Thank you, Townies, for 20 years of Dentaltown!
I think self-reflection is the foundation of self-improvement. It’s a great exercise to go into a dental school where students ask you questions, because it forces you to ask yourself what you would’ve done differently.
Dentaltown’s magnificent milestone, meanwhile, inspired me to look back at my own past two decades. I mean, I did a good job (I have zero regrets) but I don’t care how fast someone climbs to the top of Mount Everest—it’s guaranteed that he or she could’ve gotten up there faster, better, more safely, etc.
First, mind your business
My company is 32 years old, but the employees with the longest tenure have been with me for only about 20. I spent more time in the early years chasing knowledge—earning my FAGD, my MAGD, my diplomate in the International Congress of Oral Implantology. It was fun and exciting, but I wasn’t paying attention to HR and business.
If I had to do 20 years over again, I’d fix the cart, economically, closer to the foundation. Taking your eye off the business of dentistry adds a lot of stress, which spills into relationships because of financial problems and all that accompanies them.
Eventually, I went back to school and got my MBA, and that whole experience was like a personal exercise: During those classes on finance, marketing, accounting and HR, I’d be thinking about how what I was learning could be applied to my team. Every four months for two years, I had new textbooks filled with information written by PhDs talking about the science of business, and it was amazing.
Be leading-edge, not bleeding-edge
Something I wish I would’ve learned earlier about clinical dentistry: When you’re young, it’s exciting to see something brand new … and I think I tried all of them. Now I ask myself: “Why was I, a new dentist, the first person to be working with them?”
For instance, when I got out of school, I was taught that for a high-end cosmetic case on a really beautiful person, use Dicor crowns and cement them with Durelon. In 2019 that sounds ridiculous—you’re probably like, “Did Howard lose his mind?” Hey, legends in cosmetic dentistry back then were championing this! But we learned that given enough time (usually within a year or so) every Dicor crown fractured, broke or came off. And to save face with the patients, of course I redid them for free.
There’s being on the leading edge of dentistry, and then there’s being on the bleeding edge—where harm might occur. There are 150,000 general dentists practicing in America and 30,000 specialists, so when a product comes out and only 1% of the dentists have tried it, you’ve got to tell yourself to be cautious.
Sure, younger people look up at dentists who are as old as I am and say, “Well, you’re just old and doing it the way you did in dental school. I’m going to get the latest and the greatest.” That’s a gamble because if it fails, you’re going to redo every single one for free. You’re going to lose trust in your staff, your patients and yourself. So slow down! Your colleagues are very wise. Before you jump to the newest thing, check out what your peers are saying about it on Dentaltown’s message boards.
Get comfortable being
I don’t know if I’ve ever shared the story about how I began lecturing.
My first lecture was Aug. 4, 1990, in a Sheraton hotel in Manhattan. I was 28 and had been practicing for only three years, so nobody was asking me to speak; instead, I mailed all of the dentists in New York a flyer that said I was going to give a presentation called “Dental Mania.” (Can you imagine what the dentists who are as old as I am now were thinking when they saw that some 28-year-old was going to speak about “Dental Mania”?) My best friend from dental school flew out from Phoenix with me and, sure enough, 20 people showed up for my first lecture ever. I think it was the most exciting weekend I’d ever had.
Why did I do it, though? Was that a better use of a Saturday than working in my office in Phoenix, when most of the dentists would be closed and so just one broken tooth could’ve led to a root canal, buildup and a crown?
Economically it was a disaster, but I knew that success isn’t just what you know, but what you know plus who you know. It’s the power of networking. I went to the biggest city in the U.S. and told them: “Hey, I exist, and I know a little bit about something and I want to share it with you.” I knew that if I went in that room and told them everything I knew from the bottom of my heart, they couldn’t resist standing up, shaking my hand and telling me everything that they knew.
This has never changed—in fact, it became Dentaltown, where no dentist would ever have to practice solo again.
But look at Dentaltown: 90% of the people who go there every single day lurk, lurk, lurk. They’re afraid to network. They’ll fly halfway across the country to take a CE course, but have never gone across the street to shake hands with the periodontist who’s been practicing in the same damn town for the past 20 years.
As diligent as I was at networking, I still would have done it even more. Get out of the office, out of the context so you can relax and open up and communicate. So network, network, network! Taking that time and that effort turns it into something that pays financial and personal rewards.
Tell us what you’d change on Round 2
They say hindsight is 20/20 — so tell us what you would have done differently if you were starting your dentistry career over. Leave your thoughts by commenting below!