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This One Trait will Make You a Better Dentist

May 22, 2024


What's more important, being curious or being knowledgeable? What's more important to you? Would you rather be curious, or would you rather be knowledgeable?

Being knowledgeable is important because it gives us information, but nowadays, I don't need to be that knowledgeable. As long as I have Google or other people around me or a network, almost all of the world's information can be found on a computer. You can't find curiosity on a computer, though.

Curiosity exists in the beholder. Albert Einstein said that curiosity was more important than knowledge. What did he mean by that? Albert Einstein was a very bright guy, unbeknownst to a lot of people, who was actually a brilliant mathematician. Although they said he was a bad student, he wasn't a bad student. He was just so curious. He wasn't curious about what the teachers were teaching him.

He was more curious about finding out the solutions to problems that were in his head. He did what's called a lot of thought experiments. And in those experiments, he created all sorts of scenarios that he wanted to find solutions to. If he wasn't curious about the future that nobody else imagined, we wouldn't have had the answers to the theory of relativity and everything else that he went through.

So, curiosity fueled him. People who are curious tend to be people who come up with solutions to problems that maybe you and I have never even thought about. Steve Jobs was a very bright guy, but he was more curious than anything else. He turned everything on its head. If you look at some of the most brilliant people that we see in today's society, people like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates, these people all went to great schools. Two of them went to Harvard and dropped out, including Bonnie Raitt, the famous singer. These people went to great schools, but they dropped out because they didn't just want knowledge. They wanted to create more. And if you look at the Beatles, all of their creativity was fostered not in colleges, but by hanging around together in Hamburg, Germany, trying to come up with new songs.

By the time they were like 21 years old, they had already done 10 to 20,000 hours of creativity, which made them probably the best band of all time. Now, that may be debatable, but I think the Beatles were one of the best bands of all time. Their music is still around today, close to 50 years later since they came over here in the 60s.

So, what is that? Over 50 years later, the Beatles' music is still popular today, and you'll see it not only in rock and roll but in classical songs and all sorts of pop variations. So, curiosity is extremely important. Now, why do I talk about this as a dentist? Because if I'm not curious, I'm just going to do what everybody else did.

Now, I know a lot of students who only do what their professors taught them to do. The way my brain is wired is like, I'll listen to my professors, but I'm thinking I could do better in a different way. For example, when I was a resident, I graduated from my residency program in 1983. That was during the heyday of osseous surgery where periodontists were reflecting gum tissue, removing bone, and then repositioning the tissue.

They were doing partial elimination surgery, which only worked if you got your teeth cleaned every three months, and not everybody got their teeth cleaned every three months. So, a lot of these patients had disfiguring treatment that didn't work. They lost more bone because they didn't take care of their teeth. I didn't like that. As a matter of fact, I didn't think that was the right treatment to do.

Today, it's still done a lot. Why is this surgery still done today? Because people have been doing it for 50 to 60 years. It's a habit. That's the knowledge base of periodontists today, in my opinion. I think we over-treat by doing that. Today, we have other types of treatments. We have non-surgical therapy, laser-assisted therapy, palatal approaches, and minimally invasive surgical procedures that focus on one area. That change only came about through certain people's creativity. So, I always like to think about what is possible. If I'm going to think about what's possible, that means I sometimes have to work a little bit harder.

I'm not going to accept what everybody else has told me. How does that make a difference in the way I practice with patients? Maybe I'll come up with a solution that's better for the patients. Here's where it really makes a difference: when I'm talking to the human being I'm treating. When I sit down with a patient, I ask, "How are you doing? What's up with your day?" I'm very curious about what's going on. When I'm curious, something very special happens. A bond develops between myself and the patient, and during that bond, we exchange information. They will actually listen to me, and I will listen to them. They're not going to understand everything I have to say, but at least there's an opportunity to exchange information.

When I come to a patient from a knowledge-based place like "this is the information, this is what you can do," I hear patients tell me all the time, "I'm going to have this knee replaced. I'm going to have this done. I have to trust my doctor. I didn't really like him, but he seems really smart. He seems knowledgeable." And I'm going to go through this procedure with that doctor. But with a different doctor, we might try something conservative first. I'm going to try some physical therapy or some PRP or some stem cell therapy and avoid surgery if possible. And if that doesn't work, he'll give me a few options.

That's a completely different conversation that requires the doctor to take some time to be curious about where that patient is coming from. By being curious, I believe you become a better doctor, a better person, and you get the gift of someone opening up to you and giving you a lot of information. I am who I am today because of my patients, because of all the information I get from my patients and give to my patients.

It's a give-and-take. I'm not better than they are; they're not better than I am. We're equal human beings. We're all humanly connected in this large spiritual world. I tend to have a little bit more knowledge than they do because I had the opportunity to go to school for 13 years studying just one craft. They don't know much about this, but I'm still a human being just like they are.

The only thing I have is a little bit more knowledge about dentistry, which most of my patients don't have. When it comes to everything else, we're pretty much on equal footing. Thank you for listening today about my rant on creativity. Next time, with your patient, slow down. Take a moment. Breathe, like I didn't do during the last few minutes, take a big breath, and just be present for the patient and allow that creativity to manifest itself.

You'll be amazed at what happens. You'll become a better doctor, a much more likable practitioner, you'll decrease their fear, and you'll be able to serve your patients well. You'll be able to be a gift to your patients. Have a great day, everybody.

Treating People Not Patients
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Sample a lesson from our popular course Treating People Not Patients where we provide practical Insights on Hospitality and Human Connection to Provide High Quality Care Experiences for People and Practitioners

Treating People Not Patients
Free Preview

Sample a lesson from our popular course Treating People Not Patients where we provide practical Insights on Hospitality and Human Connection to Provide High Quality Care Experiences for People and Practitioners