Do you need a new challenge?

6 ideas for boosting professional satisfaction

Dentistry is exciting with daily challenges and unusual cases. But it can also be wearing. Things don’t always work ideally, and the day-to-day stresses can turn into a grind. Home becomes a refuge, going out after a day at the office may seem like a burden, and your charming personality is often left at the office. Your family often feels the effects of another tough day.

Good news: it doesn’t have to be that way. Many dentists have found ways to make the profession stay fresh and challenging. Here are six ideas to consider:

Learn a new clinical skill

A general dentist doesn’t necessarily have to enroll in specialty education to focus on a special interest in dental practice. Dentists can opt to see patients of all ages, while emphasizing care for children, or feature whitening or occlusion therapy or another treatment that interests them. Continuing education courses and hands-on programs that expand knowledge about special areas of interest abound and can provide a path to expanding services or finding a practice emphasis. Obviously, dentists must offer the highest standard of care with these services, but that is not an insurmountable task if they are willing to invest time and effort into continuing education opportunities.

Join a study club

One of the most difficult parts of practice is that most dentists are solo practitioners, collaborating only with team members. Regular exchanges with colleagues can keep practice excitement alive and open the door to added services. There are local and national study clubs with regular information exchange and special speakers and often serve as problem-solving vehicles for difficult cases. Because study clubs tend to be smaller than dental society groups, there is more opportunity for one-on-one discussion and problem solving.

Be a leader

A dentist is the CEO, chief operating officer, chief financial officer, and human resources director for a practice. If you are good at all those things, the office tends to run well. If not, it’s time to learn to be a leader. The local dental society, the state association and the American Dental Association welcome dentists who want to hone their leadership skills. By starting small at the local level, for instance, as a volunteer for a committee or event, you can practice the necessary leadership skills. As your confidence increases, you can take on bigger tasks. Chair a committee for the local society, serve on a state council, become a trustee, serve on an ADA council and move to the top levels of leadership. There are opportunities for all types of leadership skills, and your profession needs members to step up to guide dentistry to better serve patients.


Not every dentist lives close enough to a dental or dental hygiene school to have the opportunity to join the faculty. If the option does exist, teaching can be extremely rewarding and stimulating. There are often faculty openings, especially adjunct faculty who work part time for little or no remuneration, but who receive tremendous benefits from helping tomorrow’s professionals thrive. Most schools have excellent calibration programs to ensure that faculty are teaching a consistent message and understand the level of competence of the students. There are specific departments that can fit nicely into a dentists’ special areas of interest.


Think about developing a course or series on special interest areas. You don’t have to be the foremost expert, but the ability to communicate an area of practice that helps dentists and team members focus on improving their skills is always of value. Recall lecturers who most impressed you with their ability to communicate a technique or service that makes a procedure easier or of higher quality.  They usually made it interesting. Beyond clinical lectures, many dentists focus on how they handle the management tasks of running a dental practice.

Another opportunity that can open doors and double as a great marketing tool is to develop lectures for the public. Rotary and other clubs are always looking for interesting speakers. Developing a series of programs that educate the public about options and services in dentistry can be an invaluable service in the community and remind the audience of the location of a quality dental practice.


Not every mind works this way, but for those who have some curiosity about how to do things better, the next step is to try to do just that. I remember as a dental student visiting the office of my children’s dentist and finding the dentist deep in conversation with a dental supply company to produce a rubber dam frame that could be added and removed easily without disturbing the patient, slowing down the procedure or scaring a child. Analyzing dental procedures and figuring out ways to provide higher quality at greater speed is an inventor’s dream. If you have the mind for it, you can be a part of the process to bring new and different instruments and practice methods to the profession.

A photograph of Dr. William van Dyk.
Dr. William van Dyk

About the author

Dr. Van Dyk practices dentistry in San Pablo, California, and teaches in the department of Dental Practice at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry at the University of the Pacific. He lectures on a variety of practice management issues. Contact him at for more information.