Want to Lead Your Patients & Team?  

January 16, 2023 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Here’s how to become an instant leader.

A while back, I sat in on a Facebook Live interview with a dentist who was discussing practice management for young dentists. Like so many times, the interviewer asked the guests, “What’s the one piece of advice you would give to a dentist who is just starting out in his or her career?” And like so many “experts” the dentist replied, “Learn leadership.”

It was like asking for advice on how to live a long life and responding, “Keep breathing.”

Yes, leadership is the right answer, but have you ever looked at the number of books available on leadership? Today I looked on Amazon and found 60,000 leadership books.

Young dentists need better answers.

Young dentists need more practical answers—answers that allow them to apply what they know. Leadership comes in many styles and sizes. Leadership is a universal concept. Did the dentist mean the Leadership Lessons of Abe Lincoln…or the Navy Seals? There is a big difference.

A better question might have been: Where should I start regardless of style, personality or even mission?

What is the one thing that all leaders have in common?

The answer is followers. No one can be a leader without followers, and in a dental practice, followers are patients and staff. Not one of them will take one step forward if they don’t believe that you are the doctor that will take them where they want to go.

What is it that the followers in a dental practice want to know?

They have two silent questions in their mind. You must answer the two silent questions for them to trust you. And they must trust you to follow you.

The first question is: “Do you care about me?” So that is your starting point. Don’t take for granted that you are being perceived as someone who puts their patients and staff ahead of themselves. It takes lots of time to develop the mindset and habit set that leads to this perception. As a young dentist you need to start there and work on this.

The second question is: “Can you do the job?” or “Are you competent enough to do the job?” As a young dentist, understand that you are still in your apprenticeship stage of your career. That means there is plenty more to learn. In my career I remember taking many technical courses that were disconnected and I had to make sense of them. It was more like a self-directed apprenticeship.

Who can help you become a leader?

Mastering leadership, trust and technical dentistry is a combination you will find at The Pankey Institute. I tried numerous CE programs and read thousands, of books. But it was the inspiration and mentoring I received in the Pankey community, and the discipline of journaling (reflection) that I adopted mid-career that kept me on task towards mastery.

Today I would advise the young dentist to find a mentor or mentoring community, and when you find them, ask, “Do you care about me and can you do the job?”

That would be my advice to any young dentist looking to learn about leadership, trust and even mastery.

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About Author

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Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dr. Polansky has delivered comprehensive cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, and implant dentistry for more than 35 years. He was born in the Bronx, New York in January 1948. The doctor graduated from Queens College in 1969 and received his DMD degree in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Following graduation, Dr. Polansky spent two years in the US Army Dental Corps, stationed at Fort. Dix, New Jersey. In 1975, Dr. Polansky entered private practice in Medford Lakes. Three years later, he built his second practice in the town in which he now lives, Cherry Hill. Dr. Polansky wrote his first article for Dental Economics in 1995 – it was the cover article. Since that time Dr. Polansky has earned a reputation as one of dentistry's best authors and dental philosophers. He has written for many industry publications, including Dental Economics, Dentistry Today, Dental Practice and Finance, and Independent Dentistry (a UK publication).

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The Examination Is Sacred Time

March 14, 2022 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Here I share abridged excerpts from my newest book The Porch: A Dental Fable to illustrate why the new patient exam is sacred time that sets the stage for trust.

In this story, Tom Parker, DDS has been invited to shadow a second-generation dentist by the name of Paul Wilson, who has been in practice many years in a small town in upstate New York. Paul is a close friend of Tom’s mentor Henry, and both Paul and Henry have been immersed in opening the eyes of dentists to the possibility of practicing in an intentionally virtuous way that is enriching for both patients and dentists.

Upon arrival at Paul’s dental office, Tom notes that Paul displays photos of his family and dogs, pictures related to his love of skiing and golf, and pictures that indicate he is as a person of prominence in his community. Tom feels like he is back in time to another era.

Paul tells Tom the first patient is a new one so Tom will see what a blank slate looks like for the doctor and patient. When Paul is finished, he escorts Tom into his private office and asks him what he thinks so far.

“To be honest, Paul, you did it just the way Henry taught me.”

“Okay, but what didn’t you see. You know, what was invisible to you?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean the intangibles. The things we can’t see or touch or even explain sometimes — like love. Let me explain what the positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson calls the cocoon of self-absorption. Most of us spend our days focused on ourselves. It’s just our default…Frederickson says love appears ‘anytime two or more people, even strangers connect over a shared positive emotion, be it mild or strong.’ The doctor-patient relationship is a dyad in which love can be present…The virtues of love, empathy, kindness, compassion, and gratitude take time.”

“I think Henry mentioned that trust is spelled T.I.M.E.”

“Yes, we like to teach that. And that is why we ritualize the comprehensive examination, so we can leave the cocoon of self-absorption and become other-focused. That is why we ritualize slow dentistry.”

“Slow dentistry…I like that. I also noticed that the first thing you did was thank Gloria for coming in.”

“Congratulations, Tom, good observation. Gratitude is another virtue that is most important for our well-being. Being grateful rather than feeling entitled or taking others for granted is important. My dad taught me that years ago. Every morning he would greet his team and tell them how thankful he was for them being with him. Science tells us that gratitude is a great way to improve our health, happiness, and general well-being. So, I ritualize my greeting, but I really do mean it. I must earn the right to treat them. Did you notice how much attention I was paying to Gloria? It’s a tricky thing. It’s more than just listening.”

“Yes, I have seen active listening demonstrated before, but what you were doing was different.”

“I’m sure Henry has told you there is no instant pudding. We all need to work on our attention. Love is attention. It’s the highest form of love there is. When we learn to pay attention with no expectation of reward, with no agenda, this is the rarest form of generosity. People can spot bogus attention in a heartbeat. Your wife and kids know when you’re not paying attention. Patients know, too. That is why we make the examination sacred time without interruption.

“People want to feel that they are the only one in the room. I always begin with a very open-ended question, for example, ‘What you are going through with your health?’ or ‘What is it that made dental care a priority now?’ I don’t keep a list of questions. I use different ones. Some land well. Others fall flat, but I keep trying, always looking for levels of comfort. The point is to not just acknowledge their presence but to truly notice their presence. This takes another level of awareness. We need to learn their stories. We need to learn their goals, not only their dental goals but their overall health and wellness goals. They want to know that we are here for them in every way.”

Tom’s face lights up in an Aha moment as he realizes love is operationalized through attention that is selfless. The examination is sacred time in which we pay attention – with no expectation of reward.

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Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dr. Polansky has delivered comprehensive cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, and implant dentistry for more than 35 years. He was born in the Bronx, New York in January 1948. The doctor graduated from Queens College in 1969 and received his DMD degree in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Following graduation, Dr. Polansky spent two years in the US Army Dental Corps, stationed at Fort. Dix, New Jersey. In 1975, Dr. Polansky entered private practice in Medford Lakes. Three years later, he built his second practice in the town in which he now lives, Cherry Hill. Dr. Polansky wrote his first article for Dental Economics in 1995 – it was the cover article. Since that time Dr. Polansky has earned a reputation as one of dentistry's best authors and dental philosophers. He has written for many industry publications, including Dental Economics, Dentistry Today, Dental Practice and Finance, and Independent Dentistry (a UK publication).

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There Are Multiple Paths to Happiness

January 3, 2022 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Seventeen is young to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life. Deciding you want to become a dentist means that you are making a huge decision before you are aware of all the knowledge you will have to attain and the multiple skills and micro-skills in which you will need to become proficient.

It was a long time ago when I made that decision. I can’t even remember how I made it. I remember I was under pressure to decide from my parents and their friends. I remember telling others I thought dentistry was a good career because I had spent so much time in dental offices growing up.

That’s because I had malformed supernumeraries blocking the eruption of my centrals when I was seven years old. The dentist who suggested the supernumeraries should be removed, proceeded to remove the two good centrals by accident. This was followed by surgery to remove the supernumeraries and alas no centrals. This was traumatic to me at the time, but early in life, I learned to adapt to a dental prosthesis, having that replaced as I grew, and so on.

I wish now someone had set me down when I was in high school and given me real-world career advice like I did for my kids as they were growing up. Hoping they could avoid some of the mistakes I made, I would begin those conversations with Stephen Covey’s habit #2: Begin with the end in mind. And I would disqualify money as an end. Because money only buys people what they really want. I’d get my kids to think about what they really wanted to spend their lives doing.

Warren Buffet says he wanted to make money so he could be independent. In his biography, The Snowball, Buffet wrote, “It could make me independent. Then, I could do what I want to do with my life. And the biggest thing I wanted to do was work for myself. I didn’t want other people directing me. The idea of doing what I wanted to do every day was important to me.”

There’s truth in that for me. Independence is a universal thought that drives many of us, yet we are unique in our own lives…in how we ultimately determine and design our game plan to live independently.

If we had understood what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives when we were seventeen, then we could have better designed our careers to meet our adult desires. But that isn’t realistic, is it? It sometimes takes decades to a lifetime to understand ourselves.

Adam Grant in his book Think Again questions the unreasonable question kids are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In his book, he uses his cousin Ryan as an example of someone who chose to go into medicine because that’s a profession parents applaud. Once Ryan made his decision, he spent years staying on track.

Once you start, there is no turning back…financial debt…sunk costs…physical, mental, and emotional. We hit a certain milestone like owning our own dental practice and we tell ourselves we will be happy… that we will have all the things we want. But positive psychologists confirm that this is a poor prescription for happiness.

Positive psychologists say the road to happiness includes mastery, autonomy, positive relations, engaging work, and accomplishments. It’s a never-ending road. But each person takes their own road. There are many roads of mastery, freedom, positive relations, engaging work, and accomplishments.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying dentistry was a bad career choice for me. It is a great profession. The message of this blog is twofold. One, at the start of my predoctoral and doctoral education, at the start of my career in dental practice, and even midway through that career, I didn’t understand the complexity of what was before me–including getting to know myself well. And two, everyone needs to find their own happiness.

If you are reading this, you likely chose a career in dentistry. On your road of your own design, I believe you will find happiness in the continual act of mastering more, working with autonomy, fostering positive relations, and setting out to achieve new accomplishments. Money will be just a way to fund the things that really matter to you, and for many of you that will be making a profound difference in the health and lives of your patients. And when you segue, as I did, away from hands-on dentistry after practicing for four decades, you will find that new ways to use your people skills keep emerging. Your road to happiness continues.

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Understanding that “form follows function” is critical for knowing how to blend what looks good with what predictably functions well. E3 is the phase of your Essentials journey in which…

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About Author

User Image
Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dr. Polansky has delivered comprehensive cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, and implant dentistry for more than 35 years. He was born in the Bronx, New York in January 1948. The doctor graduated from Queens College in 1969 and received his DMD degree in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Following graduation, Dr. Polansky spent two years in the US Army Dental Corps, stationed at Fort. Dix, New Jersey. In 1975, Dr. Polansky entered private practice in Medford Lakes. Three years later, he built his second practice in the town in which he now lives, Cherry Hill. Dr. Polansky wrote his first article for Dental Economics in 1995 – it was the cover article. Since that time Dr. Polansky has earned a reputation as one of dentistry's best authors and dental philosophers. He has written for many industry publications, including Dental Economics, Dentistry Today, Dental Practice and Finance, and Independent Dentistry (a UK publication).

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How to Move Toward Independence in Dentistry (Part 2)

August 3, 2021 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Mastery sits atop L. D. Pankey’s Ladder of Competency. The question is how does one achieve mastery? Once again it has been reduced to “Just Do It.” But there is more science.

In his 1953 paper, The Achievement Motive, Harvard psychologist David McClelland wrote an original thesis about mastery. Psychologists Deci and Ryan (authors of Self-Determination and Intrinsic Motivation in Human Behavior) acknowledged that this thesis may have described an intrinsic driver even more important than autonomy. They called it competence, but it is now known as mastery.

The pursuit of mastery has been the subject of numerous scholars and authors from Theresa Amabile and Robert Greene to George Leonard. Most agree that mastery is the desire to get better at what we do. It is the need to continually get better, to improve, and to make progress. It is the royal road to growth and flourishing and the opposite of languishing and drudgery (the low rung on Pankey’s Ladder of Competency).

The Process/Progress of Mastery Is Pleasurable

Working toward worthy goals is pleasurable. Making progress produces the neuro-chemical dopamine. According to Dan Pink, author of the popular book Drive, the single biggest motivator by far, is making progress in meaningful work.

At my lowest point in dentistry, I felt stuck…hopeless. My work had lost its meaning. Today we call that burnout. Remember those Thursday mornings I mentioned in Part 1 of How to Move Toward Independence in Dentistry? Those Thursday mornings turned on the light of hope.

We need the freedom to chase mastery. That freedom comes from autonomy. Without the intrinsic driver of autonomy, it is difficult to sustain the drive necessary to achieve mastery. This is based on our biology, not just some story, fairy tale, or business myth.

So, after scheduling Thursday mornings to practice autonomously, applying the Pankey Institute lessons I needed to learn and make second nature, I slowly put the complex elements of comprehensive, relationship-based dentistry together. I started with the comprehensive examination and built on that by learning all the components from mounting of models to the nuances of advanced occlusion. It took time…but driven by dopamine and progress, slowly I was installing my model practice.

Behavioral Skills and Technical Skills Are Both Important

In time I came to realize that learning the softer behavioral skills were just as important as the technical, so I learned about case presentation. Through the years I learned new skills like digital photography and PowerPoint. This is the essence of mastery. I am retired now. Looking back, I see how that the moment Dr. Becker suggested implementing the “Pankey Morning” changed my life.

There Is a Way to Enjoy Dentistry

Today things are different than when I was a young. There is pressure to go right into corporate dentistry or practice in a way that is built on extrinsic motivators. Many of the newer models of practice are an assault on autonomy, and many dentists don’t realize the root of their unhappiness for years.

My new book, The Porch, is a fable about a dentist who is losing his autonomy and breaks down. By finding a mentor and keeping his eyes on the ultimate prize, he goes from despair to hope. The book provides lessons the young dentist learns along a path of mastery, with the leadership and support of other colleagues.

Pankey Institute instructors, mentors, and colleagues inspired and encouraged my personal path. As I recall, many of them started on their personal fee-for-service journey, like I did, with focus on changing and mastering a new approach to patient examination, education, and leadership — one new patient at a time, one morning per week.

Our constantly growing Pankey Institute community has stayed “on the porch” of conversation, like the Stoic philosophers under the stoa, to grow in shared wisdom over 50 years. This wisdom is never outdated, even as dentistry has changed. There is a way to enjoy dentistry. My mission is to keep writing and awakening hope.

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About Author

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Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dr. Polansky has delivered comprehensive cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, and implant dentistry for more than 35 years. He was born in the Bronx, New York in January 1948. The doctor graduated from Queens College in 1969 and received his DMD degree in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Following graduation, Dr. Polansky spent two years in the US Army Dental Corps, stationed at Fort. Dix, New Jersey. In 1975, Dr. Polansky entered private practice in Medford Lakes. Three years later, he built his second practice in the town in which he now lives, Cherry Hill. Dr. Polansky wrote his first article for Dental Economics in 1995 – it was the cover article. Since that time Dr. Polansky has earned a reputation as one of dentistry's best authors and dental philosophers. He has written for many industry publications, including Dental Economics, Dentistry Today, Dental Practice and Finance, and Independent Dentistry (a UK publication).

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How to Move Towards Independence in Dentistry (Part 1)

July 12, 2021 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Happiness for me in dentistry was always doing my best for patients who appreciated and wanted the best dentistry. When third parties began to heavily impact the care patients wanted and my ability to do my best, my happiness disappeared, and burnout set it.

Independence to me meant removing myself and leading my patients away from insurance dependence. The Pankey Institute showed me the way to do this, and I was able to start restoring my happiness one patient at a time, until I was finally once again “fee for service.” Whether you can do this in part or in whole, you will achieve more dentistry and have a greater impact on more lives.

I first attended The Pankey Institute in the late eighties. I was at the lowest point of my career. Admittedly times were a bit easier for a young dentist back then, but in many fundamental ways they were the same. On the first morning at the Institute, I remember feeling overwhelmed. I was focused on the herculean task of creating the practice of my dreams. Every moment of that first week tested my competence and potential to succeed. I kept comparing myself with other students as I paid attention and diligently took notes.

Later in the week, Dr. Irwin Becker was discussing how to schedule patients so we would have time to practice what we were learning. I returned home and secured every Thursday morning for practicing “the Pankey way” which included a lot of new techniques for me and my staff. Dr. Becker was more correct than he even knew when he recommended that we “just do it.”

The Science of Motivation

About the same time, during the eighties, two psychologists, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan from the University of Rochester were beginning to formulate their now groundbreaking Self Determination Theory of Human Motivation. Their advice also came down to “Just Do It.” Years later, while studying positive psychology, I was gratified that I took Dr. Becker’s advice; otherwise I may not have had an accomplished and fulfilling career.

Deci and Ryan defined motivation as the “energy required for action.” How many times do we attempt to accomplish a worthy goal but run out of steam? We need drive. Installing a fee-for-service practice is difficult…if we dare to do it. It requires resources like drive and energy.

Deci and Ryan noted extrinsic drives are the material rewards we are all familiar with, as well as status and recognition. The intrinsic drives are passion, curiosity, and purpose. They found intrinsic motivation is more effective in every tested situation, except when basic needs haven’t been met (think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). They also found that autonomous work overrides controlled work because autonomy is aligned with our intrinsic drives.

Autonomy as an Intrinsic Driver Works

When we are the masters of our own destiny, we are also more focused, productive, optimistic, resilient, creative, and healthy. In retrospect, this is what I found on those Thursday mornings. When I was focused on doing a comprehensive, relationship-based new patient exam, to the best of my ability and focused on leading the special person before me to greater understanding and health without thoughts about personal gain… putting another first and giving them the gift of my time… I felt most alive and well myself.

I started with the comprehensive examination and built on that by learning all the components from the mundane mounting of models to the nuances of advanced occlusion. For those of you starting to implement a fee-for-service practice model, success can be measured one morning a week and one patient at a time. Your intrinsic motivation will carry you forward to expand your “Pankey style” approach to a greater and greater percentage of your patients.

Beyond Scheduling One Special Morning…Return to “The Porch”

My latest book, The Porch: A Dental Fable, tells the story of a young dentist who is led in mentoring relationship — by a retired dentist and an expanding group of encouraging colleagues who meet regularly on a porch. He discovers and practices a new philosophical and behavioral approach to practice that transforms his life. I’ll keep blogging on this theme, but between blogs, you might want to pick up the book and discover the richness of a life in dentistry based on intrinsic drive. If you have sampled The Pankey Institute offerings and been inspired, then stay on “the porch” of its philosophical approach, courses, study clubs, and collegial gatherings. Continuously sharing and supporting one another is what put me on the never-ending, meaningful, highly satisfying Road of Mastery…and never again to experience burnout.

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About Author

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Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dr. Polansky has delivered comprehensive cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, and implant dentistry for more than 35 years. He was born in the Bronx, New York in January 1948. The doctor graduated from Queens College in 1969 and received his DMD degree in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Following graduation, Dr. Polansky spent two years in the US Army Dental Corps, stationed at Fort. Dix, New Jersey. In 1975, Dr. Polansky entered private practice in Medford Lakes. Three years later, he built his second practice in the town in which he now lives, Cherry Hill. Dr. Polansky wrote his first article for Dental Economics in 1995 – it was the cover article. Since that time Dr. Polansky has earned a reputation as one of dentistry's best authors and dental philosophers. He has written for many industry publications, including Dental Economics, Dentistry Today, Dental Practice and Finance, and Independent Dentistry (a UK publication).

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The Jaws Syndrome: Can We Go into the Water Yet?

February 3, 2021 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

I bet many of us feel like we are living in a movie these days.  I’m sure you have compared this pandemic to any number of movies. The first movie that comes to mind is  Jaws. In that movie, everyone wanted to know when it will be safe to go back into the water. And now, forty-five years later, people are asking a similar question: Is it safe to go back to the dentist?

Let’s explore the parallels.

The year Jaws came out, 1975, I was serving as a Captain in the Dental Corps at Ft. Dix N.J. During my time there I came down with Hepatitis B. I became infected from working on a patient…without gloves. Remember kiddies, this was 1975…there were no rules. It was The Wild Wild West in health care. As we all know, hepatitis is caused by a blood-borne pathogen. I became quite jaundiced and severely ill. I spent two weeks in the hospital. I started feeling better after one month.

I felt good enough to go back to work, but the U.S. Army had other plans. I couldn’t go back into the clinic until my liver enzymes were back to normal. I was tested frequently not only by the military, but also by the county Board of Health. I remember how diligent they were about the testing. They were serious…I couldn’t go back to work until I was cleared. That was mostly to protect anyone I would come into contact with. I was a known carrier, unlike the infamous Typhoid Mary who carried her disease covertly. I’m sure the public was grateful that the government was acting so responsibly. Like today, the public health department’s job is to protect the public. That trust must exist for us to function as a society.

Fast forward to 1981. I was practicing full-time in my own private practice when the AIDs epidemic arrived in the U.S. By then I had learned my lesson and I was one of a small number of dentists who wore gloves on a routine basis. But I was in the minority. AIDs changed our entire profession. By the time it was over (if it ever truly was over) the life of every dentist changed forever. This time around I learned how serious government could be in enforcing public health regulations. They meant what they said. (For those who are interested look up the case of Kimberly Bergalis). This was a classic example of the combination of bloodborne pathogens and dentistry.

One thing I noticed during that period was the public awareness of dental practices and sterilization techniques. AIDS changed everything. It wasn’t the isolated patient who wanted to see how instruments were being sterilized. Many people stayed away during the height of the crisis. In time the fear eased up but not before more stringent rules and regulations were enforced. And once again the public was grateful.

Now… almost 40 years after AIDS we have a new pathogen – the coronavirus– Covid-19. The biggest difference is that this one is an airborne pathogen. And that makes all the difference in the world. Fear is ubiquitous. There is a new shark in the water. Like Typhoid Mary, it does not show its fin.

Safety is a big concern for most humans.

Behavioral psychologist Abraham Maslow formulated the Hierarchy of Needs. At the very base of the Hierarchy are physiologic needs like food and sleep followed by safety and security needs. His theory stated that people would not seek satisfaction of higher needs (love, belonging, self-actualization), until the basic needs were met.

Forty-five years after Jaws roamed the ocean it is generally safe to go back into the water, but rest assured, we do know one thing… there will always be new and more dangerous sharks to worry about, and when it comes to humans, safety is a basic need after food and sleep.

Patients have been deciding on the essential nature of dentistry forever.

As long as fear remains and people do not have the absolute certainty of safety, they will not return to dental offices except for services they perceive as essential. If your client base is full of people who are truly health-centered and trust you, your routine dental services will thrive in the pandemic. Your patients won’t wait until they are in pain to book an appointment.

But that’s the test of what you are all about, isn’t it?

If your routine services are not thriving, then your practice has had a history of attracting a broader market of people. How is that working out for you now? Beyond COVID-19, if you are in private practice, pay extra attention to targeting individuals who want the finest health and give them ample reason to trust their safety with you… no matter what.

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About Author

User Image
Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dr. Polansky has delivered comprehensive cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, and implant dentistry for more than 35 years. He was born in the Bronx, New York in January 1948. The doctor graduated from Queens College in 1969 and received his DMD degree in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Following graduation, Dr. Polansky spent two years in the US Army Dental Corps, stationed at Fort. Dix, New Jersey. In 1975, Dr. Polansky entered private practice in Medford Lakes. Three years later, he built his second practice in the town in which he now lives, Cherry Hill. Dr. Polansky wrote his first article for Dental Economics in 1995 – it was the cover article. Since that time Dr. Polansky has earned a reputation as one of dentistry's best authors and dental philosophers. He has written for many industry publications, including Dental Economics, Dentistry Today, Dental Practice and Finance, and Independent Dentistry (a UK publication).

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Dentistry Post Corona: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

January 18, 2021 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

The Great Pandemic of 2020 has created mass disruption in the lives and work for most people. In a current bestselling book, Post Corona, author Scott Galloway has an interesting perspective on the many various changes that we have seen and reveals his theory of what the “new normal” will look like. But don’t be shocked to discover it will just be more of the same.

The virus has been an accelerant.

As the premise of his book, Galloway uses a quote that is often attributed to former premier of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin: “Nothing can happen for decades, and then decades happen in weeks.” Of course, Vlad was speaking about the Russian Revolution, but we can apply that logic to what we have witnessed over the past 11 months.

In other words, social and business trends that were already in motion went into turbo mode. The virus has acted as an accelerant. It has affected every one of our lives and every market in the world. Take e-commerce as an example. We have been using Amazon.com for years, yet e-commerce has only grown at a rate of 1% every year. Just before the pandemic, e-commerce was 16% of the economy. Then, from March 2020 through April 2020, that number jumped to 27% in just 8 weeks…just like Vlad said.

Think about other instances like virtual meetings and the emergence of Zoom. I hope you bought their stock. Zoom was around before the virus…now look at it. Stay at home stocks have been on a tear. With gyms closing and people social distancing, Peloton, and Lululemon’s Mirror have really taken off.

What about dentistry?

Early on, dental practices were seeing the effect of fears of close contact and aerosol transmission. Then things eased up. Practices became busier. Now, with the rise in cases, the fears are returning.

Private dentists with reputations for genuinely caring about what is in the best interest of their patients, have earned patient trust already that helps immunize their patients from fear.

One thing we must respect is that we have no control over other people’s behavior. And we have no control over the pesky virus. The vaccine is coming but human behavior will prevail.

As a retired dentist, people continue to ask me one question: “Is it safe to get my teeth cleaned?” My answer, as a dentist, is always yes, but as a patient, they will be asking that question for a long time to come…vaccine or not. Dentists must see this through the eyes of their patients.

What should we expect post-Corona?

Galloway, in his book Post Corona, tells us that the existing trends will continue to accelerate:

  • The good ones (like hand washing and stay at home practices),
  • The unpopular ones (like masks and excessive PPE), and
  • Even the ugly ones (like misunderstandings in business and within families).

So, what do we do?

As a good Stoic, I would advise first to accept what we cannot change the circumstances. Just like a war…it’s unfortunate and not fair but a Stoic accepts the challenge and moves forward. It never pays to get frustrated or angry. Now is the time to build resilience and pay attention to leadership and communication skills.

Yes, the troops are coming, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. (I love clichés.) But basic human behavior will prevail.

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Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dr. Polansky has delivered comprehensive cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, and implant dentistry for more than 35 years. He was born in the Bronx, New York in January 1948. The doctor graduated from Queens College in 1969 and received his DMD degree in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Following graduation, Dr. Polansky spent two years in the US Army Dental Corps, stationed at Fort. Dix, New Jersey. In 1975, Dr. Polansky entered private practice in Medford Lakes. Three years later, he built his second practice in the town in which he now lives, Cherry Hill. Dr. Polansky wrote his first article for Dental Economics in 1995 – it was the cover article. Since that time Dr. Polansky has earned a reputation as one of dentistry's best authors and dental philosophers. He has written for many industry publications, including Dental Economics, Dentistry Today, Dental Practice and Finance, and Independent Dentistry (a UK publication).

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Slip Slidin’ Away

October 30, 2020 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

If you watch one episode of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, you will see a repeating theme. Previously great restaurants have come close to shutting their door, because the owners’ passion for maintaining high standards has waned. Diners have dropped them from their A list, their B list, maybe even their C list. Without a dramatic makeover and grand opening, diners are not going to come through the door.

Bring this forward to 2020 and the pandemic. Patrons… clients… customers… have legitimate concerns about moving forward with their lives. Dental teams are doubling down on conversations with patients, along with adopting and adapting to many changes in how they practice. And, then, there is another problem I am seeing in all businesses, not just dental practices. The government gave money to employees to “not work.” Now when they are needed (especially in dental practices and labs), employees want to stay out not only for more “free lunch” but also out of health concerns of their own. They don’t want to take coronavirus back to their family members at risk.

Some of this comes down to the history of the business and how they practiced before and the culture they created…that went way beyond “money.” I’m not saying this is true of all dental practices and less so in the relationship-based practices, The Pankey Institute and other thought leaders promote. But, practicing every day consistently at the quality level of the past takes tremendous commitment. The moral compass of the practice leader—the dentist, must continue to show courage, trust, respect, authenticity, integrity, communication, education and growth, excellence, resilience, purpose, and alignment. Whew! That’s a tall order when you are feeling stressed and exhausted.

It’s no wonder if some of your pre-pandemic passion for spending time with individual patients has waned. When I came out of dental school in 1973, Paul Simon had not yet written his monumental song Slip Slidin’ Away, but within my first decade of practice, I knew the song well and already sensed that life was not on the trajectory I wanted. My passion for dentistry had waned.

We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

With inspiration at Pankey and Dawson, wide-wide reading, and encouraging colleagues, I found my way… my passion… my balance… my joie de vivre in dentistry. I discovered how to not only conserve my personal energy but also generate more energy through personal contemplation time and daily exercise. The greatest discovery I made was that my practice of dentistry actually centered around one specific system: the comprehensive patient examination and the meaningful conversations I had with patients during the exam.

The One Thing to look out for is the quality of your comprehensive patient exam. Is it at the highest level?

The comprehensive examination is the “one procedure” or process that gives the dentist the opportunity to express and display his or her leadership “virtues.” Don’t let it slip slide away.

Conversation is where the human side of health care takes place. Continue to spend extra minutes in conversation. The meaningful moments you share with your patients will energize you and help you get through current stressful days. Just remember that having a meaningful conversation, in many cases, requires us to let our guards down and become vulnerable. It means sharing our philosophy and showing our human side… maybe even how challenging dentistry is right now… and yet still so rewarding.

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Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dr. Polansky has delivered comprehensive cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, and implant dentistry for more than 35 years. He was born in the Bronx, New York in January 1948. The doctor graduated from Queens College in 1969 and received his DMD degree in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Following graduation, Dr. Polansky spent two years in the US Army Dental Corps, stationed at Fort. Dix, New Jersey. In 1975, Dr. Polansky entered private practice in Medford Lakes. Three years later, he built his second practice in the town in which he now lives, Cherry Hill. Dr. Polansky wrote his first article for Dental Economics in 1995 – it was the cover article. Since that time Dr. Polansky has earned a reputation as one of dentistry's best authors and dental philosophers. He has written for many industry publications, including Dental Economics, Dentistry Today, Dental Practice and Finance, and Independent Dentistry (a UK publication).

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The Link Between Positive Psychology and Dentistry

February 21, 2020 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Positive psychology and dentistry are closely linked, especially for professionals who own their own practices. Human beings are all too good at focusing on what’s going wrong at any given moment. But the key to experiencing maximum success is determining what’s going right, and how to take full advantage of those strengths. 

What’s the tie in with dentistry? Dental patients come in all stripes and shapes, and the success of dentistry is dependent upon understanding people and strategies for dealing with what happens in your practice and personal life. During my study of positive psychology, I focused on: 

  • Understanding how and why people tick from studies on human behavior and how the brain and body are wired. I thought a lot about the implications for my practice of dentistry and personal pursuits. 
  • How to effectively communicate with and lead/teach others. 
  • Research-based tools for interacting with people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences 
  • Understanding happiness through personal fitness, gratitude, cultivating relationships, mindfulness, and savoring what is going right. 

During my study, I found my personal happiness was increasing through greater feelings of personal and professional success, improved physical health, and stronger social networks. So much so, that I proceeded to earn a Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP). Having Type 2 Diabetes and having experienced significant treatment for cancer, living my life in the healthiest way I can physically, mentally, spiritually and socially has become of increasing importance, not for my career aspirations alone, but for me personally. I believe all four of these aspects of life go hand in hand for total wellness–and a life well-lived. 

Beyond Positive Psychology 

As many of you know, reading is one of my favorite pastimes, and I do it with alacrity and joy every day. Studies from the fields of positive psychology and emotional intelligence played heavily into my reading throughout my career, and lately, I have been immersed in studying the philosophy of Stoicism which, when rolled over with the above, has naturally taken my passion beyond the soft skills (behavioral skills) of life to a philosophy of “total wellness.”  

This philosophy and enjoyment of it have made my transition from practice to a “retirement” life outside of practice an enlightening and wonderful experience. I have not left Dentistry in total, because I have a lot more to share and say that I will be writing about in the future.  

For Every Problem…a Spiritual Answer 

Wayne Dyer used to say, “For every problem, there is a spiritual answer.” Now that I am retired with much more time to think about my practice, aging, longevity, and philosophy—and when I see young dentists online writing about their issues and problems, I am more convinced than ever that the answers lie in philosophy. And so, it has come to pass that all roads of my life have led back to philosophy, since my first consideration of it, when I began The Pankey Institute continuum almost 30 years ago.  

With a few exceptions, The Pankey Institute being a major one, the dental community continues to undervalue and neglect the role of philosophy in being the best health care provider and wellness influencer one can be. The fields of positive psychology, emotional intelligence, and success in dentistry are undeniably linked. There is scientific evidence to support this. Your philosophy of life and practice (or lack of this) impacts how you go through life and your career, how your life influences others, what you achieve, and how well you feel about the life you are living. To me, the fields of psychology, dentistry, and philosophy are inextricably linked. I’ll write more on this later. 

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About Author

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Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dr. Polansky has delivered comprehensive cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, and implant dentistry for more than 35 years. He was born in the Bronx, New York in January 1948. The doctor graduated from Queens College in 1969 and received his DMD degree in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Following graduation, Dr. Polansky spent two years in the US Army Dental Corps, stationed at Fort. Dix, New Jersey. In 1975, Dr. Polansky entered private practice in Medford Lakes. Three years later, he built his second practice in the town in which he now lives, Cherry Hill. Dr. Polansky wrote his first article for Dental Economics in 1995 – it was the cover article. Since that time Dr. Polansky has earned a reputation as one of dentistry's best authors and dental philosophers. He has written for many industry publications, including Dental Economics, Dentistry Today, Dental Practice and Finance, and Independent Dentistry (a UK publication).

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Stoicism with a Big “S”

January 20, 2020 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dentistry can be emotionally taxing, and Stoicism helped me to get through some tough times. I am not referring to being a small s” stoic. In truth, being a stoic can be harmful to a dentist’s emotional health because that implies suppressing feelings. I’m referring to capital S” Stoicism…a practical philosophy which has as its goals freedom, happiness, and tranquility. And that is how I became fascinated with it. 

The first person I ever heard speak about “philosophy” in dentistry was L.D. Pankey. He used language I hardly understood. It was foreign to me. I studied his philosophy and the philosophy of Aristotle. The application was difficult. Mounted models in centric relation is one thing…but “virtues?” What was Pankey trying to get across?  

It was years later that I learned about the Stoics who were not theoreticians or academics, but rather real down-to-earth working people who considered Stoicism a new school of Greek philosophy that was practical. They lived it rather than studied itand they were mostly happy emotionally resilient people.  

Their virtues included justice, fairness, and kindness to others. Applying these virtues takes work. It takes self-awareness to avoid making value judgments and creating narratives about situations and people that lead to stress. 

Hearing L.D. Pankey speak of “virtues” sounded old fashioned to me, but I knew there was more to him than mounting models. The essence of his message was how to achieve happiness, tranquility, and virtue…something I was sorely missing when I first went to Key Biscayne. By practicing the Stoic virtues of justice, fairness and kindness to others, I have found happiness. I have found that a virtuous life of inner coherence and outer harmony relieves confusion about life and practice.  

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About Author

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Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dr. Polansky has delivered comprehensive cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, and implant dentistry for more than 35 years. He was born in the Bronx, New York in January 1948. The doctor graduated from Queens College in 1969 and received his DMD degree in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Following graduation, Dr. Polansky spent two years in the US Army Dental Corps, stationed at Fort. Dix, New Jersey. In 1975, Dr. Polansky entered private practice in Medford Lakes. Three years later, he built his second practice in the town in which he now lives, Cherry Hill. Dr. Polansky wrote his first article for Dental Economics in 1995 – it was the cover article. Since that time Dr. Polansky has earned a reputation as one of dentistry's best authors and dental philosophers. He has written for many industry publications, including Dental Economics, Dentistry Today, Dental Practice and Finance, and Independent Dentistry (a UK publication).

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