What's a Dentist to Do? The Season of Pride

What's a Dentist to Do? The Season of Pride

Jack L. Churchill, D.D.S.*:

Here are the ten Minnesota Board of Dentistry’s Guidelines for using terms such as “Top Dentist” in dental advertising and a brief explanation of each. If you have questions, call the Board or consult with your attorney.  I want to thank Marshall Shragg, Executive Director of the Minnesota Board of Dentistry, for meeting with me to clarify these guidelines.

1. The methodology or basis for comparison must be verifiable and adequately disclosed to the public and other professionals.  This guideline is interpreted to mean that the methodology or basis for comparison describes the survey, ballot  or polling process in compiling a result or list. In this context, the survey, ballot or polling results may be verified or substantiated by the surveys or ballots themselves.

2. The methodology must have included an inquiry into the dentist’s qualifications.  This guideline is interpreted to mean that all dentists included in a particular survey, ballot or poll will have a valid license from the State of Minnesota and be in good standing at the time of publication.

3. The methodology must be open to all members who meet survey parameters.  This guideline is interpreted to mean that the survey, ballot or poll must be open to all dentists who meet the survey parameters.

4. The rating or selection cannot have been issued for a fee.   This guideline is interpreted to mean that no dentist included in a survey, ballot or poll paid for his or her name to be listed. This guideline does not apply to advertisements that a dentist may choose to purchase to communicate his or her listing.

5. The methodology must contain proper usage guidelines for dentists selected.  This guideline is interpreted to require that a dentist selected in a survey, ballot or poll be provided with these guidelines for advertising his or her inclusion on the list.

6. The advertising must be true and state the year of inclusion in the listing.  This guideline is interpreted to require that the dentist must actually have been voted onto the survey, ballot or poll and that he or she include each specific year of inclusion in her or her advertising.

7. The advertising must state the dentist’s inclusion or selection in a listing, not that the dentist is “super,” “top,” or the “best.”  This guideline is interpreted to require that the dentist only refer to his or her inclusion in a survey, ballot or poll as “super,” top” or “best” as opposed to referring to himself or herself as being “super,” top” or “best.” For example, a dentist is allowed to use the phrase “Top Dentist” as an adjective – e.g., as selected to the Top Dentist list – and not a noun – e.g., as advertising that he or she is a “Top Dentist.”

8. The advertising should not claim that survey, ballot or poll constitutes a comprehensive ranking of the “top,” “best,” or a defined top percentage, i.e., “the top 15%,” of dentists within the criteria specified by the list itself.  This guideline is interpreted to prohibit a dentist from claiming that his or her inclusion in the survey, ballot or poll establishes that he or she is ranked in the “top,”, “best,” or a set percentage of the dentists, such as “top 5% of dentists,” eligible for inclusion on the list.

9. The advertising must not impute an individual dentist’s selection to an entire clinic or office.  This guideline is interpreted to mean that an advertisement for an entire dental practice, including more than one dentist, must clearly denote the specific dentist or dentists from that practice who were named to the survey, ballot or poll, unless all the dentists pictured or listed in the advertising are included in the current advertised survey, ballot or poll.

10. The advertising is permitted to include the survey, ballot or poll trademark or logo, such as Top Dentist, as long as the advertisement conforms to these guidelines.  This guideline is interpreted to allow any dentist included in a survey, ballot or poll, such as Top Dentist, to include the list trademark or logo on his or her advertisement as long as these advertising guidelines – such as including the applicable year, dentist named to the list, and that the list was put forth by a specific publisher – are met.

Author C.S. Lewis calls pride the essential vice, the utmost evil. He calls all other vices “fleabites in comparison”. Its opposite being humility, it is through pride that all other evils come to pass. Lewis states that pride is essentially competitive by its very nature, while the other vices are competitive by accident. Pride gets no pleasure in having something, only in having something more than the next guy. People are not proud of being rich or clever or skilled, they’re proud of being richer, more clever, or more skilled than the next guy.

If we were all equally rich, clever, or skilled, we would have nothing to be proud of. It is the pleasure of being above others that makes us proud. That is the difference with the other vices – greed is the pure wanton desire for money regardless of others, lust the need for sex, drunkenness the dependence on drink. You get the picture. Pride by its competitive nature rends us apart, unlike our other vices. You can sit next to someone and practice the vice of drunkenness, drinking way too much with the other guy, and enjoy his company, but if you’re in a drinking contest, his company is not appreciated. Of course, power is pride’s workhorse. C.S. Lewis states in Mere Christianity, “there is nothing makes a man feel so superior to others as being able to move them about like toy soldiers.”

Pride is self-perpetuating, because as long as there is someone richer, more clever, or more skilled, he will be your adversary. Other vices may sometimes actually bring people together, but not pride. Pride always means enmity.

Lewis calls the “Dictatorship of Pride…a spiritual cancer that eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”

Doctors, it is the “Top Dentists” season. I just received my Mpls. St. Paul Magazine’s “Top Dentists” survey in the mail. There is nothing that shouts out more of the runaway practice of the Dictatorship of Pride than these lists. I will not go into why we should not participate in these prideful things (see ADA’s Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct section 5.F.2.), but only say that these lists do not bring us together as learning together in a study club or serving together on Give Kids a Smile weekend do. They separate us while the marketers smile. They move us from delighting in service to delighting in ourselves.

Lewis calls us to “take off the silly, ugly fancy-dress on which we all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the idiots we are…get rid of the false self, with all its ‘Look at me’ and ‘Aren’t I a good boy’ and all its posing and posturing.”

Here’s the bad news. There is an “agonizing distance between what we should be and what we really are.  We all have dark appetites”* and we continually shimmy up to the dinner table. We each know what is right and true, but we can’t or won’t do it. It is in our nature to rebel. But here’s the good news. We do have free will and the freedom to choose.  

We make choices every day. “We stake our lives on these choices but often fail to see if they are based on what is true and right.”* The truth here is not subjective according to how you feel at the moment. The truth is absolute. Being faithful to that truth and what is right is the very definition of integrity.  

So if you haven’t already done so, you will be deciding whether or not to cooperate with these list-makers.  If you decide to participate and agree to be listed, the above guidelines may help you in the event you promote yourself as a “Top Dentist”. If you are listed and contact MSP Magazine to take yourself off the list, in my humble opinion, you will have raised up yourself and your profession.   

The word “ethics” comes from the Greek word meaning “stable”. True ethics do not change. What is right and true and absolute here is that we are all here to serve. But to serve only is not enough. We must do so in a way which directs us “true north”. Life is not about simply living boldly and going your own way whatever the consequences. It’s not about gaining a foothold and then the marketplace. And no, it’s not about being a successful practitioner. It’s about finding yourself by losing yourself in service. A humble servant is not necessarily low and self-deprecating, but probably cheerful, intelligent, and interested in what you have to say. He enjoys his life. He’s someone people gravitate toward. He is not thinking about himself at all. He is rich beyond measure. I wish you all that and more.

*Quoted from The Good Life by Charles Colson, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., copyright 2005.

Lewis quotes from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY, copyright 1952 and renewed 1980.


*Dr. Churchill is Chair of the Minnesota Dental Association’s Committee on Ethics, Bylaws, and Constitution. He is a general dentist in private practice in Minneapolis, Minnesota.