This month's edition of Woman Dentist Journal is about, among other things, implants. I very clearly remember my first implant patient. She was an employee of the dental school and used to come in for treatment off and on. One day she showed up in my office for a cleaning and told me that her implant was ready to be restored. That's interesting, I thought. Who could I refer her to? I didn't know a thing about implants and had never restored one. I called her periodontist, whom I didn't know, and asked him for a referral. "Don't worry, honey, I'll walk you through it," he said. Well, I should have been bolder and told him that, first of all, nobody calls me "honey," and secondly, I didn't have a clue how to restore that thing. It was the mid-1980s when implants were still considered questionable. The periodontist guaranteed me that it really wasn't that difficult to do an implant.
To make a long story short, the darn thing wasn't in the patient's mouth more than a month when the screw broke. I refunded her money and happily referred her to a prosthodontist who could take care of her. Well, he replaced the crown and within two months it broke off, the victim of another screw fracture. The patient was a little old lady, not some hard-bruxing guy. It turned out that the periodontist had placed the implant at such an angle that Branemark himself would have failed.
What this whole incident taught me was that I had better learn about implants or forget them altogether. So I decided to take a course, only to find that they wouldn't let me in because I was not a board-certified oral surgeon. But I didn't give up. In a few years, even Branemark broke down and condescended to let us lowly general dentists take his courses. In the meantime, I found a course at Brookdale Hospital given by Norman Cranin. I was in one of the earlier maxicourses, which met one weekend a month for a year. This really opened my mind to what implants were and how to handle them. It gave me an invaluable education. By the end of the course, I felt equipped to start offering this option to my patients.
Toward the end of the course, a lecturer came to talk about sinus lifts and a different type of implant, which in 30 years had never had a screw fracture. His was the first system that really made sense to me, and I was excited to hear about it. The lecturer's name was Hilt Tatum. If you know anything about implants, you'll recall Hilt is one of the fathers of implant dentistry. It was he who came up with the idea of the sinus lift. A humble person but a real genius, he had been doing implants in Florida long before Branemark came on the scene. Anyway, it just so happened that I was planning to go to Florida to visit my folks the next day, so I asked Hilt if he would mind me stopping by his office. He couldn't have been more welcoming. He took me under his wing, and the next day I was not just watching but actually assisting him as he put in implant after implant and ramus frames and all kinds of innovative stuff. I later attended all of his lecture series in his Implant Reconstruction Center in Clearwater, and I consider him and his staff my true mentors. I now not only restore but place implants in my office. If it were not for Hilt, I might never have put into practice the stuff I learned at the maxicourse, since you really don't get hands-on in that course, as excellent as it is.
The reason I bring all of this up is to stress how important it is to have a mentor. Sometimes we women are too unassuming to ask others for help and guidance, and we are the losers. AAWD is an organization that by its very purpose gives us an opportunity to find mentors. By being able to get together with other women in nonthreatening relationships, we can help each other not just to survive but to prosper. I hope that this spirit of nurturing is being carried out all over the country in small groups at the local level. Whether in study groups or social groups, the nurturing relationships will make us better dentists and stronger women.
To all of you older dentists like myself, let's make ourselves more available to our younger colleagues to help them succeed. And to you younger women — especially those who say there is no discrimination anymore and, therefore, no need for AAWD — let me tell you there is a need and there will always be a need for people to help one another. Tap our resources at AAWD. We want to help!