I am acutely aware that no one had the unique opportunity that I had. I had the most amazing mentor and I learned everything from him. You might be thinking, “Far out—you had a cake walk…life gave you an easy path.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. My mentor had a difficult personality—he was temperamental. He was always yelling and rarely gave compliments. He was particularly hard on me. No matter what I did, it was never good enough. I wanted to run away.
After a year or so I really began to understand him and from that point on we had a great relationship. When dealing with some people you have to look below the surface to see what is really underneath. My father was essentially a pussy cat wearing a lion suit. I learned how to handle him, and I learned to pick my battles.
My father did not want to work with a wimpy push-over, or someone who just “went along with the flow.” He was constantly testing me to see what I was made of. But as hard as he was on me, he was even harder on himself. My father was a person who lived by ideals and never compromised them, who did not lie, and who always strove to do his best. He never accepted dental dogma as gospel unless it was backed with solid evidence.
I worked alongside my mentor for 23 years and I marveled at the amount of evidence he amassed for his crown and bridge techniques. He documented thousands of cases over a 50-year period with X-Rays and slides. Amazing! What really impressed me, however, was his dogged determination to do his best. He threw out impressions that 99% of dentists would have accepted hands down, and he remade cases that weren’t up to his standards without batting an eyelash. Money was never an issue when it came to doing the right thing. I can still hear his words every day. “You have to be your own worst critic”, he used to say. “Nobody is going to be looking over your shoulder.”
From my father I learned that telling yourself “That’s the best I can do” is unacceptable. You are in essence drawing a line between excellence and mediocrity. Whenever you accept a result that you know in your heart is not your best, your case is jeopardized. Never forget that bacteria are microns. Chances are high that you will not get away with it. It is bad enough that success can be compromised by unknown factors. When you know the answer, you must follow through.”
I am not advocating for perfectionism, although it is true that striving for perfectionism is what creates excellence. I am advocating for honesty—especially honesty with ourselves.
When we lie to ourselves, we are short-changing our patients and we have, unknowingly, lied to them. When we condone wrongdoing with rationale, we have let them down. Patients have placed blind trust in us, and honesty is what they expect. Honesty is the backbone of our reputation—and reputation is everything. Colleagues who have lost theirs will tell you that once lost it is nearly impossible to get it back.
Time and economic constraints pressurize us to accept that imperfect impression. Copper Band impressions can be tricky and there is a definite learning curve for mastering them. It is only natural that the more one looks at an inadequate impression, the more it ‘starts to look good.’ Honesty demands being on guard against falling into this trap. There is no rule that the impression MUST be completed on that visit because the day sheet says so and some practice management consultant says this is necessary for “production.” As the patient’s dentist, you are only responsible for the outcome, not the number of visits.
In fact, whenever too much difficulty is encountered in taking an impression it is best to close up and give the patient a new appointment. I tell the patient that I have to make a special band and I take my impression and use it to fabricate a die and fit a new band on it for the next appointment.
I never get excited when this scenario occurs. Doing the New York Times crossword puzzles every day, I know intimately how the human mind works. Sometimes I look at the puzzle and I do not know anything. Rather than saying “I can’t do this,” I put the puzzle aside and return to it later. Now I’m looking at the puzzle with a fresh pair of eyes. I see something I missed earlier. Bingo, I fill in the entire puzzle.
Taking a copper band impression is no different! Perhaps you are tired, or something is bothering you in the back of your mind. You are not able to identify the reason why you are not getting a good impression. There is ALWAYS a reason. You are just not seeing it.
I cannot tell you how many times I set aside a great deal of time to retake the impression; prepared for the worst. But the worst-case scenario never materializes. Because I am looking at the case with a fresh pair of eyes, I identify the problem immediately and register a perfect impression in minutes.
Never get down on yourself if something does not turn out the way you want it to. Remember how the human mind works. You are a scientist. You will identify the problem easily on the next visit and correct it. The patient does not need to know that the appointment did not go well. In fact, the confidence with which you handle the visit should convey to the patient that everything went perfectly (even though we know it didn’t).
I learned this lesson the hard way because I had a tough and demanding mentor. There were many unpleasant experiences on the way to learning it, but I am so grateful that I had them. Only if you resolve to be tough and demanding on yourself will you ever reach the heights of excellence. And with this uncompromising attitude toward your work, there are truly no limits to what you can achieve.