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Where have all the joyful dentists gone? Far Far Away?

I was recently on vacation in the Bahamas reading a book that my oldest son was required to read in one of his college courses. The book was written by Rollo May and is called "The Cry For Myth". While reading this book some thoughts about how ideas in this book applied to dentists in general and to my excitement over the possibilities of inter-dentist communication on the internet crystallized in my mind. I would like to share some of these thoughts with all of you dental internet explorers.

All cultures have values and truisms based on myths. I am not using the definition of myth as a untrue fairy-tale but the definition which holds that myths are stories that explain that which can not be physically controlled, touched, felt or physically experienced. A myth is a story that gives explanations for such things as: meaning and purpose in life, guidelines to lead us all through life, canons to base our action upon, etc. Examples include very familiar stories such as the story of Adam and Eve, a story with many of the same themes, Merlin and young King Arthur, Homer's Oddessey, Western Cowboy stories ie. The Lone Ranger, I could go on and on.

To explain how all this applies to dentistry I believe a good starting point is a quote from Virgil "We make our destiny by the choice of our Gods." For the most part we make the choice of our gods based on our cultural mythic beliefs. We as dentists coming from this culture and applying beliefs based on cultural myths to our dental situations have, in some cases, not examined our gods closely enough. The result has been many dentists being unhappy, lonely, workaholics, with the view that their glass is always half empty. The proof of this statement is displayed by the alarmingly high divorce rate, suicide rate, and chemical dependency rates among dentists.

I believe a myth that is particularly destructive for dentists is that of the cowboy in the western frontier. That rugged individual epitomized by the Lone Ranger. He rides into the picture to correct some terrible wrong and by himself, his true identity hidden from all others, does his deeds and rides off into the wild to return another day.

The nature of our profession molds many of us into Lone Rangers. Our cottage industry isolates us from each other. We are taught to have all the answers, be self reliant, and that we should be able to treat our patients without error or toll on our emotions. At the end of the day we should ride off from the office without taking our mask off to our patients or staff. Many times our families are unfortunate enough to see the emotional conflict that has evolved during our day dealing with frustrating situations which we, in our isolation, do not see any hope of any win resolutions.

This isolation and individualist attitude also leads to our feeling competitive with our fellow dentists in our town and surrounding area. Our feelings of pride and insecurities make us feel even more isolated and competitive with other dentists. We are attacked from beyond our tiny fortresses by huge insurance companies, malpractice worries, and government regulations about which we feel powerless. The reason this powerlessness is so frightening goes back to our worshipping the god of self reliance and perfection. We worship on that altar but know in our hearts that we are not perfect. We need to be more in community with others to learn from others that we are not a failure if we cannot control our own destiny.

These isolation and self reliant attitudes are used against us by powers outside our office to make us feel even more isolated and fearful. Instead of us realizing that the world provides us with an abundance, our life view becomes one of scarcity. We must accumulate, hoard, hid our secrets. We must learn secrets from magic guru's, so we can be ahead of the other dentists and financially prosper. If we financially prosper all of our other life problems will be solved. Our potential will be realized. We can ride off into the sunset a hero.

We fret if our overhead is too high. Is our hygiene profit center producing as much as that course giver says we should? We look at the surveys in Dental Economics and see if we measure up to the income standards of the average dentist. We look with envy at the dentist down the street that on the surface seems to be doing better than we are. We are afraid to ask for help if we need it from our fellow dentists. After all the Lone Ranger has the silver bullets!

Well I guess I have painted a pretty bleak little picture of all the scared dentists huddled in their own small offices inwardly in fear but outwardly successful. What does all this have to do with my excitement about dentistry on the internet?

I do believe that the non-threatening communication possibilities afforded by the common access to the internet will be a wonderful breath of fresh air into our profession. Every dentist can share information, concerns, and solutions with every other dentist. We will no longer be lectured at by certain guru's about how we should run our offices and treat our patients. We can all share freely our ideas, hopes, and feelings about dentistry both in techniques and much needed moral support. Since the dentists we are communicating with are not the dentists down the street we will not feel as threatened as in the past. Yes, I believe a new knowledge age is about to dawn in dentistry and I am truly excited.

We at the Dental Cyberweb are moving ahead with plans to install a chat room on these pages. Further details will be posted here as we develop this concept.

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