What Got Me Here, Won’t Get Me There
As we are all aware, digital technology is changing the way that we practice and perform the art of dentistry. It is a very exciting time for digital dentistry-what we are already doing, what is currently in development, and what we expect in terms of advances in the coming years are truly amazing. Currently, many dentists are experiencing intense pressure to adapt to the changes that digital dentistry requires, especially considering that the utilization of new technologies also creates a sense of being more competitive in an already challenging landscape. The development of technology will always occur at a faster pace than the adaptation of clinicians, but we can't focus exclusively on implementing new technology. We need to stay rooted in the science and the application of proven principles that enhance outcomes, thus improving the long-term stability of the dentistry we provide. Without making a commitment to mastering the many aspects of clinical dentistry and seeking out an ongoing education directed towards the implementation of new technologies, it is easy to become a puppet to advances in technology, allowing them to overly influence your treatment decisions and dictate what you do. Losing the autonomy in your decision-making will change the way that you practice dentistry.
I feel fortunate to have a strong group of mentors and a father who is a dentist. This has allowed me to build a large knowledge base early in my career. Learning foundational principles and cultivating a keen understanding of dental systems with a high clinical aptitude is imperative in practice. Increasing your clinical aptitude increases your success in practice, and I believe, directly correlates with the joy you will experience in this profession. Advanced training and ongoing continuing education are critical tools for professional growth. Pursuing this growth allows you to better leverage your early years of clinical practice by properly implementing what you are learning as soon as possible. Staying on the path of learning new skills and refining existing ones enables a clinician to develop much more rapidly in clinical practice. Without this process, it would take a clinician many more years of making many more mistakes to truly gain mastery.
Today, there are so many options for continued learning. Information has become much more accessible than it was in the past. For example, you can watch videos of procedures being performed online. But when you watch a video, who helps you to understand what is important or what to emphasize? Who discusses in detail all of the necessary decisions and highlights the fine intricacies of the procedure while it is being performed? The answer is nobody. You are alone. This brings me to my next tenet for success: mentorship. Mentors are people who possess the experience and the professional acumen to guide you through the maze of information. True mentorship helps to refine your skills; instills rational, risk-based decision-making; and most importantly, helps to distill the volumes of information that we are inundated with and reveal a clear path for clinical implementation. Information is just information without implementation. Investing in a piece of technology is not an investment in your brain. This is a mistake that many young clinicians make early in their career. Your hands can't do what your eyes can't see. My father used to say that "you can buy Andre Agassi's tennis racquet, but it won't make you play like him." Similarly, using a new intraoral scanner or other technology in your office won't automatically make you a better dentist. Deciding whether to prepare a veneer or a crown or if your centric relation record is correct still requires your brain.
Wherever they are in their careers, it is important for dentists to have the realization that "what got me here, won't get me there." Eventually, we are all going to become digital dentists, but these new technologies are simply tools. You will still need to be positioned professionally in order to execute complete digital workflows with confidence and precision. With a continuous commitment to learning and expert mentorship, you will succeed in this incredible profession, even as we move in new directions with our technologies and techniques. We have access to incredibly innovative technology, but these machines don't think by themselves (Yet!). They are still guided by humans. My recommendation to all dentists is to keep studying and learning, seek out mentorship, and stay on a path of constant self-improvement, because the most advanced piece of technology on the market today and tomorrow will always be your brain.
About the Author
Dean E. Kois, DMD, MSD, maintains a private practice in Seattle, Washington, and is an instructor at the Kois Center.