volume 87 number 2

March - April 2008
Pucker Up - The Effects of Sour Candy on Your Patient's Oral Health

Anatomical Variations of the Lingual Mandibular Canals and Foramina

Taken to Heart: The 2008 MDA President's Interview

Can I Afford to Retire?

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Editorial: Homecoming

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

I always hated to go to school. I have the recurring nightmare of being back at the College of St. Thomas (before it became a University), having signed up for an advanced math class, not attending one lecture, and now it is time for the final exam. The dream puts me into a cold sweat until I realize, hey, I’m a dentist, I graduated from the University of Minnesota Dental School, thanks to that I have a nice home for me and my family and a successful practice that I enjoy immensely. So you can take your advanced calculus course (the math type, not the perio type; calling Dr. Freud!) and transform it into one on basic colonoscopy.

When, by the grace of God, I got into dental school, for the first time in my academic career I felt at home. Many of my mentors are gone. Norm Holte, Fred Noble, Bob Gorlin, and Dean Irwin Schaffer have passed away. Tony Romano and Les Martens are retired. Some are still there: Tony Di Angelis, Ken Buechele, and my old classmate Maria Pintado are still going strong, dedicating their lives to producing quality dentists to serve our people.

It was in this spirit that I found myself once again in dental school, this time in the role of pedagogue, as I assisted Dr. Muriel Bebeau in the evaluation of four of her senior students as they struggled with some hypothetical ethical situations to prepare them for life in the real world. 

I have been blessed with this task for the last several years, and I enjoy it immensely. The quality of our students should give us all great hope for the future of our profession. This year was no exception. I would be happy to have any one of my four students as an associate or partner.

However, there are some clouds on the horizon. A question was asked in all candor: “Can ethics be taught in later years, or does the moral training of youth form a person for the rest of his or her life?”

I was taken aback at first, but then realized that of course ethics can be taught and learned, an old dog can learn new tricks. The process is called faith and hope, old fashioned virtues in this not so brave new world.

Dr. Bebeau’s studies have turned up a distressing trend: All this emphasis on building “self esteem” has spawned a generation of narcissists. I didn’t see that in my students, but I can sure see it in the general population. The “I’m okay, you’re okay” philosophy of the 1960’s spawned a generation of moral relativists, young people who are totally non-judgmental, and they believe that is a good thing. They say, “Judge not lest you be judged.” But there is a big difference between judgment and condemnation. The true translation of that scripture passage is “Condemn not lest you be condemned.” You can see immoral behavior and say that it is immoral behavior; are you judging the person? No. You are making an objective judgment, but not a condemnation.

To quote G. K. Chesterton:

“The truth is that if a man wishes to remain in perfect mental breadth and freedom, he had better not think at all. Thinking is a narrowing process. It leads to what people call dogma. A man who thinks hard about any subject for several years is in horrible danger of discovering the truth about it… It is a terrible thing when a man really finds that his mind was given him to use, and not to play with; or, in other words, that the gods gave him a great ugly mouth with which to answer questions, and not merely ask them.”

I love the wisdom of Chesterton. Some people of this day would take exception to his “non-inclusive” language. My only quarrel would be that even if God had given humans “great ugly mouths”, he also gave us great dentists to make them beautiful!

Carry on, Dr. Bebeau.


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

Copyright 2008. Minnesota Dental Association
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