The only problem with dental school is the students. At least that was the opinion of the dean of dental school I attended. Dental students have been looked down on, compared to medical students. If you spend your career stuck in the mindset that you are “just a dentist,” you’re hiding from your potential to make a meaningful difference in the lives of your patients.
The way you view yourself and your role in your patients’ lives affects the way you approach dentistry. The role of dentists has evolved through the years, beginning in the 1900s with relieving pain, moving to restorative dentistry in the 1950s and then on to cosmetics and aesthetics. Dentistry has continued to evolve into an even more important era: disease prevention.
Your patients need you to help them decrease their risk for major health problems. More than just filling cavities and pulling teeth, dentists such as you can play a part in addressing sleep disorders, screening for cancer and reducing risk of heart attack and stroke.
Ed, one of my favorite patients, came into my practice after a few years of ignoring his teeth and gums. He had some pretty serious issues with inflammation and decay. After explaining to him the importance of a healthy mouth and the consequences of ignoring problems, Ed was completely on board with restoring his oral health. Ed wouldn’t be enjoying the same level of health if I only believed myself to be “just a dentist.”
You deserve to be more than “just a dentist.” Your patients deserve it, too. Research from sources including the Cleveland Heart Lab indicates that dentists can play a central role in overall health. Dentists will no longer be considered second-class citizens.
Take an active role in healthcare. You can play a major role in helping your patients lead healthier lives. You’ve always been a prevention specialist. Now you have the opportunity to become a disease prevention specialist.
The medical community is recognizing the importance dentists play in longer, healthier lives for their patients. They need you. Your patients need you. Remember, to whom much is given, much is required. Your knowledge and skills and ability to save lives give you a huge responsibility. Fulfill that responsibility by being an active participant in becoming a disease prevention specialist.
I’d love to hear your stories. Tell me of a time where you really changed a patient’s life. Please comment below and let me know how that makes you feel about your responsibilities as a dentist.