only to the patient’s immediate needs and complaints (i.e. cleanings, checkups, cavities, and relief from pain). Once I had the ability to prep more effectively I was able to look at the kinds of cases I was doing and decide if this was the kind of dentistry I wanted to keep doing.

When dentists are not critically looking at the types of cases they are doing on a daily basis, they can get lost in an unproductive schedule. I decided to do larger cases than the one- and two-unit cases that I had been doing. I set a goal for how many of the types of cases I wanted to do on a weekly and monthly basis. I started to look beyond the patchwork dentistry and saw comprehensive issues. It turns out the cases I wanted to be doing had always been there, I just hadn’t seen them because I was too busy looking at the minutiae.

3. “Why don’t my patients seem to want the comprehensive dentistry that I can offer?” Once I could prep effectively and had identified the cases I wanted to do, I was now in a position to ask a truly breakthrough question—why don’t my patients seem to want the comprehensive treatments that I could provide? In truth, my own assumptions were the biggest problem. I was only presenting the kind of dentistry that I thought my patients would accept or had the ability to afford.

Once I realized the error, I made a dramatic change in how I presented dentistry. I presented all patients with the best options for their overall care (focusing on patients keeping their teeth for a lifetime), instead of just presenting dentistry that would address immediate and pressing concerns. I stopped thinking about the likelihood of a patient accepting treatment, or whether or not he or she could afford treatment.

After having presented the ideal option to the patient, we would have a frank discussion, during which we would find a way to get the treatment done. Many of them agreed to the treatment, and their lives were improved—and I got to do the cases I wanted to do.

Introspection is a powerful tool. If you wonder how to increase case acceptance or you want to start doing comprehensive dentistry, ask “why” questions. If your front office schedules an hour and a half for a single crown, think about why they do that and commit to looking beyond superficial answers that offer little insight or potential for meaningful change.

There will never be a time in your career when you can just rest on your laurels. If you do, you will settle for becoming less than your potential. This is a wonderful time to be a dentist. The technologies and materials have never been better. Patients are better prepared to understand and see the value that dentistry has to improve their lives. Discover what is holding you back and commit to moving forward each and every day. Why not start today?

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Dr. Dick Barnes is the leader in practice development for today’s cosmetic practice. A graduate of Marquette Dental School, he began his general dentistry practice in Rialto, California. As his practice, skills and reputation grew, he became known as one of the world leaders in cosmetic dentistry. In addition, Dr. Barnes taught at Loma Linda University and the University of Southern California, at their respective dental schools.


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