4 Pieces of Advice For My Dental Student

ImageI’m trying to remember exactly when I sat in an auditorium to listen to Stephen Jay Gould talk about punctuated equilibrium.  But the presentation ended up to be about a great deal more than that.  

I was with husband number 4 at the time and I hadn’t returned to Florida yet.  That means it was between 1990 – 1992.  

One of the slides in Dr. Gould’s carousel was that of a baby chimp and a human skull side by side.  They seemed to be almost identical.   In a nutshell, he discussed neoteny–humans continue to learn in adulthood in ways that other primate’s don’t because we don’t make that transition into adulthood like other primates.

To put it in FloridaBorne terms:  Humans never grow up.

The theory is highly contentious, but just as I divide the era’s of my life by husbands I don’t particularly care if other people like it or not.  It works for me.

What does this have to do with anything?   

It has everything to do with my advice to my dental student. 


#1 piece of advice:   Don’t try to grow up. It ain’t gonna happen

All those stately doctors, all those old people with canes and walkers, all those highly educated and worldly professors all have 1 thing in common.  They’re nothing but children with too much age and/or too much education who have learned to hide their snits and tantrums inside a layer of arrogance and their wants and dreams inside a layer of resignation.  

It’s prudent to listen to good advice from those who deserve respect, but don’t ever think for a minute that everything you know and believe has to change if someone with more education or a longer life tells you to change it. 



Your patient
during the
Precambrian era

#2 piece of advice:  Advocate for your patient

 When I sit in a dental chair your confidence shelters my fear, your explanations tell me, “I understand you’re not just a patient, you’re a person.” 

You know I hate amalgam.  You know I believe fluoride is a poison and I don’t want it near my mouth.  You know that I’m extremely light sensitive.  You understand my idiosyncrasies, so please understand that I rely on you to advocate for my choices.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” but as a patient, I take it one step further.   You may disapprove of what I believe, but if I’m willing to take responsibility for the consequences (which I am) I expect you to defend my right to receive the dental care I believe in.

I consider fluoride, and chemotherapy, the 21st century equivalent of blood letting. If you remember, the end-all-be-all-know-it-all theory of blood letting died with the advent of modern medicine. There are elements of modern medicine that are destined to die out, too.   

As an example, in 1946, there was an ad that said, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.”  Not only did doctor’s smoke, they encouraged women to start smoking for their health.  I know women in their 70’s who started smoking only because their doctors recommended it.  

You don’t have to agree with me, just keep your mind open to the idea that what the medical practitioners believe is true at this moment is subject to change. 

And please, don’t put fluoride anywhere near my mouth again.  



#3 piece of advice:  Have confidence in your heart and your talent.

  • You can teach technique, but you can’t teach talent.  
  • You can cultivate a “bedside manner,” but you can’t teach heart. 

Part of your charisma is your love for your chosen field.  You’re not just sticking your hand in someone’s mouth to make money, you’re deeply committed to excellence.

This does more to instill confidence in a patient than a well-crafted lie or a hardened veneer of arrogance.

Yes, you will make mistakes—that’s called being human.  It’s how you bounce back from those mistakes that determine the caliber of your character.

There are people with a great deal more knowledge and a great deal less talent who will eagerly point out your mistakes.  You know who these people are.  Don’t let their jealousy drag you down in their effort to make themselves feel better about their inadequacies.



#4 piece of advice Learn from your children

How do you resist the admonishments of people who tell you to grow up?  Rekindle the newness of life by watching and listening to your children.

  • Remember the wonder of the moment, not the theory of the century.  
  • Swing alongside your children and enjoy the sensation of air moving across your body. 
  • Allow yourself to be swallowed up in your child’s uninhibited laughter.  

Don’t worry that it’s not doctor-like to play horsie.  Doctor is not spelled G-O-D. 

When the next era comes along and something else replaces the mammals as the dominant species on Earth, no one is going to care how well your culture browbeat you into believing there is such a thing as adulthood.

So there you have it:

  • Old people are nothing more than children with wrinkles, 
  • Doctors are nothing more than highly educated humans,
  • And theories are born, grow old and then die much the same as we do.

Enjoy what life is like before socialization digs its ugly claws into our brains and forces us to bend to the will of our culture.   That’s the wellspring of joy, of love, and of critical thinking.