Each year I have been in general dentistry has taught my something about myself and the profession. As I prepare to enter a yearlong residency program in special-care in June, it is time for me to reflect on all I have learned during my four years of general dentistry.
The first year of dentistry taught me about treatment planning…that I could no longer treatment plan patients in practice the way I did in school. We learn how to manage patients’ conditions on a comprehensive level in school, moving them systematically from the hygiene department to the restorative department and eventually to the pros department.
Many patients in private practice don’t want that type of care. Some only need immediate pain relief. One of my patients, an elderly man, came to me to have his #8 broken. The tooth was fractured to the gum-line. A quick fix would have been to extract the tooth and put in a bridge #7-9. The temporary bridge could have been removed in just two hours. She could return for a permanent in two weeks. That was only a month into my first associateship. I was shocked to see the state of her mouth. Gross debridement, scaling and root planing were required. I also saw many other decayed teeth. I put on my dentist hat and planned the entire treatment. I educated my patient as well as her daughter who was accompanying me to the appointment. I sent them home a treatment plan that would cost at least five figures.
My mistake was quickly realized when I met with my doctor. In my excitement and innocence, I had failed to see my patients’ fixed income per month and her limited ability to pay for the procedures I was describing. I never saw that patient again, because, in my owner doctor’s words, “She likely walked across the street and found another dentist to work on her immediate need.”
It is important to emphasize that my treatment of her was correct. My focus on the exact Phasesing It was. We could have fixed her first tooth.firstShe then taught her the importance hygiene. She could have used care credit or a payments plan to pay for its maintenance and upkeep. She would have removed the root stumps when she was financially and mentally ready.
Second year of general dentistry taught me a lot about speed. I worked in a large dental practice, where everyone seemed to be competing for production. Every day we were given a ranking of who was the best. It sounds like it would be the Hunger GamesIn some ways, it was. This associateship taught me that the more patients you see, the more you make. But, it also meant that I would become burnt out and disillusioned by my work. It is important to mention that I was often upset by my associateship. This was the reason for many fights between me and my husband. He was so happy that I decided to quit my job.
The associateship lasted for just one year. I gave my notice March 1, 2020. I didn’t know that I would be receiving two months unemployment due to the pandemic. I used these two months to unwind, relax and find another associateship in a less production-oriented environment. I recognized that I didn’t have to see 30 patients a day to take home a decent income. You could work in a fee-for-service practice or one that takes fewer insurance plans so you can see fewer patients without feeling exhausted or burnt out.
My third year as a dentist taught me my limits. One of my clinical failures saw an implant fail. Another caused a file to break during a root-canal procedure. My team members, who had been practicing dentistry for many years, lost trust in me. This caused me to lose faith in myself.
I started to compare myself to more experienced dentists and wonder if I would ever be like them, and why I wasn’t as good as them. I was blessed to have an owner doctor who believed more in me than I did. I am still using the anesthesia technique she taught me to this day. I was able to practice root canals on the extracted teeth on my days off thanks to her. She showed me how to make CEREC implant crowns. Most importantly, she told me, ‘You are exactly like me when I was fresh out of school. Don’t give up, keep practicing, you will be a great dentist.” With some encouragement, I began writing more and sharing my experiences with my friends and colleagues. I felt less lonely working in this field.
The past year in dentistry was my most memorable. It has taught me how to manage my emotions. I’ve learned to let go of the things that happen in the office. This was especially true after I had to deal with a patient that was extremely anxious about her treatment. I let my anxiety take over my mind and affect my confidence. The experience nearly drove me off the path of dentistry. It made me question my purpose in being a clinical dentist. Could I have a practice, and then hire an associate to practice clinical dentistry? My mentors at the Creative Collective came to my rescue.
The Creative Collective is made up of female dentists, doctors, chiropractors and other practitioners. It meets monthly to share successes and challenges and offers support. This diverse group of professionals is interested in advancing their leadership skills and career growth. After I shared my experiences with colleagues, senior dentists came forward and shared their strategies for how to maintain inner peace and mental well-being in this profession.
One of my role models, Dr. Laura Mach, described how to create an imaginary bubble around your own energy in your mind and harness the universe’s energy to help a person who is suffering in front of you. ‘It’s about protecting our own energy, enabling us to take good care of the person in front of us’, says Laura, who learned this from her aunt, a Reiki practitioner. It has been a gamechanger since I began to implement this.
I hope this post helps whoever is going through their first years of associateship and coming across what I know now are, “newbie pains” or experiencing the “dark days of dentistry” as a good friend, Dr. Joe Vaughn had quoted in a previous, very popular post on this forum. Dentistry is different because every day is different and each experience teaches you something. Humility.
If you are interested in learning more about the Creative Collective, please contact Dr. Shivani Kamodia Barto at firstname.lastname@example.org, who is its organizer and facilitator.
San Francisco’s Dr. Sampada Deshpande is the author of Persevering – A Complete Guide for Applications, Schools, and Work Opportunities For Foreign-Trained Dentists. Sampada is a Dubai-trained dentist who earned her DDS from the University of Washington in 2018. In addition, she completed a LEND fellowship 2021. She was awarded the ADA 10 under 10, AGD 10 to Watch honor, and Howard Memorial Award. Outside of clinical dentistry, she enjoys hosting the New Dentist Business Club, biking the city’s rolling hills, and advocating for innovation in technology via her work at Samsotech. Visit her website to reach her for speaking opportunities. www.sampadadeshpandedds.com.