Can't we all just get along?

By Helaine Smith, DMD, MBA

May 8, 2009 -- Editor's note: Helaine Smith's column, The Mouth Physician, appears regularly on the advice and opinion page, Second Opinion.

Owning a dental office requires knowledge of operating a small business and simultaneously being healthcare providers. We are required to do many duties that in a larger business setting would be handled by the human resource department, IT department, marketing department, and financial officers. We spend our days seeing patients and managing our business. Often, staff issues are a big drain on our energy and can distract us from our vision.

Being a good leader requires diligence and constant attention. It is important to have a network to connect with to recharge our energy and refocus our priorities. Being a sole practitioner can be lonely and draining, on top of the enormous stress our job can bring.

I am fortunate to have an office manager with corporate experience and a master's degree in tax accounting. Most of her career was spent working for one of the Big Eight accounting firms, followed by a stint as a chief financial officer for an advertising firm. Managing my dental offices for the past two years has exposed her to the dental world, and she has shared many insightful observations about dentistry with me in that time.

Her overall view of our profession is positive, and she was surprised at how demanding it is to work with the public. But one aspect of our profession she has noticed is that we can be very nasty to one another and unsupportive of our colleagues.

This particular observation has been a concern of mine for years as well. We as dentists are often not a unified group. We spend more time tearing each other down, which hurts us as a whole. We are rude to those colleagues who do not share our views.

I believe this attitude is going to hurt us professionally. The U.S. is changing at unprecedented speed, and we are not as immune to government mandates as we might think we are. We do not have the combined power to advocate for issues that are in our best interest because we cannot agree on what is in our best interest. Whenever money is involved, politics become ugly, which hurts all of us.

All dentists think we are experts in what we do: We do our crown preps better than anyone, use the best dental materials that never fail, and state opinions about procedures as if they came from the mouth of God. Some of us are territorial, hoarding and stealing patients. In reality, there is enough business for all of us, and there is always room at the top if we are willing to put in the effort. But it has become "every dentist for themselves," and often dentists say worse things about their colleagues than an unhappy patient.

We do not need to put down our fellow dentists in hopes of gaining more clients. The public is more informed than ever due to the Internet, and patients will seek out who is the best partner to be their healthcare provider.

Approximately 160,000 dentists are in the U.S. This is a relatively small number, and it is imperative that we become as cohesive as possible. It is time we start treating one another with respect and act like true professional mouth physicians.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

Copyright © 2009

Member Sign In:
MemberID or email address:  
Do you have a password?
No, I want a free membership.
Yes, I have a password:  
Forgot your password?
Sign in using your social networking account:
Sign in using your social networking