Dentistry as a reality show

Dec. 1, 2008
Human nature gives most of us the desire to succeed. That desire in each of us that wants to be better today than yesterday moves our world forward and encourages advancement of the human race.

by Lory Laughter, RDH, BS

Human nature gives most of us the desire to succeed. That desire in each of us that wants to be better today than yesterday moves our world forward and encourages advancement of the human race. What bothers me lately is the realization that most people feel the need to put others down or prove their superiority on their path to achieving goals. Success appears to be sweeter if the path is littered with those less able than ourselves. It's almost like all of humanity is stuck in third grade.

The world of dentistry is not immune from this sad tale of degrading others to build up our own self esteem. As I thought of this, the reality show "Big Brother" came to mind. Television, while often a waste of time, all too often parallels life.

The premise of the game on "Big Brother" is to manipulate the lives of those in the house so as to cause chaos among the dwellers. The "house guests," as they are called, try to play a game while anticipating changes and traps set up by the producers. One by one the house guests are evicted until a winner is picked. Ironically, the winner is chosen by previously evicted players. While it may seem like a stretch, organized dentistry works in much the same way.

We'll call the new reality show "Dental Brother." The house will be filled with three types of people — those who fix things and are responsible for making sure the house structure is examined regularly, those who try to prevent problems in the first place, and those who are skilled at pitching in to help wherever needed. This last group is also well trained in tasks necessary to ensure that fixing and preventing go smoothly. Each individual is naturally attracted to others with similar interests and skills, which creates alliances.

In the beginning each alliance is concerned with carrying out their tasks in a way that benefits the entire house population. While separate in talents and assignments, the focus is clearly on sustaining a healthy home. Each alliance wants to evolve and improve, gaining more education along the way to upgrade knowledge and ability. The population is well served and life appears tranquil. Enter the producers — a group often referred to as the organized world of dentistry.

The producers have a way of stirring things up in our show called "Dental Brother." Of course, it's more interesting to watch the alliances interact when there is some manufactured tension. Maybe that's why the producers seem to get such a kick out of causing paranoia and ill will within the dental house.

The producers have a knack for making "the fixers" think the "preventers" are trying to take over the house. Considerable time and money is spent convincing all the other house guests that those darn prevention folks are trying to get all the food and supplies for themselves. The fixers become territorial and think those skilled at prevention are too educated for the good of the house. The theory becomes that having too many educated people will lead to fewer repairing and inspecting opportunities.

Those skilled at helping things run smoothly are told to help only the fixers. They're told there is no reason the preventers need assistance with their tasks. After all, the producers have whispered into the ears of the fixers and helpers that anyone can do the prevention tasks with a little on–the–job training. By giving degrees to those focused on prevention, a group of seemingly egotistical and demanding individuals is created. The producers spend more time and money convincing the audience that only fixers are qualified to recommend work around the house.

Eventually the solution to the turmoil inside the dental house is to evict guests. The fixers try very hard to build an alliance with the helpers and some of the more influential prevention folks. While the audience has an opportunity to affect the environment of the house, only the house guests get to decide evictions. One by one, those who remain focused on preventing disasters and increasing education are removed from the house.

When everyone is sure that fixers will run the house without interference from anyone else, the helpers realize their training has merit. Helpers know that the fixers cannot run the show alone, and that the house actually relies heavily on the skills of those trained to make procedures run smoothly. The helper alliance becomes stronger and demands more advanced training and a new title: Registered with Expanded Functions. Respect is earned and rewarded by the audience and evicted house guests.

The final twist in "Dental Brother" is the best — evicted house guests get to vote on the winner. The final decision is completely out of the hands of the producers. Maybe those in charge think all the tension and drama will carry over into the voting process and ensure that a fixer will win it all. Sadly, they are probably right.

In an ideal scenario, all professionals would work together to best serve the population's health care needs. Dentists would support and encourage the educational pursuits of every team member. Degrees would replace certificates at every level. Training would not be necessary because education would be valued and required. Sure, lines of duties could become blurred, but superior health care delivery would be the goal. The focus would be on finding cures and better treatments.

Instead of trying to create lower paid, less qualified intermediate coordinators to locate those in need of care, every member of the health care team would insist on serving in the community on a regular basis. I know this ideal world is possible — but only when every house guest is willing to step away from the producers and run his or her own show.

About the Author

Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, divides her full–time clinical practice between general and periodontics practice in Napa and Sonoma, Calif. She is co–owner of Dental IQ, a continuing education provider responsible for bringing quality courses and speakers to the entire dental team. In her spare time, Lory enjoys writing, speaking, volunteering, and providing shelter to homeless pets. You may contact her at [email protected] or through