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Journal In Shape Of Heart

Gratitude journals, wolf spiders, and dental assistant value

Oct. 22, 2021
When his dental assistant kept her cool as a giant wolf spider prowled the operatory during a procedure, it made this dentist appreciate her dedication even more.

By Charles Thomas, DMD

My family has implemented a “gratitude journal.” Each evening while we sit at the dinner table, we jot down at least three things we’re grateful for from that day. This can include a successful ballet lesson, doing well on a test, or simply exceptionally good morning coffee or a smooth drive to work. Often the lists include gratitude toward another family member, which strengthens our family bonds. We then share our entries, which results in a wonderful end to our long day. This also usually diminishes any negative emotions that we may have accrued from the rigors of the day.

This new tradition has led me to reflect on how much gratitude I have for my work family. In March of 2020, as the world came to a halt due to COVID-19, the state of Maine deemed my endodontic practice as essential, allowing it to remain open to treat patients in pain and decrease the burden on emergency rooms. My staff and I were haunted by the videos from China of people in the streets falling to the ground, seemingly affected by the virus to the point of collapse. Was this going to happen to us?

The World Health Organization gave us conflicting reports on whether the disease was transmissible between humans. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, changed his tune from scoffing at mask wearing to making it the suggested norm. With these conflicting messages from health officials, my staff and I braved the new world of dentistry in the age of COVID. To say it was stressful is an understatement.

As an office, we adjusted to the myriad of appropriate changes. Throughout all of this, my staff stayed the course. Through fear and confusion, they remained on board to help our fellow citizens. I would not have blamed any of them for wanting to stay home; but fortunately, both for the practice and the community, they continued to work. Without my entire staff, the practice would not have been able to continue functioning. (If I tried to use the autoclave, I’m pretty sure I’d inadvertently blow up the entire building. Don’t even get me started on what would happen if I answered the phone or ordered supplies for the office. 

I am extremely grateful for my amazing staff in ways they may never truly understand, especially for their response to the pandemic.

When a wolf spider comes calling

Just as my at-home gratitude journal can have more serious entries, my at-work gratitude journal has room for lighter moments. For anyone who has ever assisted during an endodontic procedure, you understand the true definition of boredom. Not only will my patients fall asleep, but occasionally I wonder if I see an assistant twitch as she fights off a late afternoon catnap. 

As summer faded away and autumn took over, during a rather lengthy procedure fighting the MB2 of a #14, I noticed my assistant acting rather out of character. She appeared to be repeatedly turning to look at the clock near the computer. I wondered if I was running late, or what I might be doing to distract her. 

I ultimately finished the procedure, took the dental dam off the patient, and proceeded to take a final radiograph. As I followed my assistant out of the room, she discreetly pointed to the floor at what was one of the biggest wolf spiders I have ever seen! Apparently, the creature was walking around the operatory throughout the entire procedure, and my assistant was keeping a close eye on it to make sure it didn’t climb the patient’s chair, or worse, climb onto me! Of all the duties I rely on for my staff members, I never considered “spider watch” to be one of them. We took care of the spider appropriately, the patient was none the wiser, and we later laughed about the entire situation. 

I admit that I do appreciate being mentioned in a gratitude journal at home. Similarly, staff members should be made aware of how grateful we dentists are for them. A mentor (from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine) and now colleague of mine always made sure to remind me that it’s not “what you do for a living, but who you work with every day” that will make you happy and successful. 

A quick text after work or some warm parting words as the office doors are being locked are simple ways to let your team members know the value they provide for the practice. After all, a truly successful practice is only possible with a cohesive, supportive, and happy team—especially since COVID-19 and the occasional wolf spider may not be the only “bugs” going around the office!

This article first appeared in the Dental Assisting Digest newsletter. To subscribe, visit dentistryiq.com/subscribe.

Charles Thomas, DMD, joined Southern Maine Endodontics after nearly 11 years of practicing endodontics in Concord, New Hampshire. Dr. Thomas attended Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, graduating summa cum laude in 2004. He completed his general practice residency through Harvard University at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital. He returned to Tufts to complete his endodontic residency in 2007. Dr. Thomas has been involved in the Greater Concord Dental Society, serving four years on the Executive Board and three years as a trustee for the New Hampshire Dental Society. He was also recognized as a “Top Dentist” in New Hampshire.