On being the worst dentist in the room
Sometimes it's good not to be the smartest dentist in the room and to listen to different opinions. This helps dentists become better at what they do.
This is a short essay about being bad. Last week I was fortunate to be a guest at the American Academy of Restorative Dentistry’s annual meeting. Let me tell you, I was definitely in the running to win “Worst Dentist in the Room.”
Membership in the AARD is one of the great honors our profession can bestow, and maybe someday I’ll have that privilege. But for now, I’m content just to be in proximity to so many men and women who are much better than me at what we do for a living.
You see, I believe we should all strive to experience that uncomfortable, awkward, sinking feeling in the pit of our stomachs when we realize we’re not in the same league as our peers. That’s how we get better. I walked away from the AARD meeting with a to-do list to improve my diagnostic and clinical skills.
So, here’s my big concern: I think an increasing number of dentists are too content being the best dentist in the room. As our modern society is still learning, the internet has arguably done as much harm as it has good for the spread of knowledge. I’ve written before about the proliferation of self-anointed experts who can lower the standard of our care. But now I’d like to caution you about falling victim to another trap—bubble communities.
Social media and online forums can reinforce our own opinions rather than challenge them. When our opinions are challenged online, situations can quickly deteriorate into shouting matches. Our profession and our journeys as clinicians depend on us continually realizing that we can be better. That realization should be done in a civilized, respectful manner. I think some dentists are spending their limited time and energy dwelling in online dental communities that are not intellectually challenging, are intolerant of any dissention, or both. In short, dentists are becoming comfortable hanging out in rooms in which they are the smartest, or at least they think they are. Intellectual laziness is nothing new, but technology has made it easier for people to be lazy.
Please surround yourself with people who are better than you. Please experience that uncomfortable feeling that you need to work hard to reach their level. Please enjoy online dental communities but recognize their limitations and potential pitfalls. Be the dumbest dentist in the room.