Saturday, October 22, 2016

What do dentists do on their day off?

When I call my dentist's office I get a message that tells me that the office is closed on Fridays. I never stopped to wonder what he does on his day off. Now I know.

Last Friday I was his patient as he participated in a meeting of the RV Tucker Study Club. What, you may ask, is a study club? Well, I asked for you (I sometimes think I get invited to do things like this because I do ask questions). Study clubs are a continuing education model used by dentists. A small group gets together on a regular basis to explore a specific area of interest and expertise. Each group works with a mentor. There appears to be an important historical aspect to the model. For example, I was told several times that the local group's mentor had in turn been mentored by RV Tucker, the founder of study club #1. 

I loved the experience of participating. Eight dentists got together for a day - in this case to work on cases involving conservative cast gold. At each step of the process my dentist took photos and invited the mentor to look at this work and give him a critique. Then we did another step and the mentor returned. The mentor, Dr. Randall Allan, was fantastic. He was incredibly calm, especially given that he was bouncing from chair to chair all day long, and he has mastered the art of not seeming to be rushed or impatient. His demeanor with me was very gentle but what was more important were his interactions with the members of the study club. I could overhear what was happening in two other rooms and, of course, got to see him in person many times.

Dr. Allan was thoughtful, clear, and always reinforcing but complimentary only when it was deserved. I was particularly impressed that he never left the room until it was clear to him that the dentist understood and could visualize what he was describing. It was obvious that the members of the study club love him and really want to show him their best work but aren't afraid to fail because he would handle that with kindness and show them a new path.

If you ever wondered how much technical expertise goes into a specific dental process - in this case preparing a tooth for a gold casting - wonder no more. My head was spinning with talk of buccal and lingual and gingival walls and angles and bevels and dimples. In effect, the dentist was creating a mini-sculpture in my mouth, all the while thinking about the practicality of what shape would keep the gold in place and how my mouth would react to it. It was astonishing. 

Lots of angles and bevels
photo by Ian MacAskill

It was good for me to observe that my dentist was well-respected by his peers, and might even be a bit of a superstar. That gives me confidence. But I also observed how much he learned in the course of the day. When I left I told Dr. Allan that I wished he would come back to participate in the work that needs to be done on another tooth. It would be good to have his eyes and expertise on the problem.

When you are stuck with a rubber dam in your mouth for three hours you think about lots of things. While I was in the chair I had this weird flashback to another part of my life. The model in use yesterday, two dentists visited occasionally by a mentor, reminded me of the times when I travelled to give instruction to other dog trainers. I divided them into pairs for group work and circulated as they worked. I hope that I struck the same note that Dr. Allan did - with observations about what had gone well and suggestions for what to do next, adding hands on guidance when required. I hope that those people went forward with the same increased confidence and energy that I saw from the members of the  dental study club.

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