One of the best things about being a dentist is that your career is what you want it to be. On the surface, I know a great deal about many subjects. Dental school prepared me with just enough knowledge to get by and sent me on my way. From there, it was up to me to seek opportunities and fill in the gaps. I’ve found many ways to do that in the last seven years. By attending professional seminars, using social platforms, and seeking advice from former classmates, I have learned a lot about myself and how I want to shape the scope of my practice. More importantly, I’ve discovered that the path I choose, and the success I achieve is within my control.
Do you feel like you only barely got your required root canals? Do you want to do a lot of them? Great! Go out and learn more about them. There are so many people out there that can teach you more than you ever thought you could learn about endodontics. Even as a general dentist, you can become fantastic at endodontics if you dedicate yourself to learning more. Or, if you would instead refer out all of your endo, you can dedicate yourself to learning about other aspects of dentistry that you enjoy doing. The same goes for any specialty that you either love or loathe.
I am fascinated by sleep and obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep is so essential to our lives. There is a reason that every creature on this earth sleeps. Even animals that live in constant danger of predation spend a significant portion of their lives asleep. I can’t even count the number of continuing educations hours I have acquired on the subject over the years. Today, I spent the morning learning about how vitamins B and D and your gut biome can influence your sleep from Stacia Gomanik, M.D., a renowned neurologist with a particular interest in sleep.
Dr. Gomanik knows an insane amount on the subject. The unique thing that I learned is that there is more than one way to treat a patient having trouble sleeping. As dentists, we can help our sleep patients by repositioning the mandible. She is a physician, so obviously, her treatments are different. The cool thing is that we can collaborate to get our patients the best care possible.
The rest of the morning was topped off by listening to the acclaimed author James Nestor talking about the art of nasal breathing. He is a pretty big deal if you haven’t heard of his book, “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art.” Mr. Nestor explained that there is more to meet the eye regarding breathing. It isn’t just as simple as breathing oxygen in and breathing carbon dioxide out. How you accomplish this task can have some pretty profound health consequences — this breathing and our evolution in modern society influence how we breathe and how our facial structures develop. Both subjects were incredibly riveting to me, and I am excited to incorporate what I have learned into my general practice and my dental sleep medicine patients.
Maybe sleep isn’t your thing, or maybe these speakers would put you to sleep (sorry, I couldn’t resist the joke.) But not every subject has to be your cup of tea. The fantastic thing about our profession is that we can focus on whatever we want. In addition to taking a ton of CE, today’s technology makes it easier than ever to learn from your peers. There is a Facebook group for just about everything and message boards like Dentaltown to bounce ideas around with other doctors
Some have tons of experience, and others do not. What is significant is that everyone has a unique perspective toward the problem you are looking to solve. My personal favorite is a group chat with some classmates from dental school. While there is a great deal of non-dental banter in our chat, we have a collection of brilliant doctors in this group. Some of us are general dentists, while others have gone on to specialize in ortho, endo, and oral surgery. If I have trouble with a tricky case, I can easily send an X-ray to my friends, ask for help, and usually have an answer back in minutes.
I’ve heard some dentists tell me that their class wasn’t as tight knit as mine. If you didn’t have a close group of classmates to lean on for support and guidance in your new profession, those peers could be found in your local dental society. Send a text, start a thread. Connecting with your peers is so important to learn. Mentor relationships can be great, too. The relationship with peers is incredible because they are frequently going through the same learning curve as you at the moment.
Dental school is a great foundation, but it should be viewed as the beginning of your learning journey, not the end. It isn’t the culmination of your learning. We should continue to make ourselves better because our patients deserve the best care possible. The opportunity for advancement is limitless, and the support from your very own dental community is expectational. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to see a doctor that hasn’t dedicated themselves to a lifetime of learning. So get out there, and connect with your peers. You can help each other become excellent dentists. And if you want to connect with me, you can connect with me on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/dr-jonathan-hale.
Dr. Jonathan Hale is the owner and dentist at Hale Family Dentistry and Fort Wayne Sleep Solutions. He earned his doctor of dental surgery from Indiana University School of Dentistry and began his dental career in Florida before moving back to his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a member of the American Dental Association, Indiana Dental Association, Isaac Knapp District Dental Society, and the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, and a and a guest blogger with the ADA New Dentist Now Blog. He is currently studying the masters program to become a Diplomate with the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. Jonathan Hale by visiting his website at haledentistry.com or fwsleep.com.