Dental professionals have two choices on how to think about dentistry.

1. The wishful thinking approach. This is where we think about how dentistry should be practiced and mostly lament that it is not so. Depending on how old we are we either believe dentistry’s golden age has passed or that there is no such thing as a golden age and likely never will be. We regret the little dental schools actually teach or taught us. Often this disappointment has more to do with the business-side of dentistry rather than the clinical. If we are numbered among the few who took additional training, whether formal or through continuing education programs of substance, we feel sorry others with less drive, ambition, or insight have lost their way. In general we are sad at the  state of care average under-informed patients are receiving in most other dental offices. We are also often sad and frustrated by the poor decisions many of our own patients make electing for minimal care rather than valuing their mouths and themselves more.  Finally we generally hate being pushed around by dental insurance yet still often find ourselves having to deal with third-parties either directly or indirectly. We just wish dentistry was less complicated and look forward to a time when we can do more of something else and less of this.

2. The responsibility mindset. We see life as a series of choices, challenges and opportunities. We recognize that it is our decision to practice as dentists, hygienists, dental assistants or office administrators and we can just as easily decide to do something else tomorrow. We understand the limitations of education and recognize that dental schools operate in a real world of problems, limitations and choices just as we do. We see the benefit of collaboration and have stopped apologizing to others whenever we don’t know something. For this reason we like and tend to gravitate toward those who know things we don’t and can do things we have yet to, or choose not to master, so we can concentrate our skills and energies elsewhere.  (One caveat to seeking skilled mentors, if we find they are Beavis’ buddy, we move on).

We in the responsible camp resist complacently accepting the idea that our current level of skill and ignorance is good enough. And although we have the intellectual capacity to understand where the wishful thinker crowd is coming from when they articulate their complaints we choose to focus most of our time and energy working in the present on our most immediate personal challenges as well as our most important dreams. Because we have established where we want to go and what we want to do, we don’t waste a lot of time in fruitless discussions about ephemeral fears. We are not strong debaters as a group because we tend to be more action oriented. Also because our dreams are both weighty and fragile we have learned the power of emotionally traveling light. We work at forgiveness because we understand that bitterness gums up our machinery. We believe love to be the most powerful force in the universe. This is why we fight against isolation and instead focus on helping others achieve what they want and growing to be the best they can be. We have lived long enough to understand that life is not just about what we want and where we are going. We tend to see the practice of dentistry as bigger than we are and a great privilege to be involved in at whatever level we can.

If there is a third choice, I don’t know what it is.

Personally I choose #2 but recognize I can easily drift to #1. If I linger there then it becomes my default choice, whether I like it or not, and I believe I deserve (and will be responsible for dealing with) what follows.

Finally, a practical point of order. When you find yourself lamenting your situation and are tempted to express it in the context of choice #1 above, pause and come up with some really good practical questions instead. For example, instead of saying something like, “Most dentists don’t really care about their patients very much, otherwise they would do ….” come up with a question like, “What are some good ways I and others could better care, or show concern for patients?”

My point is that some generalities don’t help because they only reinforce an opinion. How do any of us really know that dentists in general don’t care about something? If we are struggling with a problem, and it may be a burnout symptom that results in uncaring actions and feelings, rather than broad judgmental strokes, good reflective questions may do the most good in helping us all reflect and ultimately improve.