Why Dentistry?

One of the most common questions I often heard from patients was, “why did you choose to become a dentist?”  It always made me smile because the question usually came about from different intentions.  Many were simply curious and fascinated to learn how one falls into this career.  They just wanted to get to know a little bit about me.  Some were curious and fascinated because they always thought it would be so hard to “be in people’s mouths all day.”  They admired my strength.  Others, well, they were curious and fascinated because they found it unfathomable that anyone would even consider it; and they wanted to know how crazy I really was.  I always had a genuine answer, but some days I jokingly replied, “I don’t know,” laughing, shaking my head, and wondering that same question myself.

But there is a reason I went into this.

The reality is there were a lot of reasons it sounded so great to me, but instead of making a list about why dentistry is so wonderful, I’ll just touch on the basic feelings I had about it.  It started early.  As a kid I remember being very interested when the dental assistant would clean my teeth and teach me things about them.  I did have quite a few fillings when I was young, but it never seemed to faze me.  I would come in, get the job done, and I was on my way.  It was always a positive experience.  The dentist and the staff were consistently kind, caring, and still told me I did a great job with my teeth, despite having some cavities.  And like most patients out there I cooperated, allowing them to help me.

Knowing what I know now, I realize they weren’t just trying to make me feel good.  I took care of my teeth, so the cavities weren’t from lack of brushing.  It was the Coke.  I always thought I was so cool because I was allowed to drink Coke whenever I wanted.  While friends were being forced to drink milk with their dinner, I was allowed to have Coke.  Yep, I know that’s what brought me back to the chair year after year.  When I got to college and realized that I had to run to the store and pay for it myself, my perspective changed a bit.  What a hassle this was!  As I became aware that I was blowing through a 6-pack in just a few days, this cheap and lazy college kid simply quit.  It didn’t dawn on me at the time, but now I can look back and see how much that changed things for not just my teeth, but also my overall health.

For me the dental experience was not only interesting, but it was always positive.  I never imagined it could be any other way for people.

Then I got my braces on in 9th grade.  That day felt like the worst day of my life.  Many of my friends were getting their braces off, and here I was having to go through high school with them on.  Just a few years earlier, my friends and I would bend paper clips and put them on our teeth, pretending we had retainers.  (That was before I became a germophobe.)  But now, I was too old for braces.  Could that awkward and insecure 14-year-old with a bad perm get any cooler?

It was the first day I ever said the F word in front of my mom.  I froze with regret, and slowly turned to look at her, unsure of what was coming next.  I think she got it, though, because she let it go.  As horrible as that day was for me, the day I got my braces off was equally as fantastic. It was the day before I started 11th grade, and phew, was I relieved!  I could finish high school feeling a little less dorky.  But I remember how great I felt when I looked at my big white teeth in the mirror.  My smile looked so good, and I remember thinking how a smile could change someone’s life.

I was finally seeing the big picture, and I had the fleeting thought, “I would like to help people smile… literally.”

I didn’t think about it again until I was in college, having to decide what to do with my life.  Somehow, dentistry came up again.  I liked people and knew I wanted to work with them, most likely in healthcare.  Being a medical doctor always sounded great, but I didn’t want to be in hospitals.  I didn’t want to be around sick people.  (It’s just as well– my germophobic tendencies only got worse over the years.  But that’s a whole different story.)  I thought it would be too heavy for me emotionally.  Instead, I thought dentistry could allow me to help people and actually fix something– like putting a puzzle together.  To me it looked like this: someone comes to you with a problem, you fix it, and you’ve helped them.  Simple enough.  And really, that is what dentistry is about… it’s just a little more complex.  My argument was convincing enough that a college friend who was adamant about going to med school still thanks me for convincing her to go to dental school instead.

Ultimately I really wanted to help people smile and help make beautiful smiles.  Sounds corny, but I think it is genuinely true for so many of us dental geeks out there.

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13 thoughts on “Why Dentistry?

  1. Awesome Lolabees! Love reading your blog and as you’ve heard many times from others, it sure does resonate with me too. I could tell you many of my thoughts but it seems you have already written them down! 🙂 Nice to see a great support group forming amongst us dentists who are not fulfilled with our original career! LOL. Keep up the writing and enjoy your “early retirement”! One day I will be moving on to the next phase of my life and it may come sooner rather than later. You have inspired me to wite down my thoughts and experiences. Whether I make my thoughts public is another matter but I think it is therapeutic to put them to paper! I look forward to living vicariously through you for now!

    1. Thanks so much, ddsmonkey! I think it’s great for all of us to know that there are others out there. I never knew what I was starting with that one silly post, but it seems like a good thing to me! I say keep writing (so therapeutic,) keep playing and having fun, and feel free to live vicariously through me– it may make it happen even sooner for you! Thanks for the kind words.

  2. To get two “callings” is pretty remarkable when you consider a lot of people get basically stuck or pegged into something for an entire life. I have always had the calling that I wanted to be difficult, snobby, mean spirited, a general know-it all and king since I was around 5 and I have followed my black heart at every turn and ended up doing something I love.

  3. when there is a bad tooth day, a dentist is the only one who can save us.
    i admire all dentists. it’s noble and its courageous.
    and mind you, i have huge crush on my dentist 😉
    it took some visits to see him without his mask 🙂

  4. I like your story, how your dental history influenced your choice later on in life. I decided in 6th or 7th grade to be a dentist. Before that I was going to be a brain surgeon but the more I found out about that, the more I realized you are in school FOREVER and it’s kind of scary to be responsible for someone’s brain. So I looked around and saw my orthodontist. Since I’d had headgear for awhile and was looking at braces soon, I saw him alot. He seemed like a pretty happy guy. Had a nice life, nice office, good gig. So I decided that I would be an orthodontist. When I was in high school my family dentist knew about my interest in dentistry so he hired me to be a dental assistant so I could see if I really liked it or not. His partner did a lot of ortho and I found out, well, I didn’t really like ortho, but I liked the other stuff. So I decided general dentistry was the job for me. It made getting through undergrad easier because I never wavered from my biology degree and plans. Except that wait to find out if I was accepted into a dental program or not was nerve-wracking since I had no backup plan. And here I am now, almost 10 years out from dental school, and wondering what else I could do because frankly, I’m kind of used up on the dental gig. But that’s a whole other story. Maybe I need to start blogging too. Thanks again for the entertaining post, you sure have a way with words.

    1. Thank you so much, Natalie! I love to hear other people’s “Why Dentistry?” Sounds like you took the proper steps to figure out if it was for you. I think a lot of us get a little burnt out at this time. It really helped me to have “something else” in my life as I felt it was all dentistry, and I wasn’t having fun in my life in general. So maybe it is blogging for you, or maybe it’s photography, or tennis, or maybe some good dental CE like Pankey, Dawson, or Spear??? I’m sure that will lead you down the road to finding what you really want to do. Thanks for visiting the blog! Feel free to continue to chime in!

  5. Funny enough, I always ask fellow dentists, “What made you choose this career?” My dad is a pediatric dentist who (more or less) forced me to become one, as well. Never mind the fact that I’d been writing since the age of five, was really good with languages, and could out-grammar the English teacher.

    I do have to say, though, that I was lucky enough to be able to merge dentistry and writing together, and hopefully I will be e-publishing the first book in my series this year. I’m grateful to have dentistry as a back-up and I do enjoy it, even if it’s not my first love.

    1. I think a lot of us went into this career to please others. I know I did. That’s wonderful that you have another passion to help balance it all out! Good luck with your ebook. I checked out your site, and it looks great!

  6. Hey! Love your writing! I graduated from Sydney Uni (Bachelor of Dental Surgery) 25 years ago and have pretty much regretted/hated my “career” choice every day 😦 But what to do? Keep well, John

    1. Thanks a bunch, John! Sorry to hear how you’ve felt about your career choice. Obviously I can relate. I think a lot of people stick it out for various reasons. Those of you who do are much stronger than I am. I guess that the bright side after 25 years is that you are that much closer to retirement! 😉 And at least you live in a really cool country…

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