The general view we
dentists have of ourselves is one of being alone. We see our accomplishments in
school, and afterward in our practices, as being performed without others. We
all attend to our patients’ needs within the four lonely walls of our offices.
We fill and crown and restore and repair, and no one really knows how we’re
doing. We’re alone except for the assistant sitting next to us, but she is
often too busy handing us the correct instrument to notice.
Lone Rangers, aren’t we? Or are we?
I submit to you that the opposite is true.
Though often we do feel alone in this business of dentistry, we are all not
just dentists but collaborators. We collaborate with many to get our dental
products and services to our patients. We depend upon dental and biomedical
researchers for the latest in dental products. They depend on us for our
feedback. We generalists rely on our specialists to perform services we can’t
do, while they, of course, receive their cases from us. Our dental schools and
the dental community enjoy a synergistic relationship. Dentists’ successes
depend in large part on us working together in formal organizations and
informal groups of all types. We interface and collaborate in many different
study clubs to share ideas and techniques. We collaborate through the Minnesota
Dental Association in many ways to further organized dentistry’s agenda. Other
co-collaborators include our hygienists and staff, our lab technicians, our
consultants, and our patients’ physicians.
do not practice within a bubble. We practice within a dynamic, ever-changing
landscape of co-professionals, all attempting to achieve the same thing, all
wanting to make a difference. That landscape, that framework, is larger than
you think. It is quite an impressive
However, these facts dim under the lights of
modern society, and it is the picture of the dentist as the Lone Ranger which
dominates our imaginations.
Collaboration is especially important when
one of us is in trouble. Few of us would view the plight of, let us say, an
addicted colleague with indifference. If it is dentistry’s obligation to
protect the public from harmful dentistry and we are all collaborators, then
“every dentist’s patient is, in some sense, every other dentist’s patient.”**
If a dentist is addicted, no matter how far away he or she is, it is my
collaborator who is addicted and my patients, in a sense, who are at risk. The
addicted colleague is not a Lone Ranger in trouble but someone to whom I am
bound to help, for his or her sake, and for the sake of our common patients. A
“dentist cannot view an addicted collaborator as someone with a problem which
is only his or her own.”** Relationships between dentists cannot be ones of
indifference. We are obliged to practice collaboratively.
all must practice collaboratively in another way — to improve the stead of
those less fortunate, specifically to provide dentistry to those in need.
I recently had lunch with Dr. Adele Della
Torre. She is a practicing dentist in Minneapolis
who has a deep-seated commitment to helping the disenfranchised. Through her
church, she became involved with Families Moving Forward, a faith-based
organization of volunteers in Minneapolis
that provides temporary emergency shelter, permanent affordable housing, and
supportive services to low income families with children. Her church, along
with a cooperative of other churches, provides breakfast, dinner, and a place
to sleep for homeless families with children one week per quarter. For more
information, their website is http://www.familiesmovingforward.org/.
With the increasing income gap and increased
cost of housing, the homelessness problem is becoming worse. In the 2006-2007
school year, there were 4,441 “homeless and highly mobile” children in the MinneapolisPublic School system; that is, those
without a permanent home living here and there with others. Every single school
within the system had at least one homeless child.
works on policy for affordable housing, specifically with Heading Home
Hennepin. This joint initiative between HennepinCounty and the City of Minneapolis aims to end homelessness in Minneapolis within 10 years. A noble endeavor
Overseen by Heading Home Hennepin is Project
Homeless Connect. This project provides services to the needy such as housing
counseling, podiatry, haircuts, eye glasses, physicals, vaccinations,
psychiatry, and, yes, dentistry.
Adele was asked to do dentistry for Project
Homeless Connect, and with the help of Apple Tree Dental, provided dental
services for 45 needy individuals one day last year. She is now on Apple Tree’s
Board of Directors, attempting to find solutions to Minnesota’s dental access problems. She and
her business partner are attempting to turn part of their practice into a
non-profit, thereby helping the needy one day per month.
Charity work, Adele says, is well and good.
She participates and applauds those who participate in Give Kids a Smile Day. However, she feels we need to work on moving toward a more permanent fix, a more comprehensive rehabilitation, so to speak.
She tells the story of a young girl who had a
fixed space maintainer still in place which began impeding the eruption of her
permanent teeth. She simply needed it removed, but her mother couldn’t afford
to drive her to the dentist. A boy, while she was voluntarily babysitting
through Families Moving Forward, was playing telephone. He playfully spoke into
the telephone, “I don’t have the money.”
possesses a faith-based need to give back. It is a calling she has felt since
childhood. It’s easy, she says, to give freely to family and friends. However,
to give yourself away to strangers is a spiritual experience. She felt
unfulfilled until she was able to do this. To be truly happy, one must find a
way to “live your life outside of yourself”.
matter what your religious affiliation, the message is clear. Practice
humility. Practice hospitality. When you invite guests to your table, invite
and include the lowly, the needy, those less fortunate.
Adele’s efforts symbolize what we all need to
do. Reject today’s greed and indifference. Challenge yourself. Go
outside “the box”. Help others. Seek solutions. And remember, unlike the Lone
Ranger, you are not alone.
e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fax us at (612) 339-3618. We look forward
to hearing from you not only regarding this article, but also if you have any
ethical dilemmas you would like to present to the membership. Perhaps we can
help you decide what to do.