A Service, My Passion
The first dental procedure I performed was local anesthetic under the supervision of a dentist near Loma Linda University and the second dental procedure I performed was the extraction of #15. This was while on a mission trip to a small island string known as Kiribati which is located to the northeast of Fiji. Before the mission trip was completed I had completed countless injections and had extracted 70 teeth over the course of a week and a half. My passion was born.
At the time I was a sophomore at Loma Linda University School of Dentistry. They trained me to perform injections and extractions almost a year later. I thought it was very entertaining the differences that I saw between the classroom and clinic instruction and the real life experience I had gained earlier. This of course just fueled my intrigue and desire to know more about surgery. I decided I was going to apply to the oral surgery postgraduate course when the time came.
Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a specialist
A few things happened before I had progressed far enough through the course work to apply to the specialty. The most notable was that I found it was disturbing how the oral surgery instructors, at least most of them, treated the undergrad students. They made it very clear that they were superior in their knowledge and ability. This attitude didn’t sit well with me and I decided I didn’t want any part of it. I was not the type of person to hold my accomplishments over the heads of others. My excitement for exodontia remained, but I decided not to pursue a postdoctorate education in oral surgery.
In hind sight, I believe I could have made a difference in the attitude portrayed by the specialists of specifically oral surgery. However, when I graduated from dental school I was about to become a father and was ready to move back to my home state. My oldest daughter was born a week after my graduation and a week before my wife’s graduation with her doctorate in physical therapy. Life needed to move on.
My personality revolves around learning new things and mastering them, but it also likes new things. I get bored easily and found general dentistry to be varied enough to hold my interest. The first year of private practice was amazing. I associated with a dentist in a very busy practice. I had confidence in most tasks he gave me. Where I lacked confidence, I faked it. Interestingly enough, I had to ask his assistance on extractions on occasion. For some reason, even though I had enjoyed and excelled at extractions up until this point, I found I was unable to complete several extractions over the extent of that first year.
I can still remember watching the other dentist extract a difficult tooth by just chipping and breaking it all the way down the socket as fast as he could. Afterward he told me “his guns were just bigger than mine”. This was an inaccurate insult and here’s why.
If you’re going to insult me, at least know your stuff
I have never approached exodontia with the intent of muscling out a tooth. The physics are completely wrong for this methodology. If you think of the tooth as an icicle and the bone as cement, which I’m sure you’ve all had that feeling when you’re chained to an extraction that isn’t cooperating, you will be more successful in your extractions. If you try to apply as much force as possible, something will break and it won’t break the way you want it to.
There are times to intentionally break teeth, but your technique is different and very deliberate. This is an important concept to grasp. I have known, and instructed many dentists who are small in stature who lack confidence with exodontia because they feel they simply aren’t strong enough. With proper technique and a shift in their focus, these dentists often become outstanding at removing teeth of all types.
Out on my own
Now, I learned a lot from the dentist I had worked for. Some I learned to incorporate into my techniques and some I learned I would avoid. My confidence in extractions wavered slightly during that time and the next year I found myself running a different practice completely by myself. There was no safety net, and no room for self doubt. I had to make a choice to either give in to doubt or knuckle down and do it.
I chose to make it happen, to overpower my self doubt, my lack of confidence. Schooling and life had taught me the skills I needed to provide the best for my patients. I just needed to gain experience to help build my confidence. I chose carefully the types of extractions I would do and stayed within my comfort zone and gradually I was able to expand my comfort zone to include more and more difficult cases.
Helping others learn
Along the way I discovered I enjoyed helping other people learn new skills and build confidence. I have always found myself in the role of teaching or instructing others. While I was completing my undergraduate prerequisite studies to apply for dental school I worked as a dental lab technician. I had received my training from Portland Community College and enjoyed the intricate detail that occupation fostered. In both the lab tech courses and the subsequent job I held after graduation I helped others learn the skills needed to be better at what they did. The owner of the lab I worked for had me train people in several areas of the lab. I enjoyed it. As my wife says, I enjoy and seek out an audience.
I digress to brag a little
While I was in dental school I was able to test out of most of the lab sections of the classes. I remember one instance where the lab instructor for tooth morphology wasn’t going to let me out of taking his lab without more proof that I was skilled enough not to need the course. Most of the other labs were easier to get out of. But this particular instructor had me wax up a tooth and duplicate a stone model while using a micrometer.
When I brought the waxup for him to grade he took extra time to examine every angle with his micrometer. After much analysis he finally handed it back to me and said he’d never seen one as precise as mine. He couldn’t find any discrepancies even down to a 10th of a millimeter. I included this story just to brag a little because it has very little to do with extractions and doesn’t relate to much anymore but at the time it was very flattering.
My teaching heritage helps me connect
I enjoyed helping classmates find their abilities during lab time. The desire and ability to teach runs in my family. I feel that either growing up with teachers close to me or maybe even a genetic influence has drawn me into that role for a lot of my life.
The fact that I can now help other dentists hone their skills and gain confidence in their abilities is very exciting. It gives me something to focus on. It provides extra motivation to me to be at the top of my abilities so I can help others become the best that they can be. I still practice general dentistry and have a thriving practice. However, my desire to teach others has grown. I have been a mentor with another extraction course and thoroughly enjoyed it, but now I feel I can do even more for others by providing one on one instruction.