The dark days of dentistry

You want to know a secret?

Sometimes I don’t want to go to work. . . Sometimes I don’t want to pull that tooth or make that denture or place that composite.

Dr. Vaughn

Dr. Vaughn

Sometimes . . . I don’t want to do dentistry at all.

But if you’re a practicing dentist reading this right now, you know full well that this is no secret. That this happens to everyone. And if it hasn’t happened, have no doubt that it will.

I’ve been out of school two years now. And while that’s not near long enough to develop a solid practice philosophy or to really figure out where my place is in the profession, it’s plenty long enough to have a few of those dark days.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about backaches, headaches, handaches. I’m talking about patients that don’t like me. Patients that I don’t like back. Procedures that make me sweat that shouldn’t make me sweat.

Just yesterday, my arm spasmed and locked up during an extraction of a single rooted premolar. I couldn’t believe it. And what’s worse is that it happened minutes after so confidently telling the patient that “this will only take a minute.”

And then there’s the stories you hear from your colleagues. Oh those stories! Anything you can possibly imagine – the worst of the worst – and I bet it’s happening in a dental office somewhere in America right now: insurance fraud, verbal abuse of staff, overtreating patients, undertreating patients, and every sort of treating in between. Condemning our entire ethical handbook one code at a time.

Many of us have heard stories of associate dentists being taken advantage of. New dentists are particularly vulnerable here. I’ve heard of new dentists having all of their preps checked. Of being told they can only do hygiene. Of being hired on and then not even being paid because the practice was actually a sinking ship.

“Well why don’t they just look for a new job then?!”

Sounds easy doesn’t it? Just go get a new job.

Go ahead. Dive into that black sea of classified ads looking for an associate who “is willing to work nights and weekends” and “is proficient at molar endo and impacted third molars.” Ads that make magnificent claims about their 5-star practice that end up being worth no more than the paper the ad was printed on.

It’s tough out there. I’ve sat in interviews that have made my gut turn. I’ve been told that I’d “have to burn a few bridges to work here.” Or that “no vacation time is allowed your first two years.” And what’s worse is that most of these only want you two days a week. So if you want to pay the bills (and chip away at your half-million-dollars in debt), you accept the offer and then go right back to the job hunt to find a second mediocre job that hopefully won’t conflict with the first one.

You see. . .the fairy tales I heard growing up of how great of a profession dentistry was, have many times turned out to be just that. . . fairy tales.

But one thing I know for sure, is that fairy tales have silver linings and morals and lessons they aim to teach. And so do the dark days of dentistry.

What I’ve learned is that these days don’t last forever. The pain is only temporary. And if we’re able to stay motivated and get through them, the clouds will certainly pass.

I don’t talk about the dark days because I enjoy them. I talk about them because it’s an unfortunate but concrete reality. The stories above are all real and completely free of exaggeration. Those are our new dentist peers out there living these stories every day. And so to not talk about them and pretend they don’t happen is to create false security in who we are as professionals.

Dentistry is not exempt from the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.

There will be days where you want to give up. There will be days where the stresses seem to be too much. But don’t let them overcome you. Find an outlet. Vent your frustrations, and be free of them.

Because one day you will find that perfect job. You will pay off that monstrous debt. You will find your place in this profession that you’ve been working so hard for your whole life.

And when that does eventually happen. When you find your place. Don’t forget who you were and where you came from and all those struggles you faced in your early days. And when the tables turn and you are the owner dentist interviewing a bright-eyed, naive new dentist. . .

Remember that the dark days are real, and that this new dentist may very well be in the thick of them.

For information on staying well in the dental profession, visit ADA Center for Professional Success.

Dr. Joe Vaughn is a New Dentist Now guest blogger and a member of the American Dental Association. He grew up in Alabama and recently graduated from The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry in 2015. He now lives in Seattle, Washington, and works at Neighborcare Health, a community health center in Seattle. Two cups of coffee, writing and indie music are everyday occurrences for Joe. Go Seahawks and Roll Tide!


8 Ways to Prevent Childhood Cavities

If you had to guess the #1 chronic childhood illness affecting US children, would you guess tooth decay? Most parents wouldn’t, so you’re not alone if that wasn’t your guess.

There’s good news – tooth decay can be treated.

As parents, we have a lot to worry about when it comes to our children – grades, emotional health, relationships, extracurricular activities, helping with homework, etc. Though your child’s dental health needs to be a high priority, it doesn’t have to be a chore. Establishing a good dental care routine early in your child’s life will save them (and you) major problems in the future.

Start Young

Poor oral health and tooth decay are linked to more than just cavities. Studies show that tooth decay in children causes loss of sleep, mood swings, pain, problems hearing, speaking, and eating, and increased difficulty with schoolwork and learning.

We can’t stress the importance of early oral health care enough. Your child should start seeing a pediatric dentist within 6 months of the first tooth eruption. For example, if your child’s first tooth comes in at 4 months, you should take them to the dentist by 10 months.

Lead By Example

One of the best things you can do for your child’s oral health is to set the bar for a solid oral care routine. Young children are impressionable, hence the saying “monkey see, monkey do”. If your child witnesses the importance of dental health in your routine, they are more likely to participate and make it part of theirs. You can get creative and make it fun for them, too!

Floss, Floss, Floss!

Without floss, you only clean 30% of the tooth’s surface. You can floss your child’s teeth as soon as the teeth that have erupted touch together. This will prevent cavities from forming between the teeth. Flossing your child’s teeth before bed as part of a routine will not only prevent cavities, but will also help them incorporate flossing into their own routine as they are older and more independent.

Sharing Isn’t Always Caring

Bacteria from tooth decay is very contagious. Even if you have recently been given a clean bill of oral health from your dentist, it is best not to share food or drinks (or your toothbrush) with your little one. Doing so increases the risk of bacteria transfer from you to your child or vice versa.

Rinse Between Meals

Drinking fluoridated water between meals and snacks can help ward off cavities until you can brush in the evening. Though rinsing and drinking water is not a substitute for brushing, it can help keep cavities at bay by rinsing out food particles that would otherwise be settling into the teeth.

Limit Sugary Drinks & Snacks

If you give your child beverages other than water, it is best to limit consumption time in order to keep cavities away. Dilute sugary juices with water. Take away the cup after a reasonable amount of time. Only give sugary treats sparingly, such as on special occasions. Have your child rinse with water after consuming sugary foods and drinks.

Consider Sealants

Dental sealants are a safe preventative measure for teeth that are most susceptible to cavities. Again, sealants are not a substitute for proper brushing and flossing, but may help children who have had trouble with tooth decay and cavities, despite following a healthy oral care routine. Your pediatric dentist can evaluate your child and see if this route is suitable for them..

See Your Pediatric Dentist Regularly

Following a consistent dental care maintenance plan with your pediatric dentist will set your child up for oral health success. Pediatric dentists specialize in the specific dental needs of children, and focus on developmental health. See for yourself why visiting the pediatric dentist is just what your child needs for a happy, healthy future without cavities.

Ready for Vacation? Pack Your Dentist’s Phone Number

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When you’re packing for vacation, you wouldn’t think of leaving your sunscreen or bathing suit behind. However, it may not have occurred to you to bring your dentist’s phone number with you. Yet your home dental office can be a big help if you have tooth troubles while away.

For one thing, your dentist can help determine if you have a problem that needs to be taken care of immediately or if it can wait until you come back. In addition, your dentist may offer helpful tips for dealing with the situation in the short-term.

Also, your dentist may be able to help you find a local dentist who speaks your language and has suitable training. That way, you won’t have the added worry of communication problems or that the approach to dental care will be vastly different.

If you can’t reach your dentist and need to find dental care while on vacation, the hotel concierge may be a good resource. However, if you are in a foreign country, you might first want to contact your home country’s embassy or consulate for an unbiased recommendation.

So before you leave, don’t forget to bring your toothbrush, your floss…and your dentist’s phone number.

ACE Panel needs volunteers to share opinions

The ACE Panel is a network of practicing ADA member dentists who want to share their opinion on topics and products evaluated and published in the ADA Professional Product Review.

The mission of the ACE Panel is to ensure that the content provided in the ADA Professional Product Review represents the firsthand, day-to-day experiences of practicing member dentists. And being on the ACE Panel won’t be a time waster — there is an average commitment of less than 10 minutes a month.

To join a panel, click here.

Study clubs from a business perspective

Together to learn: New dentists from around Colorado attend a study club sponsored by the Colorado Dental Association New Dentist Committee to learn about business matters.

Together to learn: New dentists from around Colorado attend a
study club sponsored by the Colorado Dental Association New Dentist
Committee to learn about business matters.

Englewood, Colo. — For new dentists, there can be a lot to learn when it comes to creating or running a small business.

Establishing the necessary business elements and learning how to run a successful dental practice can provide challenges early in one’s career.

DrPearsonThe Colorado Dental Association New Dentist Committee is taking a unique approach in an effort to help their member dentists bridge the gap.

Over the past few years, Dr. Justin Pearson, a 2008 University of Michigan School of Dentistry graduate and current chair of the Colorado Dental Association New Dentist Committee, has been working with a team of general dentists and sponsors who volunteer their time to organize quarterly study clubs aimed solely at providing business education to their members.

Because Colorado is a large state that encompasses more than 100,000 square miles, the New Dentist Committee also live-streams each study club session for free in an effort to reach dentists who cannot make it to the study club on a given night. Podcasts will soon be available on the Colorado Dental Association website ( and New Dentist Committee Facebook page ( to allow members to listen to the programs at their leisure. Watch parties for the study clubs are also regularly organized in other communities to encourage engagement throughout the state as members watch the presentations together.

The program is interactive and attendees can ask the presenters questions from the outreach locations via an online chat function.

“I really enjoy networking with our younger colleagues and owe a lot to the many clinicians who have helped me get my start over my first nine years in general practice,” Dr. Pearson said. He enjoys keeping current on the latest trends in dentistry and maintains that these networking opportunities afforded to young dentists allow them to share ideas and work together to solve many business quandaries.

Dentists who are interested in finding a study club near them, including ones that offer continuing education, can contact their local or state dental society.

Filling holes in your schedule

Ever struggled with keeping the schedule full? “No Kirk, we NEVER have open time. We can never fit in  all the  patients beating down our door to scnedule major restorative work. We can’t shoo them away fast enough!” Ok…that would be a truly awesome problem!  But I’m guessing  like most practices, you’ve wrestled with the […]

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