Principles For Success by Robert Benavides, DDS

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Dentaltown Magazine
by Robert Benavides, DDS

When I was in dental school my father always reminded me that three superstars will arise. The first superstar, as he called it, is the intellectual. The intellectual student is the star during the first year. This person continually receives the highest grades in biochemistry, gross anatomy and the other didactic courses.

The second superstar of dental school is the dexterous student. The dexterous student starts shining in dental anatomy courses. With ease, this capable student can craft incredible dental shapes out of wax. This talented individual can re-create unbelievably accurate preparations and produce chamfers or feather-edge preparations with amazing precision.

The first two superstars are soon overlooked when a new superstar emerges during their third year in the clinic. My father called this individual the clinician. The clinician is an applied mix of the intellectual superstar with a spark of dexterity and an important twist: This superstar is a great communicator. The clinician leverages his or her accumulated skills from the past two years of didactics to make a tangible difference in the patient's oral health.

The clinician understands how to present dentistry's value to patients for a positive change. One thing we learn is that the first two superstars are usually outliers with either incredible intelligence or an innate agility with their hands. However, becoming a clinician superstar is something that can be developed, because the skills of a great clinician are learnable.

Luckily, there are five principles every new graduate can follow to increase confidence and flatten the learning curve for becoming a well-rounded clinician.

Become a factual diagnostician
"Overdiagnosers" are often perceived with skepticism from patients while "underdiagnosers" tend to leave patients with a feeling of disappointment. Patients may perceive underdiagnosers as incompetent if there is the feeling that clinical necessities were overlooked. Both clinicians' diagnostic protocols burden the dentist-patient relationship.

A factual diagnostician is someone who is aligned with the patient's oral scheme and clinical necessities. This person can shed light on dental issues without fear of being perceived as pushy. By establishing a connection with patients and keeping them involved in each step of the treatment planning, the factual diagnostician can help patients make informed decisions and commence treatment up to 80 percent of the time. Typically, the remaining 20 percent is completed at a future continuing care appointment. And all this is done while strengthening the relationship with our patients.

By diagnosing conditions that are high need and clinical necessities that, if neglected, have a genuine likelihood of having adverse effects, the average patient will often find it sensible to be proactive.

Understand personal limitations
As a clinician, making a positive impact on our patients' lives is one of the most important things we can do. It's important to understand your limitations and know when referring out may have the best outcomes your patient deserves. For many of us, this is especially true with wisdom teeth and molar root canals. If we build relationships with specialists, the profitable interdisciplinary cases will start coming our way. We become better at identifying opportunities under the mentorship of the specialists.

Accept the fate of remakes
One of the most difficult things to overcome after dental school is learning to cope with the fact that remakes happen to all of us. What sets us apart is how we react to this unavoidable situation. Be courteous and understanding of the patient's complaints and just make it right! The worst thing we can do is take it personally. We can't link our self-worth to this. If we are methodical and intentional with every restoration we fabricate, the stress related to remakes is unnecessary.

Become maniacal over protocols
The fastest way to grow and become confident is to write things down. By documenting and observing what worked and what did not, we become efficient with our learning.

There are a few protocols to become maniacal about:

  • Clinical notes: At the end of each day, copy the clinical notes from each case to a separate Microsoft Word document. Every time we perform the same clinical need, we can elaborate on the previous note. In a year, a full manual of polished notes will be at our disposal.
  • Clinical protocols: Document clinical protocols for each procedure to ensure quality and consistency with each case.

Developing clear and specific protocols helps keep our teams aligned on what is important to us. It is also an incredible tool to set and maintain accountability for our teams. By writing things down, we leave nothing to chance with patient care.

Don't fear the unknown
It is easy to be reluctant to try new things, but when we take the time to become fully prepared, we can gain the self-confidence necessary to tackle the task. If we trust the process and put in the necessary hours of preparation, we will continue to grow our skills as clinicians. Fail and learn what to never do again.

By partnering these principles for intentional growth and development, the intellectuals, the dexterous and any new graduate can become the comprehensive clinicians that our patients deserve.


Author Robert Benavides, DDS, graduated from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio School of Dentistry. He is the owner of Culebra Smiles and Orthodontics, a practice supported by Pacific Dental Services in San Antonio.
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