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MyView: ‘The Times, They Are A-Changin’’

July 10, 2017

By Kathy Gibson, D.D.S.

Photo of Dr. Gibson
Dr. Gibson
How many times have you ever remarked that this is not how we used to do it or that the old way was as good or better than the new way? Monthly? Weekly? Daily? Does there need to be another new road? What was wrong with the building they tore down to build a new one? Why was my board exam so much harder than the one new dentists take now? Do I really need to buy a new adhesive? Is it that much better than the old one? I have found myself in that position and sometimes question the need for change. However, I can usually appreciate the old while learning the new. If I don’t like the results of change, I can always go back to the old way of doing things knowing that I at least tried. It seems the only thing constant in life — and dentistry — is change.

As a new dentist, I remember being invited to attend a local dental society meeting; one did not just show up uninvited. Everyone there was dressed in business attire; no scrubs or hoodies in sight. It was serious business with presentations, discussions and elections. When we had attended several meetings and turned in membership applications, my friends and I actually had to leave the room in order for a secret ballot to be held to determine our worthiness to become members of the dental society. We made it, but I found out later that some applicants were not accepted based on some of their business practices. I felt proud that I had made the cut and would be a part of changing dentistry. My first trip to a state dental meeting was just as serious. My associate, a former Texas Dental Association president, told me that I would be going because it was important for me to see how dentists regulated themselves. No questions asked. I was seated in an area of the state House of Delegates with a copy of the delegates’ book and told to listen and follow all of the proceedings. Once again, I was pretty impressed. These people were changing rules and making suggestions that could affect how I practiced dentistry. It seemed that the rules were re-evaluated and changed as needed; judging by the size of the delegates’ book, that happened frequently. Over time, I would earn my spot in the House of Delegates myself and be able to give my opinions on change.

I would feel the same sense of awe and responsibility when I was selected as an alternate delegate to the big show — the American Dental Association House of Delegates. Here was real power (and an even bigger book). This group would review the practice of dentistry on a national level. My first dental mentor was right; I had a responsibility to help preserve dentistry for myself and future generations by being part of the organization that determined change. As the song says, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” Dental society meetings are a little more relaxed and encourage camaraderie. Scrubs do show up with a more relaxed dress code. There are no more secret ballots to determine membership in a dental society or association. Organized dentistry has become more inclusive and welcoming — definitely a change for the better. More continuing education hours and training are required to maintain my license, but I realize that it is a necessary change to stay relevant with the many advances in dentistry. An alphabet soup of organizations and regulations keep my patients, my staff and myself safe. It requires a bit more work and attention to details, but I see the benefits of these changes in oversight.

As a member of the Greater Houston Dental Society Judicial Committee, my responsibilities include reviewing membership applications, handling dentist-to-dentist complaints and stressing the importance of ethical behavior in life and dentistry. I hope that I will never have to handle a complaint, but it is comforting to know that there is a system in place to deal with dentists who are unwilling or unable to accept the changes that our profession faces. But in spite of the many positive changes, my biggest concern is for the new dentist who leaves school with huge outstanding loans and does not have a mentor to guide him/her through the rough spots. The new practice model and overwhelming debt are changes that could leave new dentists feeling alone and pressured into making some bad choices. Who will take him/her by the hand, sit them down and say, “Listen, this is important.” Hopefully, one thing that will never change is the willingness of an experienced dentist to reach out and extend a welcome to our profession and set a standard for the next generation.

This editorial, reprinted with permission, originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of The Journal of the Greater Houston Dental Society. Dr. Gibson is a member of the dental society’s judicial committee.