Here’s how one dentist rediscovered the joy of dentistry with today’s latest technology
Story by Stewart Rosenberg, DDS
I feel very fortunate that, at age 65, I enjoy going to work more than I ever have since graduating dental school nearly 40 years ago! I attribute this rejuvenated passion for dentistry to the decisions I made more than 15 years ago when I began integrating technology such as intraoral cameras, air abrasion, digital radiography, minimally invasive dentistry, and (most recently) dental lasers into my daily practice routine.
During this same time period, I have shared this passion nationally and internationally. It has been wonderful to meet dentists from all over the world, but also frustrating and sad to find so many of our peers really not enjoying the practice of dentistry as much as I do. In fact, it seems as though many, if not most of us, get burned out frighteningly early in our careers. Since dentistry is all most of us know, we reluctantly continue to go to work every day, often dreading putting the key in the door.
Then there are those of us who have truly enjoyed dentistry but, over the years, the sameness of what we do becomes a little boring and the passion dies a little - or maybe even a lot. We are fortunate to make a terrific income, and we realize that if we retire, we may have a void that is difficult to fill - or we may not be financially secure enough to retire. Some of us may be younger than retirement age but have the same feeling of boredom already and see the handwriting on the wall.
These scenarios seem to be universal everywhere my travels have taken me. That’s the frustration. However, the good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way - and for an increasing number of us, it no longer is!
What has kept dentistry exciting for me is a willingness to change, to try new materials, techniques, and technologies to alleviate the sameness of what I was doing and eliminate the boredom that comes with performing the same procedures in the same way day after day, year after year. In addition to the boredom, there is the stress of knowing most patients would rather be anywhere but in our chairs, and many clinical staff members are as bored as we are. As energetic and enthusiastic as I have always been about our profession, I have to admit that even I, six or seven years ago, was becoming burned out and started thinking about retirement. I was really facing a tough decision - if I retired, what the heck would I do? Even on vacation, I could only stand my less-than-mediocre golf game for two or three days in a row. I saw so many friends and acquaintances retire and die either figuratively or literally. Those who I admired the most were the wealthy senior citizens who were still working for the joy and stimulation of the experience. They were younger mentally and physically than anyone else their ages.
On the other hand, if I continued to work as I had been doing, it was not a very attractive choice. Then my life suddenly changed. The newest generation of hard- and soft-tissue lasers were introduced and I purchased an Er,Cr:YSGG laser (BIOLASE Technology, Inc., San Clemente, Calif.). In my opinion, these devices are the most versatile, fun to use, profitable instruments ever introduced into dentistry. We now have the Waterlase, Waterlase MD, and LaserSmile diode in our office. As a matter of disclosure, I lecture for and consult with BIOLASE. That relationship aside, I paid for my lasers just like anyone else and had incorporated them into my practice well in advance of any formal lectures on dental laser technology. There are many fine dental laser products available from other companies and I suggest looking at them all and choosing what is the most comfortable fit for you. I’m not going to discuss the economics of the new generation of lasers here, except to say that I promise you will find that making the payments is an unqualified no-brainer and the return on investment for many of us is astronomical. That said, what is most important, since the economics take care of themselves, is what it will do to change your dental life!
It will, unquestionably, change the dental experience for you, your staff, and your patients forevermore. You will use dramatically less anesthesia for both hard- and soft-tissue procedures. The patient discomfort during and following procedures will be dramatically reduced and often eliminated. The patient stress and anxiety will be at an all-time low. We actually have patients who look forward to coming to the dentist. Consequently, the stress and anxiety levels of all of the dental team will be greatly reduced.
Your dentistry can in many instances be more minimally invasive and the dental laser will allow you to do what you already do well - and do it even better. With the proper training, you will begin to enthusiastically perform a much wider array of procedures, many of which you previously ignored or referred to specialists. This has been a key in my renewed zest for dentistry. I was tired of only doing what had become mundane - restorative dentistry, veneers, etc. I had never had the desire to perform periodontal or oral surgery procedures. I had not extracted a tooth in 25 years. Now, I do most of my own periodontal treatment from simple cases to advanced osseous surgery. I also do most of my own extractions and soft-tissue biopsies. Patients are happier when they discover that, with our expanded treatment modalities, they no longer need to leave the practice to be treated.
I am having so much fun doing stuff I never dreamed I would ever want to do that I can’t wait to go to the office! You can experience the same passion as our team. Here is the best news of all - you cannot believe what a wonderful feeling it is to have patients leave your operatory shouting for all the office to hear, “Wow! That was amazing! I can’t believe I just had fillings done with no shot or drill.” We hear that all the time.
I recently treated a man who had not been to the dentist in 15 years because of his fear of needles and drills. I had been treating his family for many years but had never met him. His teenage daughter finally shamed him into coming in for an examination and X-rays. He was petrified. His examination revealed the need for multiple restorations, mostly Class Is, Class IIIs, and Class Vs. I explained to him the bad news - as anticipated he required dental treatment - followed by the good news - that we should be able to perform his treatment with the laser, which meant minimal and/or no anesthesia (no needles or no drills). I did something I never do - I promised him he would have no pain. This was blatantly stupid on my part because nothing is ever 100 percent guaranteed, even with a laser. He said, “Doc, I’m going to trust you - but if you hurt me, I’m going to kill you!”
We started treatment, prepared, and restored a couple of lesions; we talked about football, baseball, and other trivial stuff, then we did a few more and so on. At an hour and 15 minutes, I realized we had completed all of his dentistry. I told him we were done and he said, “You’re kidding. How many more times do I have to come back?” I said, “No, we’re completely finished. We don’t have to see you for another six months.” Tears began to well up in his eyes as he began thanking me for helping him overcome his fear, then he broke down uncontrollably. As he cried, my assistant and I also cried. When he finally was able to collect himself, he got up, gave me a bear hug that seemed to last for an hour, thanked me again, and almost skipped or floated out to the desk to pay his bill.
That’s what it’s all about. You can have the same joy and satisfaction we and so many others are having. Make the New Year’s resolution to rejuvenate your dental passion with the incorporation of dental laser technology into your practice. As has happened for so many, you will rejuvenate your passion for dentistry.
Dr. Stewart Rosenberg is a past president of the Academy of Laser Dentistry and currently serves on the board of the World Clinical Laser Institute. He is a founding member and past president of the World Congress of Minimally Invasive Dentistry. He is a fellow of the International Society of Laser Dentists, the American Society of Laser Medicine and Surgery, the International College of Craniomandibular Orthopedics, the AACD, and the AGD. He maintains a private practice in Laurel, Md., and is an attending at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He can be reached at (301) 776-3300 or [email protected].