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The 11th Commandment

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Those of you who have gotten to know me over the years are aware that I was raised in one of the strictest of Catholic households in the entire state of Kansas. In the Farran family, God and church were part of the deal whether you liked it or not. Even one of my sisters became a nun! That being said, certain Catholic staples like the Ten Commandments were etched into my cranium at a pretty young age.

I always get a kick out of the scene in that movie “History of the World: Part I” where Mel Brooks, as Moses, presents the 15 Commandments, but accidentally drops one of the tablets, saying, “The Lord has given unto you these 15... Oy! Ten! Ten Commandments for all to obey!” I have often wondered, were that scenario gospel, what those shattered five commandments could have been. I know what at least one of them should have been, “Thou Shalt Not Badmouth Your Dentist Colleagues!”

All joking aside, dentists verbally bashing dentists is slowly and silently destroying our sacred and sovereign profession. It’s bad enough we already battle a poor professional image as “drillers, fillers ‘n billers” or “purveyors of palatal pain.” It’s bad enough that our profession, as a whole, has to trudge through scandal after scandal, inevitably propagated by mainstream media every three years or so. There are more than one million practicing lawyers and 50 state boards in the United States; quite a bit of potential scrutiny out there, don’t you think? Is it really necessary to trash the guy across town whose patient is sitting in your chair? Dentistry is hard enough without eating each other alive!

Here’s a story I heard recently. A dentist from Phoenix, Arizona, referred a patient who was moving across the country to a dentist in North Carolina. Months later the AZ dentist gets a surprise call from his old patient asking where he went to dental school and, “Where do you get off doing lousy work on people?!” After calming his former patient down, AZ dentist asks his old patient where he got the notion that he was such a lousy practitioner. Turns out, at the patient’s first visit to the NC practice, the NC dentist spent the entire appointment badmouthing the AZ dentist up and down. More than once, the patient mentioned the word, “sue.” Scary, right?

The AZ dentist couldn’t possibly try to defend himself to his patient, except to say, “I’ve done the best dental work I could do and I will call your new doctor to find out why he said what he said.”

So the AZ dentist picked up the phone and called the NC dentist. He told the NC dentist about the phone call he’d just received from his patient and asked him to tell him exactly what he thought was so “shoddy.” The NC dentist had no answer – he was badmouthing AZ “just because.” The AZ doc then threatened the NC dentist with a lawsuit for slander if he ever heard something negative from his practice ever again. Here’s hoping the NC dentist learned his lesson and never drags a fellow dental colleague through the mud again.

You might think you know how “incompetent” another dentist is, but frankly, you have no idea what another dentist was up to when he or she attempted a dental procedure. Sometimes patients don’t cooperate. Sometimes patients show up 20 minutes late. Sometimes you just can’t get the patient numb no matter what you try. There are countless extenuating circumstances that can affect the final result of dental work. But I can tell you one thing – patients will hate you when you tell them they made a bad decision to get the work done by another dentist while, in the same breath, you’re telling them they need to get more work done by yet another dentist. What’s your patient to trust?

Bashing fellow dentists is insane and unfair! I don’t care how competitive your local market is! All you have to do is admit you weren’t there when the other dentist was working on the patient and you have no idea what actually went on (even if you think you do)!

Ten years ago, Dentaltown.com opened up the lines of communication for everyone in the dental profession. It has become the home of dentists helping dentists. But every once in a while someone new comes along, maybe fresh out of dental school, or maybe a specialist who hasn’t performed a certain procedure in quite a long time, who gets slammed on the message boards for asking a simple question.

I know the anonymity of the Internet provides many of us with a shield that makes it easier to say things to someone you wouldn’t tell them to their faces. But why would you put someone down for asking a question? Why would you behave like this?

Whether you are online in the message boards on Dentaltown.com, or in your operatory examining dental work that was done by one of your peers in the mouth of an upset patient, why trash your colleagues? Why not be the modest hero instead and take the high road?

If the dentist you’re trashing were standing in the room with you, or could hear you, would your response be any different? Surely it would.

Guys, be nice. Everyone makes mistakes. Nobody knows everything. When patients come in with some screwy looking dental work, just tell them you’re going to do your best to fix their problem (and when you do, they’re yours forever). Nothing but harm can come of bashing the reputation of the other guy. Give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt, and when it’s clear they’re in over their heads, offer them an olive branch and help them through. Don’t bite their heads off or write them off as “newbies.” We’re all here to learn, and if we can all put our egos aside, we might be able to teach as well.

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