Becoming A Dentist

Patients ask me all the time why I decided to spend my whole life with my fingers tucked down in such a yucky body part. I simply tell them that it beats any other orifice in the body, hands down!!!

A little history on my dental needs might shed some light on some of my dental phobias, and how they ultimately became my inspiration. When I was ten years old, I unwittingly traversed the same dimension as a barbed wire barrier while hurtling along at an increased rate of speed on a winter recreational-vehicle–translation; I went through a fence on a snow-machine. Having not taken the time to don a proper helmet or even snow clothes, the potential for injury in this situation rose exponentially and catapulted me into the intensive care unit of the hospital for four days. The doctors initially told my parents that there were only three possible outcomes of the surgery I underwent to repair the portion of my skull that had been crushed in: partial to complete blindness, severe brain damage, or death. I made it out of the surgery with 20/20 vision, and as far as I can tell, I am still alive, so the only remaining option…Anyway, I ended up losing 4 permanent front teeth and have a couple of nasty scars on my face and head, but other than the occasional conversation I have with myself, I’m fine. It did get me out of school for a month, so it wasn’t all bad. During the ensuing 11 years, I wore a variety of dental appliances (partial dentures) while we waited for my growing to stop so that implants could be placed. I had many difficult experiences with them (ask me sometime about how I vomited my teeth into a public toilet or perhaps how I lost my teeth in the lake) and after an accelerated phase of braces to prepare the area for implants, I wasn’t terribly thrilled about spending any more time in a dental office than I absolutely had to.

Actually, there was a very significant period of time where I didn’t want anything to do with dentistry. I came to feel like the dental office was an evil place where unscrupulous people went to pay money to be tortured (please reference previous blog post). I was convinced that I needed to be an orthopedic surgeon and was pursuing a course that would lead me to that end during my high school and early college careers. Even when I met my wife and we discussed my future plans, dentistry just didn’t rank very high on my desired career path. However, I began working for my dad as an assistant to help pay for a few things like food, clothes, and school and began to see a side of dentistry I had chosen not to see before. Whereas the office before had been the place where mean and nasty things had taken place, now I began to see the desire to help people and ease their pain that had been there all along.  Some of those experiences like wearing a partial denture weren’t designed to keep me beholden to an abusive father; it was a path that led to me having teeth today that are perfectly healthy and very functional. I love the work my dad did for me, and especially knowing he chose very carefully so that I could have a semi-normal life (considering his subject, it was a difficult chore indeed). He could have very easily taken shortcuts or slapped something easy into my mouth to be rid of the problem of my missing teeth, but instead, he planned very carefully from a young age the steps we would need to take to ensure that I could eat more than mashed potatoes and soup as an adult. He treatment planned for my whole life, and not just for the next few years. That attention to the future health of mine and other patient’s mouths made me realize just how awesome a man and dentist he really was!

Suddenly, I became aware that I liked what I saw him doing and the artistry/attention to detail that it took to be a really good clinical dentist. I loved how varied and interesting each procedure was, as well as how much fun he had working with amazing people. When I made the final decision to make the switch, it was one of those “Aha moments”. I realized that not only would I be doing something that I had grown to love and be able to treat those for whom I had an incredible amount of empathy due to my own experiences, I realized that I would be able to spend more time with my wife and children than with many other career choices. That decision led me to some of the best experiences that a person could have. I love this career path and the people that are walking this road with us!