A Pankey Philosophy Overview 

March 20, 2023 Bill Davis

Philosophy has to do with the relationship between belief and action. In the end philosophy is what gives meaning and purpose to our lives. As dentists who are consciously aware of our own beliefs and what holds meaning to us, our daily work and our routine are not merely unrelated actions and episodes, but integral parts of our personal lives.

There is an important distinction to be made between having a philosophy and living a philosophy. “Having” a philosophy implies having an idea or set of ideas, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that those ideas are being acted on. Learning can best take place when we are “living” a philosophy—that is, living in a state of inquiry—based on our personal values, our knowledge of ourselves, and our individual goals.

Questions lead to answers.

According to Jim Dyce, a British dentist/philosopher and good friend of L.D. Pankey, “Philosophy can do no more than initiate questions.” When Dr. Pankey decided to devote his life to saving teeth, he was forced to ask himself a difficult question, “How can I help people keep all of their teeth for a lifetime?” In 1925 L.D. didn’t know the answer. Out of that question he was able to uncover and develop many principles which have proven instrumental in the understanding of comprehensive restorative dentistry and patient education. Therefore, Philosophy, in its most valuable form, is more about asking right questions than with right answers.

How useful the Pankey Philosophy will be to you depends on how willing you are to put yourself in the questions. In the process of moving toward the answers to your questions will help you clarify your goals and ways to accomplish them. Questions can open the floodgates to new insights and information for you.

How do you define and measure success?

The Pankey Philosophy itself seems simple enough at first glance. Each one of us must decide for ourselves what and how to measure our success. Once we have conceived an idea of success, we must believe in it, and then work out ways to achieve it. Achieving the greatest success in dentistry–both gratitude from our patients and financial and spiritual reward, requires a commitment to always give the best you can. This involves knowing yourself, knowing your patients, knowing you work, and applying your knowledge conscientiously.

Dentists can fall into a rut of boredom and frustration.

This sobering statistic may have been attributed to two main factors related to the practice of dentistry. First, dental work is usually confined to a small office, where dentists go day after day, week after week. Second, once dentists become good at what they are doing, their work becomes very much the same. The result could be developing a feeling of not being appreciated by their patients and staff. Or maybe feeling being trapped in their small office. They may think they are not achieving much in the way of mental stimulation, and start wondering to themselves “Is this all there is to dentistry?”

Now, this is not to say that all or even most dentists live lives of “quiet desperation.” Yet most dentists have felt they are in a rut at one time or another, at which point it becomes increasingly difficult to see the real rewards in this great profession of dentistry. Reviewing your questions again can pull you out of the rut.

Dentists can climb out of the rut through increased service to mankind.

In 1947 L.D. began teaching the Philosophy of the Practice of Dentistry which he had been developing since 1932. His purpose was to help dentists confront and move past feelings of frustration and boredom. L.D. wanted to move dentists toward higher levels of excellence in their technical work, improve their communication skills with their patients, and achieving greater satisfaction in their lives through increased service to humankind.

Are your goals clear and well-defined? Are you willing to pay the price to achieve them?

L.D recommended dentist look more closely and objectively at themselves and their individual situation. He would suggest asking his class to really think about their goals. He would ask them,” Are your goals clear and well-defined? Can you measure your goals so you can measure your success? Do your goals belong to you or are they someone else’s goals? Are you willing to pay the necessary price to achieve them? Are your goals and objectives in line with your circumstances and temperament?” Satisfaction is achieved not only in reaching your goals, but also by understanding the progress you are making during your journey as you move slowly and steadily toward them.

As poet and musician Bob Dylan wrote, “He who is not busy being born is busy dying.”


Understanding the Pankey Philosophy can help you transform your experience of practicing dentistry, increase predictability, profitability and fulfillment. The Essentials Series is the path we urge you to take. Essentials 1: Aesthetic and Functional Treatment Planning is where your journey begins.  Following a system of risk assessment, patient ownership and risk management creates technical excellence and predictability.

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About Author

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Bill Davis

William J. Davis DDS, MS is practicing dentist and a Professor at the University of Toledo in the College Of Medicine. He has been directing a hospital based General Practice Residency for past 40 years. Formal education at Marquette, Sloan Kettering Michigan, the Pankey Institute and Northwestern. In 1987 he co-authored a book with Dr. L.D. Pankey, “A Philosophy of the Practice of Dentistry”. Bill has been married to his wife, Pamela, for 50 years. They have three adult sons and four grandchildren. When not practicing dentistry he teaches flying.

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The B-A-G Reflection Process

February 8, 2021 Bill Gregg DDS

For years now, I have followed this simple reflective process. I hope it proves to be helpful for you in your personal and professional growth. My reflection BAG contains Blessings, Accomplishments, and Goals. 

Blessings  

List all the blessings you are grateful for; family, friends, satisfying work, freedom to worship, health, warm home, living in America, etc. Give thanks for the blessings of life. Gratitude is essential to the journey, and too frequently in our “push” to “get ahead”, we forget our core blessings. Compared to these Blessings, getting ahead isn’t the most important thing. INVOLVE YOUR FAMILY THIS YEAR…even your two-year-old will feel the gratitude. 

Accomplishments 

Summarize all things you accomplished throughout the year. This is such an important step to write down because it never ceases to amaze me, when I reflect, just how much I have accomplished. I always need my calendar for this one because I find I forget all the little things I did do throughout the year. The journey can be so (apparently) slow and frustrating, that seeing how far you progress each year is very important. 

Goals 

Now that you are grateful for the mess you have gotten yourself into, write down your goals for the coming year. Come up with 20-30-50 ideas. Many times, the “best” ones are the last few that pop into your head. Remember the Pankey Cross and plan in all areas, Work, Love, Play, and Worship. Know Yourself, Know Your Patient, Know Your Work, and Apply Your Knowledge (this is a part of that). Spend as much (or more) time and money on the behavioral - communication aspects of care as you do the technical aspects of dental care. Plan to integrate Joy, Wonder and Relationships into your work. 

Set Aside Quiet Time to Reflect

Please set aside quiet time to do this. The first time it may take several struggling hours. I reflect several times a year and still set aside a few hours, but it has become almost like meditation for me and is one of the most important things I do for myself. I do this to continually refocus my efforts and to enhance gratitude. This has become part of my personal Peace process.

Thinking Beats Regurgitation

Throughout our education process we dentists are taught to memorize and regurgitate…not to reflect nor to think (I believe, at times, thinking is beaten out of us). We look to others to provide us the “answers” we might be missing that will guarantee our passing the tests (success). Sometimes we glance at someone else’s success and, thus, we let others define success for us — and we all are obsessive enough to bust our butts for an “A” to please someone else. If we just miss being perfect, we feel like such a failure. And for those of you paralyzed by needing to be perfect…Perfection is a disease. The goal is excellence, not perfection. John Wooden said it best:

“Success is the self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best.”

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About Author

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Bill Gregg DDS

I attended South Hills High School in Covina, Denison University in Granville, Ohio and the University of Redlands in Redlands, California prior to dental school at UCLA. My post-graduate education has included an intensive residency at UCLA Hospital, completion of a graduate program at The L.D. Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education ; acceptance for Fellowship in the Academy of General Dentistry (FAGD); and in 2006 I earned the prestegious Pankey Scholar. Continuing education has always been essential in the preparation to be the best professional I am capable of becoming and to my ongoing commitment to excellence in dental care and personal leadership. I am a member of several dental associations and study groups and am involved in over 100 hours of continuing education each year. The journey to become one of the best dentists in the world often starts at the Pankey Institute. I am thrilled that I am at a point in my professional life that I can give back. I am honored that I can be a mentor to others beginning on their path. As such, I have discovered a new passion; teaching. I am currently on faculty at The L.D. Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education devoting 2-3 weeks each year to teaching post-graduate dental programs. In other presentations my focus is on Leadership and includes lifestyle, balance and motivation as much as dentistry.

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