On November 11, 1960, Robert G. Jones, D.D.S. gave this address at the Earl Henry Memorial Clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee to a group of Dentists interested in prevention.
When will you be a successful dentist? The answer is simple as any school boy can tell you. All you have to do to be successful today is to be a good boy, mind your mama, go to Sunday school, study hard, apply yourself and you immediately become another chapter in the Horatio Alger series. At least that is what teachers, preachers and philosophers have been telling us for ages, but any smart boy today knows that the road to success lies in getting the breaks, knowing someone, having an ‘in’, giving a big sales pitch and promising things that can't possibly be delivered. So this is the course they follow today.
Now if this is true, why do the teachers, preachers and philosophers keep telling us the other? I’ll tell you why, because it is true, and the truth is like a cork. You can submerge it for a while, but it will always pop to the surface. You and I simply don't believe it, and we conform to the smart boys ideas, and that is why 19 out of 20 men fail to achieve their ambitions today. It staggers your imagination and mine with what we could accomplish for others and ourselves, if we would believe it.
It is like viewing the Grand Canyon. We stand in awe at the immensity of it, but we really don't believe it is there. We really don't believe it to the point of putting it to work for us. Our belief is like the man who was viewing the Grand Canyon and tumbles over the edge. Some thirty feet down he grabbed a hold of the limb of a little tree growing out of the cliff. Hanging there with nothing under him but the jagged rocks hundreds of feet below, a voice spoke to him: "Do you believe the Lord saved the children of Israel by parting the Red Sea?" He answered "I sure do!" Again the voice spoke: "Do you believe that the Lord saved Daniel from the lions in that den?" and he replied, "I sure do!" The voice spoke again: "If you really believe, then all you have to do is let go of that limb." and he replied to the voice: "Baloney".
That is the kind of belief we have. When it comes time to really put it to work for us, we are afraid to let go of that limb.
Perhaps we had better examine this elusive thing called success a little more closely. After all, what is success? I think one of the best definitions is that it is "The progressive realization of a goal". Thus, the first requirement of success is to set a goal. Any goal? No, I think we had better look into this a little further.
In a recent edition of the American Dental Association Journal, Dr. Jeserich, the past president, stated that the need in dentistry today was men of vision and men of courage. This statement was aimed at the young graduate dentist and I heartily agree, but I do not believe he went far enough. Let me give you an explanation of what I mean by briefly outlining the goals and success of two young men who you could not deny were men of vision and of courage.
They both set a goal young in life, both entered the banking business, and both acquired fortunes from this pursuit. The first man I would like to talk about is Mr. Giannini. He came to this country at the turn of the century as a penniless immigrant boy from Italy. He started in the banking business at the bottom and built the Bank of America, which is the largest in the United States today. He was a man of vision, and a man of courage, and America needs men like this.
Over in the state of Oklahoma, where I am from, was another young man whose name will go down in history as Pretty Boy Floyd. As a young man, he set as his goal to be the most successful bank robber of all time, and this he did. He was a man of vision, and a man of courage, but America does not need such men.
You see, one of these men made his fortune in the banking business through a service to humanity; the other made his fortune in the banking business through a disservice to humanity.
So, I feel that we must add one more word to our definition of success, and that must be the realization of a worthwhile goal. Now, when we try to determine what is worthwhile and what is not, or what is right and what is wrong, we must enter the realms of philosophy and science. This is where I feel Dr. Jeserich's statement of the needs of the dental profession falls short, because we should be greatly concerned about whether the goal of dentistry as presented is a worthwhile one.
Now what is philosophy? Philosophy is the art and law of life. It teaches us what to do in all cases, and like good marksmen, to hit the white at any distance. In other words, it tells us what to do. Now what is science? Science is the organized knowledge of how things work in nature. In other words, it tells how we should do it. First, let us go into the realm of philosophy, and find out what we should be doing, and then we will go into the realm of science and find out how we should do it. It must be an amalgamation of these two that makes anything interesting and worthwhile. Philosophy, by itself, is impotent and science is dull and dead. Philosophy can be likened to wine which can not be tested in the laboratory for its perfection, whereas science is like water, and can be tested in the laboratory for its perfection. Philosophy, like wine, must be tasted by the individual for its perfection. Science and philosophy can be likened to man and woman - man is more of a hard nose nature and operates by the facts that can be seen, whereas woman is enlightened by emotions and operates by what is felt. It takes an amalgamation of the two to produce anything worthwhile.
I think the philosophy of the lowly oyster has much to offer the dentist of today. He is one of the most frustrated creatures found in the animal kingdom, much as the dentist finds himself in society today. But, the oyster has a unique quality in that he can create a pearl of great value. The reason he does so is what is important. The oyster does not create a pearl of great beauty merely because he wants to. The pearl is created when he attempts to rid himself of that which is frustrating him. If we in dentistry are to come up with a pearl of great value, we must discover the source of our frustration, and by ridding ourselves of it, perhaps we too can come up with a pearl of great value. So let us take a look at ourselves, not as we imagine ourselves, but as the world and our patients see us and our profession.
What is the profile of a typical dentist? These were enumerated a few months ago by one of our colleagues, Dr. Howard Riley Raper.
He is self employed. He does not employ or office with another dentist. He is a full time general practitioner. He has not had any formal post-graduate training. He would like his state society to sponsor refresher courses in such subjects as Prosthetics, Oral Surgery, Periodontics and Pedodontics. He does not participate in any public clinic program, but does participate in the VA program. He does not employ a dental hygienist. He employs one full time dental assistant. He utilizes the services of a dental laboratory. He routinely takes care of children below school age in his practice. He occasionally resorts to the prophylactic measure of topical application of fluoride. He favors adjusting the fluoride content of the community water supply to the optimal amount. He is a well dressed, well groomed man of middle age. He wears glasses. If he is not already bald, he is headed in that direction. Years ago, he smelled of Iodoform, but that is ancient history and he no longer has a distinctive odor. He is usually amiable, but may become a bit pugnacious if anybody questions the desirability of fluoridating the community water supply. He owns a car and a home, or will own them in due time if he keeps on paying for them, and resists the impulse to trade them in on bigger ones. When selecting an assistant from a group of applicants, he is disposed to select the most attractive one, because, says he, "Patients prefer having a pretty woman around". He encourages his patients to cut down on sweets, but when dessert is placed before him, he is less likely to "push it away" with disdain than he is "to shovel it in" with relish. He teaches his patients to brush all the accessible surfaces of their teeth, and when he is attending a dental meeting and brushing his teeth in the presence of some of his dental friends who have dropped into his hotel room, he tries to brush his own teeth according to the rules - and makes a mess of the demonstration. He believes that salt and soda is an adequate dentifrice, but he uses whatever sample he happens to have, or whatever product his wife happens to bring home from the corner drug or grocery store. He is convinced that his fees are too low, and that dental equipment and supplies are priced exorbitantly high. He kinda wishes he had specialized in oral surgery and feels that both he and society have been cheated because he did not. He stills toys with the idea of someday specializing in prosthetics, (with the help of a dental laboratory). He is of the opinion that the public misunderstands and fails to appreciate dentistry, and believes that somebody - somebody other than himself - should do something about it. He is prone to blame his failures on the grounds that the patient would not cooperate.
Now, what is the patient like? Or, more correctly, what should the average patient be like? By the age of two and half years the full baby dentition is in place, a most effective chewing mechanism. By the time he is fourteen, the baby dentition is replaced with a permanent one and at maturity, the age of twenty-one, they should be in perfect function occlusion and pearly white. Paleontologists tell us that the teeth are the most durable structures in the human body, and thousands of years exposure to the elements will not destroy them. This is the picture of the dentition as it should be. This is the normal that we should go by. But you and I know that this is not what we see. The patients that come daily to our offices have teeth that are riddled with dental caries, patched and re-patched; teeth missing and periodontal disease that has weakened the supporting structures. And it is not rare today to see teenage children with full dentures or with mouths so badly crippled that dentures appear to be the inevitable result.
Now let us look at our profession in the eyes of the public and see the problem from the patients standpoint. Dentistry is charged with the dental health of the people and the ways and means of accomplishing it have been left to the discretion of the profession as of this date. The economical manner in which it is done has also been elected. The United States has chosen free enterprise, and Great Britain has chosen socialization to solve the problem.
The trend in dentistry today is to pretend that artificial teeth, or parts thereof, are just as good if not better than natural ones. Almost every popular magazine that carries an article on dentistry exhorts on the beauty and miracle of artificial dentitions. To again quote Dr. Raper, "Does modern dentistry have nothing better than this to offer? If not, how shameful!" One thing is sure, there is no chance of saving the natural teeth if there is no hope of saving them. And there is less hope today of preserving them than at any other time in the past century. That, I contend, is the reverse of progress.
What are the results obtained by this trend? Well, 21,000,000 Americans, thirteen percent of the population, or one out of every eight people, have lost their teeth. Two out of every five Americans have not been to a dentist for three years or more. Socialization, such as Great Britain has, is faring no better in the pursuit of dental health. The British Dental Association reports that dental hygiene in Great Britain is so bad in certain industrial areas it is almost customary for young ladies to receive a set of denture for their twenty-first birthday. This is the problem our profession is faced with from the patients view.
Now what is the problem from the dentists view? Dentistry is the most expensive profession to study today. It is just as lengthy as medicine, and more than law. There is a greater need for it than the others, yet it does not reflect the respect and romance that are associated with the other professions. Although there is considered to be a shortage of dentists today, many dentists that you and I know have closed their doors due to economic reasons.
What is the trend in dentistry today to solve this problem for the dentists and the patient? At the American Dental Association meeting in Miami, Florida in November, 1959, resolutions that related to "increasing the availability of dental care to the public" were adopted. The panelists pointed to the increased interest on research directed at measures for the prevention and control of dental disease. Could this approach have been motivated by the fact that a former president of the United States, when questioned on television a few months earlier, expressed regret that he had not been able to subsidize medicine and dentistry? Because if these resolutions were made in good faith, then the thoughts should be reflected in the scientific sessions of the American Dental Association in Dallas Texas, November 1958. But let's look at these sessions, what they were devoted to, and try to find out if our heart is really whereof we speak. A casual count of the sessions revealed the following:
Careful examination of how our time was spent should show where our interests truly lies. The results of this trend, as taken from the records of the Internal Revenue Service, shows that the dentists are paid much less for their service than physicians and lawyers. Respect and esteem, apparently, fall in the same order.
Now these are the facts and we should reevaluate our relations with ourselves, as dentists and as a profession; and we must ask ourselves some soul-searching questions. First, are we as men a step above animals, born with a deep desire to realize a sense of accomplishment in our lives? Second, are we as dentists spending the time in our offices giving the best and most in service, in the most economical manner possible, thus assuming the moral responsibilities that lifts a profession above a trade in the market place? Third, is our profession really working toward the supreme goal that it should, "to eliminate the need for its own existence"? If we are not doing these things, then our health and well-being is bound to be affected and the result is a frustrated life, both personally and professionally. Dr Boris Pasternak, in an eloquent passage from Dr. Zhivago, put it this way: "Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike, and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune." Our nervous system isn't just fiction, it is part of our physical body and our soul exists in space and is inside of us, like the teeth in our mouth. It can't be forever violated with impunity.
When will you be a successful dentist? The moment you believe that you are a man or woman made in the image of the creator, and set here on earth for a purpose, with something inside you that demands a sense of accomplishment in your life. Your conscience will frustrate you at every turn until you do.
When will you become a successful dentist? The moment you believe you were called to be a dentist, to be privileged to spend a life of love and service to the disease-ridden suffering humanity that daily comes to you for help and guidance. Your conscience will frustrate you at every turn until you do.
When will you be a successful dentist? The moment we as a profession believe that we should spend our time in our great dental meetings searching to bring about the realization of our supreme goal - to eliminate the necessity of our existence. When we spend our time doing other things, our collective conscience will frustrate us at every turn.
When you really believe these things to the extent of actually putting them into practice, like the oyster, you will have buried the source of your frustrations under layer after layer of accomplishment, and you will have created a pearl of great value. This pearl is spelled h-a-p-p-i-n-e-s-s and how large it grows for you will be limited only by your own imagination and your faith and determination to achieve the heights.
Now are these things new and are they really true? Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman Emperor, put it this way; "A mans life is what his thoughts make it". Can you fail in the pursuit of a worthwhile goal? Disraeli said; "I have brought myself by long meditation to the conviction that a mind with a settled purpose must accomplish it, and that nothing can resist a will that will forsake its very existence on its fulfillment." When will you be a successful dentist? When you actually believe this philosophy to the extent that you can LET GO OF THAT LIMB.
Dr. Jones had a marvelous mind, and a fabulous wit. Here is his technique of obtaining patient compliance with his instructions on personal oral hygiene. CLiCK