What the dental chair taught me about life

Because our professional careers represent much more than the tactical work we do every day.

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Our professional lives — if we aren’t careful, present and aware — can easily feel formulaic, like a pattern of repetitive acts we mindlessly perform day after day. But being present in those acts and allowing ourselves the time to think rather than do, can provide a new and necessary perspective on life.

My pattern has been the same for the last 10 years. I’ve walked into my dental office, put on my jacket and slid my chair alongside patients to care for and consult on their dental health. After treating tens of thousands of patients, that routine has taught me so much more than dental best practices.

What I know now, after interacting and serving people for the last 10 years, is that there are common threads that link all human beings, and those life lessons and connection points—for me—go far beyond flossing and fillings.

Lesson 1: There are fears that lie within us all

It’s no surprise that fear of the dentist is common among so many. But for years I struggled to understand the why behind the fear, and why that fear is shared by so many.

Fear itself is an all-consuming, often times debilitating emotion, and its scars can run deep. But even deep rooted fears can be broken with hard work, trust and transparency. To overcome what feels impossible, we must speak life into that which we fear the most.

Our fears cannot be resolved by building walls to hide behind. 

Our fears cannot be overcome without exposing our vulnerabilities. 

Our fears cannot be permanently healed without trusted support in our corner.

Lesson 2: A smile can change a life

We’ve all experienced those moments where a perfect stranger has looked into our eyes and smiled for no other reason than to just smile. And whether our day has been soured or our happiness has been muted, a smile itself is contagious, and it triggers an emotional response in us all.

But what about those who hide their smiles? What about those who have true joy but lack confidence in sharing their smiles with the world?

I’ve watched how transforming the smile of an individual can change the trajectory of their life. I’ve seen people go from hiding behind beards that distract from an embarrassing gummy grin, to a clean shaven face that beams a non-stop, contagious smile.

That kind of transformation is the most important part of dentistry—it’s life-changing work. And it changes more than the life of one person, it’s causes a ripple effect. 

Lessons 3: Self-care isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity

Society today has subconsciously trained our brains to believe that self-care is a luxury and a nice-to-have. 

We’ve allowed ourselves to believe the lie that personal care should be placed on the back-burner of our busy, overbooked lives.

Most days we are stretched too thin to care for ourselves and our health in the way that we should. These days, our time is consumed by caring for others, for our bank accounts and for mindless indulgences and distractions caused by our constantly connected world. It’s the busyness of life that allow us to postpone our workouts, our doctor’s appointments and time for ourselves.

Self-care should be a non-negotiable, but the question then becomes how. How exactly do we re-calibrate our priorities?

We first have to start thinking differently about what we value most. The easiest way to identify what is most valuable in our lives is to look at our money and see where it’s going—daily coffee runs, designer handbags, Amazon charges, and more. Then decide if those “things” are providing real value or just temporary value.

Oftentimes, we think those “things” are giving us value or improving our lives for the better. But the most valuable purchases we can make are the the things that allow us to care for ourselves long-term, rather than for a season or until the next best is released.

Life lessons from a dentist’s point of view; it proof that each of us have perspectives and lessons we’ve learned that are far greater than the tactical work we do everyday.

Give yourself a timeout, a moment to pause and just think.

Tap into what you’ve learned over the years and what others can learn from your journey.

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