Editorial: Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

Editorial: Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

William E. Stein, D.D.S.*:

My first patient today was an interesting and inquisitive young man. “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” he began. “Do you see a lot of people who are really afraid to come to the dentist?”

I replied that “after 38 years in practice, sure, I’ve seen lots of people who are afraid of the dentist, but we’ve been able to help most all of them.”

“Whew!” he said, “I’d sure hate to be a dentist!”

That got me thinking about why I enjoy being a dentist. I’m happy when I can get someone out of pain. I’m happy when I can help someone deathly afraid of dentistry to have a good dental experience. I’m happy to be able to rebuild a ravaged mouth so that its owner can smile again.

Dentistry, for all the jokes made about it, is a wonderful profession. We continue to have some of the highest marks of any profession in the trust of the American people.

Why? Through the good work of our dental schools, only the best candidates are selected for admittance for study, and yes, formation for entry into the profession.

I have been privileged to work with the dental students at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, and I thank God that I sought admission more than 40 years ago, because I sure wouldn’t be worthy of admission today!

The profession of dentistry itself has become stronger over the years. Again, why? The answer is the strength of organized dentistry. The tripartite structure of organized dentistry - its district, state and national levels - offers something to every dentist, to answer questions, concerns, to right injustices, to serve as an advocate for the needs of the profession against the encroachments of government and third parties. True, we are not always successful. Who is? But at least we have a united voice, which is more than can be said for many other professions.

Where do these leaders of organized dentistry come from? Well, in Minnesota, they come from the Iron Range! Well, it just seems that way, and I’m from the Northeastern District. Actually, Minnesota has produced presidents of the American Dental Association who have come from the vast heaving metropolis of the Twin Cities and the bucolic hinterlands of Hawley, not far from the Canadian boarder, or at least North Dakota.

Where do these leaders come from? I assure you that hardly any aspired to politics, virtually none of them were “community organizers” by profession, they were just ordinary dentists; general practitioners or specialists who saw a need, a cause that struck their fancy or fit the “cut of their jib” - let’s not mince words: something ticked them off, and no one was doing anything to rectify it, so they offered themselves. And many found they liked service to the profession, and they kept on in its service. These unselfish people are what make our profession great.

Next time you see something that ticks you off, take a chance on fixing it. It’s your turn!


*Dr. Stein is Executive Editor of Northwest Dentistry. He is a general dentist in private practice in Aitkin, Minnesota, AitkinDent@AOL.com