Escaping the Cult of Dentistry

With another Thanksgiving and the 1-year anniversary of my split with dentistry behind me, I am once again reminded of my gratitude for being able to break free from something that had me feeling so trapped for so long.  Apparently feeling stuck in a job or career is pretty common among us.  (I know, duh.)  A while back I received this email from a fellow dentist, and I’m finally ready to give my 2 cents.

It was a breath of fresh air to read “10 Reasons Your Dentist Probably Hates You Too”! As a dentist of 12 years, I could relate to your article. As a fellow colleague, I commend you for having the guts to put that out in the public – it was a huge risk – but as you said in your posting today, you had many dentists supporting you and thankful for the stress reliever. For some unknown reason, as dentists we do not feel like we are allowed to say ANYTHING about our patients. They can tell us things to our face like, “I just put your kids through college with this mouth”, and we just have to eke out a forced laugh while biting the insides of our lips. You managed to give us a voice – humorously, relatable and tastefully. I am looking forward to reading about your career change. Again, another topic that dentists are afraid to discuss. Do you think it is looked down upon to leave dentistry? What professions CAN people leave and it is not seen as a weakness or that the person is a failure because they do not enjoy it? Who knows…you might be a pioneer in dentistry – not for a miracle bonding agent, but for breaking through the walls of our “silence”. Thank you and good luck!

 I’ve thought a lot about this over the year, and as I sit down to answer this, I’m torn. Initially my answer is YES.  I think it’s seen as weak by many to leave dentistry, especially within the dental community.  In fact, a few months ago I found myself being cyber-bullied on a popular dental website forum.  Okay, they weren’t really bullying me, but they were still being kind of douchey.  I know, you’re probably wondering why anyone would be a dickhead to little ol’ me, right?  Well, apparently, comparing  dentistry to a cult is a VERY TERRIBLE thing to do (ahem, which is exactly why I chose that for the title of this post.)

It all started because I was commenting on this particular forum titled, “Man, I hate dentistry.”  I responded to someone who had asked me how I got out of the career.  In my closing comment I said:

“Good luck to all of you who want out.  Getting out of dentistry is like getting out of a cult.” 

Man, you would have thought I had made a sacrilegious movie about a sacred dental prophet or something.  That one statement alone got me some pompous responses from some very classy dentistry-loving dentists.  Instead of trying to understand what I meant by one silly statement, these “gentlemen” decided to grace me with a few personal attacks.  The Word Police not only chided me for using a “poor choice of words,” but their responses had nothing to do with the actual topic.  Instead these strangers tried to belittle my life choices and my lifestyle– all while staunchly defending how much they love dentistry with an air of superiority because they work damn hard!  I got to see firsthand that some are pretty smug and even defensive about how great dentistry is.

So here I was, speaking out about how happy I was with my decision to leave dentistry, only to be silenced by these dentistry-loving bullies.  Why were they so angry and insulted by this?  What were they trying to protect?  And furthermore, tell me why some dentistry-loving dentists would be trolling on a site titled, “Man, I hate Dentistry”?  Were they trying to convince the poor souls looking for a way out that they should like it and stay?  I don’t know, sounds pretty cult-like to me.

And yes, getting out of dentistry was like getting out of a cult.  There, I said it again. 

Do I really need to explain that analogy?

While this angry reaction of these dentists seems extreme, it’s indicative of the attitude some dentists have.  However, most are much more polite about it when they can’t hide behind their computer, and they have to react to you face-to-face.

I’ll never fully understand why our colleagues seem to judge such a decision.  Does it make them feel rejected, or does it stem from a need to want to control another person?  Maybe it’s a protective measure?  Were they concerned for me and worried I was making a mistake?  There were times when I wished that my fellow dentists were a little less judgmental about my decision to leave dentistry.

And then I experienced something that changed my mind about all of this.

A few days after I wrote 10 Reasons Your Dentist Probably Hates You Too, I went to a dental study club dinner.  Sometimes I hate these events because they often breed the normal stupid, superficial conversation we all have with other dental geeks: where is your practice?  How long have you practiced?  How big is your office?  Blah, blah, blah… all followed by awkward silences when we’ve run out of dental small talk that neither of us really care about.  This night, though, was different.  A dentist had walked in with a printed copy of my post, and he was excitedly showing it to all of the dentists in the room.  One dentist who knew I had just quit practicing days earlier handed it to me, and said, “you’ve got to read this.  You’re going to love it.”  I smiled and said, “I wrote that.”  That moment changed everything.  When they realized that I was celebrating my early retirement (with what seemed like loads of confidence backing my decision,) suddenly the energy shifted.  For the first time the conversation became very real.  I was surprised to discover that several other people were working with the main goal to get out as soon as they could.  We suddenly not only shared honest conversations about how we truly felt about our careers, but we also found other things we actually loved and enjoyed discussing.  When I stopped pretending, it allowed me and those around me to be real.  And this is when I realized that leaving dentistry doesn’t have to be looked down upon.  It’s what we make of it.

With that, I modify my initial answer.  When push comes to shove, no one really cares what you do.  The judgmental, smug dentists that do care are like our patients: most are wonderful, but 1 or 2 are not.  Somehow, these are the ones that get under our skin and make the most noise.  But they’re not in the majority.  The majority are supportive and actually find leaving the career courageous because it is so hard to do. Is it as difficult to leave any other career?  I think so.  Change is hard, and it must be hard to leave any career.

The fear that we will be a disgrace for leaving this career, while very real and very valid, is only another roadblock that we create for ourselves.

Now I ask you the same questions that were asked of me:  Is it looked down upon to leave dentistry?  What professions CAN people leave and it is not seen as a weakness or that the person is a failure because they do not enjoy it?


106 thoughts on “Escaping the Cult of Dentistry

      1. Ah, I got a part-timer yesterday. I told her up front that I am not a good flosser and didn’t try to lie to her (remembering your 10 things post) I earned points when I told her I know blood is not a good sign when flossing. She told me I was the first patient that ever knew that. Hmmm? See? You are still teaching dental lessons….

    1. i have long felt that dentistry took a cult-like, Stepford turn from about the late 90’s on. i’ve lived/worked in about 3 places around ontario in the last 20 years and each new dental office has had the same vibe. the people all act robotic and perfect, they are like extreme customer service freaks. there’s a very fake quality about them.
      then there’s the sales pitch about all the new and wonderful things they can do for your mouth, even if unnecessary. if you say no thanks, there’s a subtle feeling that you are a low-life.
      what the hell happened to this industry?? kudos to this guy for putting it behind him!!

      1. Hi k,
        I’m curious, are you a patient or a dental professional? I think the profession has changed a lot. I think it’s probably a result of rising overhead and increased competition. A lot of dentists who don’t love it anymore feel that both dental professionals and patients have changed. There’s actually a dentist who talks a lot about how the state of dentistry has changed. You might want to read his blog.

        Thanks for the kudos! Not that it matters, but I’m a gal, by the way. 😉

      2. What happened? Probably increased litigation and customer retention. We don’t want to act that way, we’re forced to.
        I personally can’t wait to leave but I’m stuck due to astronomical student loans and no savings.

  1. Congrats on your one year anniversary. When my husband gave up his career as a Commercial Airline Pilot to join me in the Homebuilding Biz, no one seemed to understand, especially his mother. The industry had changed so much (for the worse) he no longer enjoyed it plus with all the time away from home, he was missing alot with our children. He’s never regreted this decision and it made atheworld of difference in our kids lives to have their dad around.

    Sending Happy Holiday wishes 🙂

    1. Thanks, Ingrid. It’s funny that you mentioned your husband’s mom. Of all the people who probably had the most inappropriate reactions to my career change it was mothers– and not necessarily my own! I remember one day at the gym I was talking to a mother and daughter who were my “gym friends.” When I shared my news, the mom said, “after all that school?” Her daughter was mortified by her response, but it made me laugh b/c it was the stereotypical mom reply. I love hearing about other career changes too. How could he give up such a great career? 😉 Sounds like it was a great decision for him too– and I wonder if anyone ever regrets that type of decision. I think deep down we know what we should do. A very Happy Holidays to you too.

  2. Laura– Nice post. I have some thoughts. First, I don’t think dentistry is a cult. Too many fragmented ideas on how to practice—and that’s another problem. In other words cults have similar philosophies and values—dentistry is all over the board. That said–I can see why many dentists reacted the way they did toward you. It was out of fear. Fear of not being able to deal with the future and regretting that they had made a mistake when they chose dentistry. If THEY chose dentistry. Dentistry is a flawed profession these days. When I started in 1973 it was a tough and very expansive field. But at least a dentist could practice with a sense of independence. Today that window is closing, and it is much tougher to do dentistry that you can become passionate about…for many of the reasons you know.
    Those dentists created stories that justify their life choices—by being vulnerable enough to do what it takes to control their lives – or get out- would make them very upset with themselves. You had the courage to face your issues—for that you should be commended. But remember–there is nothing inherently wrong with the field—the conditions and circumstances, yes, but not dentistry.
    That website that belittled you (I know the one)—well they sell success in dentistry—what would we expect him to say—without excited customers—they would be out of business. I read his blog all the time—they teach good technical stuff – but the other soft stuff you can read about in any generic self-help book for 1/1000 the cost.

    1. Thanks, Barry. I always love to hear what you have to say. It’s interesting to see the perspective you give this discussion regarding the state of dentistry and how it has changed. It’s also interesting b/c I struggled for weeks on how to write this post, and my problem was that I was trying to keep it shorter but also had a lot to say. In the end I decided not to explain what I meant by the cult reference with the thought that someone would ask if they wanted to know. I have to admit, I maybe should have left an explanation of it in, but I was sort of trying to leave it open. I completely agree with you that dentistry is not a cult. What I mean by the analogy is that getting out of dentistry is as difficult as it is stereotypically to get out of a cult. Not necessarily b/c the 2 have any similar qualities, but just implying that it’s as hard to leave this career as I imagine it would be to get out of a cult. So thanks for asking what I meant by that. 😉 😉

      And, I’m totally with you that the field is fine (if not great) and that there are many great things that go with the bad.

      I interpreted the responses by those few guys simply to be ill-mannered (not too different from other online stuff I have read and also called out.) I imagined that they really do love what they do and that what I said was like insulting one of their moms, so they felt they needed to defend that. Maybe your interpretation is more right on… but I guess we’ll never know! In the end, it made me laugh b/c they were being so cult-like in their responses.

      I will say they have done a good job with that website. There probably isn’t another one like it in the industry. Anyway, thanks as always for your thoughts. You da man! With all the contacts I’ve made over the years, you’re definitely my go-to dentist for opinions!

  3. I think one reason it may be looked down upon to leave dentistry is that it is such hard and expensive work to become one. I would guess the same would hold true for medicine or law. Why go through all the torture of getting into dental school, getting through school, racking up crazy amounts of student loans, passing boards and landing a job just to decide you don’t like it and quit? Shoudn’t you have known that before you started the process? Well, we know that it happens and for me, I felt kinda guilty for feeling that way for a long while. When I was about two years into my extended “maternity leave”, I was at a large dental CE conference engaged in the usual dental chatting you wrote about. When I said I wasn’t currently practicing, almost every MALE dentist asked if I missed it and when I said no, they just couldn’t fathom how I could feel that way. And I think non-dentists may be taken even more aback for quitting the profession. “You were a dentist and you gave up all that money to work in a flower shop (or where ever)? But in the end, isn’t quality of life and doing what you love more important than gutting it out doing something you just don’t enjoy? I realize economics plays a big part in being able to make the decision to leave but if you can leave, why not?

    1. I totally agree. Would it be safe to say that at the time it was easier to explain that you were on maternity leave than to say you were on maternity leave, but you loved that it gave you a break from a career you weren’t enjoying?

      I had an older male dentist say to me, “don’t you just love dentistry?” My answer was kind of lukewarm b/c I was so miserable about it that I couldn’t even fake it. The guy was so cheerful about it that he didn’t even notice my “meh” of a response. It was kind of cute to see that he loved it so much that he couldn’t even see my painful reaction. I still chuckle about that when I think about him.

    2. It’s really refreshing to hear other people discussing this. I have been asked almost every question and heard almost every phrase you’ve mentioned, Kristen! It’s especially frustrating hearing it from people who have no connection to the profession.

      I graduated about 9 months ago and remember vividly thinking. “Thank f*ck that’s over! Finally, I can be done with all this and do what I want.” Alas… I then spent months after receiving my diploma studying for state examinations, passed those, checked them off the list, burnt out, broke down and then get into the long, long process of getting work permits and dealing with unexpected bureaucratic problems, all which has ultimately meant that I have been unemployed for half a year contemplating constantly whether to bother with dentistry or not. (Echoing years of doubt form my study years). With every obstacle that came up, it became more and more apparent that I just did not care. I didn’t care about dentistry, I didn’t care that this new issue could stop me from being able to work and I haven’t been willing to fight for it. I’ve largely been half-arsing the paperwork to keep criticism off my back. (Basically avoiding a decision.) Every time I say that I am a dentist, my upper lip curls and my forehead wrinkles, because I’m full of a feeling of ‘ugh.. god, that’s what I am’.

      I think the fear of leaving something so stable, reliable and economically rewarding as dentistry is a bigger problem than I, or very likely many others like to admit. It is safe and predictable, comes with a nice social status and naturally, we become cowards in the face of that versus something totally unknown and potentially, badly paid. That fear is totally paralysing.

      “You might regret it if you don’t try it.” — I am interested to hear what other here that are in the profession may say to that. I haven’t begun practicing dentistry yet, although I still have the option. I have this strange, perhaps somewhat irrational fear, that once I start, I’ll never get out. (Cult-esque…?) As if I don’t use the opportunity I have now, where I’m not economically in crisis, so to speak, to leave, then I’ll lose another few years. Then again, if you’re not sure of something, the best way to be sure you don’t like it is to try it.

      (Sorry, to have droned on a bit, but I am at my wits end trying to come to a decision…!)

      1. Welcome to the family! 😉 Isn’t it funny that you finished dental school and thought it was over? I guess it could be over if you want. I always say that it was harder to get out of dentistry than it was to get in, but the only thing that was really holding myself back was myself! I’m glad you get the cult reference. I’ve started offering coaching for people in similar situations, so fill out my contact form if you want to have a quick chat.

        1. You’ve been thanked many times in this blog, lolabees, but I’m going to thank you one more time for starting this! It’s been unbelievably calming to be able to read through so many different experiences and to also then be able to resonate with so many of them. It has felt like a very lonely thing to go through up until now. I frankly thought it would be impossible to find anyone ‘sympathetic to dental woes’, so to speak! It’s comforting and so useful to see that you’re not the only one who is thinking about something a certain way and that you’re not irrational or stupid or naive because you do so. I think you’re helping many people. In fact, today I have decided to leave dentistry behind (facing the fear!) and become a furniture maker, like I’ve always wanted to.

          Thank you, again. 🙂

        2. Kasia, thank you so much. I can’t express how much it means to hear you say that. I’m so glad it has helped you, that you’ve found a community of people who understands your “dental woes,” and that you have found the courage to make a tough decision! You absolutely have to keep us posted and share your journey into the life you want to live. Congrats! By the way, curious to know where you are from?

  4. This is your best post yet. I know I have been quiet but I am still following you, my favorite blogger. Not sure if I have ever told you that I teach dental students. Up until recently, this class was my favorite. Dental students are wonderful students. Bright and enthusiastic without the level of anxiety that medical student exhibit. Unfortunately, this has changed. However, I have just had a wonderful class so I am back on board with the dental students 🙂

    This is a gutsy post and I totally applaud you for it. So you didn’t like your chosen career. So what? I spend many years in grad school only to throw in the towel a few years back. I LOVE WHAT I DO NOW. I wouldn’t turn back time if I had a choice. Follow your heart. Be happy and don’t let anyone tell you what is best for you. You know I am a fan 🙂

    1. Thanks, Anon! I’ve been wondering where you were in your own blogging world. You’re so sweet, and I take that as the ultimate compliment coming from a fellow blogger. You did not tell me that you teach dental students. What an interesting contrast you mention, and that distinction is kind of why I chose dentistry in the first place– medicine seemed too intense. Did you ever catch my 10 Reasons I Loved Dental School post? You might like it. It’ll get you a glimpse of what’s going on inside a dental students brain 😉

      I’m curious… was it as difficult for you to change careers as many dentists feel it is? I think the idea that we invested so much is what makes it so hard. You also invested so much, so just curious…

      1. Hi.. wow, great topic. Can’t believe I didn’t spit it sooner!
        I myself am a dentist and can relate to soooo much of what you’ve posted yet, here I am, still doing it feeling like it’s all I’ve ever really worked for yet have absolutely no joy left for it.
        I’m at the beginning of your journey but feel absolutely paralyzed contemplating anything else. This attitude I have is exceptionally frustrating as it’s my own!!


        1. DrDMD, Ha! It’s even more frustrating when it’s your own– you can’t blame anyone else! lol. I’m glad you found us. It’s definitely much harder to get out than to get in. How long have you been in practice?

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on dentistry. After 11 years as a general dentist, I am finally moving onward. Seeing your post a year ago helped me to finally make the decision to move on. Although I am not leaving dentistry all together, I am making a major change and going back to school. I’m in the process of selling my practice and will start the new program next July.

    It is truly amazing how many people think that I am crazy for quitting such a wonderful profession. Even my own uncle, who is also a dentist, thinks that “I’ll come around” and “stop this crazy talk”. But since I made the decision to shift gears, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I know I am making the right and sane choice for my family and me.

    1. Yay for you!!! I think a career within dentistry is also a great path. I have a friend who went on to study public health because she hated practicing as much as I did– funny that we worked in the same office! I haven’t talked to her in a while, but I think she is also very happy with her decision.

      I know how all that feels. I think the thought that you’ll “come around” will probably start to dissolve over time once he and others realize that you feel good about your decision and you’re not making a huge mistake. I get much less if any of that now, which is kind of nice. There is no other feeling to describe that weight being lifted off your shoulders. Congrats, Dr H!

  6. As I sit here dreading another day of going to the office, I applaud you as well for having the guts to get out and to write about it. You have been an inspiration for people like me who have been unhappy but afraid to talk about it for fear of being perceived as weak by others in the field. When I finished dental school 15 years I loved doing dentistry and felt like the world was full of opportunity. In fact, a fellow dental student in my class quit being a dentist the following year and I thought that person was crazy. Now I have a whole new respect and understanding for that person. After dealing with the immense stress of this career and finding that I am unable to do the dentistry that I enjoy everyday and dealing with people who just don’t appreciate you I have come to the conclusion that I am truly unhappy. I have tried to make changes but when you are truly unhappy it does not matter how many changes you make. I know I have to make the ultimate change and get out but as I have already said before it is not easy to escape when you have spent so much time, effort and money to have a career that you ultimately end up hating. I wish I knew this 15 years ago. I also wish I could find an easy way out. If anyone has any suggestions please feel free to share them. Again, you should be commended Lolabees!!

    1. I think your situation just shows that dreading every day in the office is not such a black and white matter. At one point you did love this and now you don’t. I think that’s perfectly natural, and I bet a lot of people would try to justify it as burn out. People grow and change, and discover that certain things aren’t for them. At least you get to express yourself somehow, and I bet in just doing that, you will be able to find a way… eventually. Just this last week I had the thought that I spent my 20’s getting into dentistry, and I spent my 30’s getting out of it! Haha!

    2. My goodness.. I feel everything you are saying!
      I’m with you in all that you’ve expressed and happy to exchange ideas sometime!

  7. LLB, again, spot on observation(s).
    I don’t think ANY sane dentist would ‘look down’ upon another for leaving the profession. In fact, one the topics that usually dominates conversation amongst fellow tooth jockeys is “what would we rather be doing?”… or “…if we had to do it again…etc”.
    A of dentists are insecure trolls frought with inferiority complex (the older guys have the M.D.-wannabee complex, and the younger women and men… I don’t know.. but they still seem bitter)The patient encounters that eat your soul away on a daily basis (as you mention in your posts), happen to ALL of us, but i sometimes wonder if some dentists are consumed that it only happens to THEM.. therefore they feel the need to put up the douchebag front?
    I have resigned myself it is a ‘means to an end’ : i am at an age with family, i cannot afford to bail.. but I certainly would NEVER question anyone who would (and there a few GP’s in my neck of the woods that SHOULD bail for the good of their patients!).
    Why would anyone in the dental community ‘dig’ on someone who chooses to leave? Frankly, it’s more potential buisness for them??.. so it makes no logical or buisness sense. AHH.. but that’s the rub… most dentists DON’T HAVE any logic or buisness sense, they envelope themselves in their ‘smock of smugness’ and wallow away.
    It’s not a cult as much a huddled mass of pathos.
    ……. to ‘ Life in 3D’, i put a tip jar at the front desk for a few days every now and then as a joke. Most patients get it, some are bewildered, some get incensed. the sign on the jar does say: ‘Tips for the Dr’. at the beginning of the day, the staff usually goes thru the schedule, figures out who may tip, who may get mad, etc.. who ever gets the ‘most right’ gets the tips at the end of the day! we usually get between $25-55 bucks. I find if i put a picture of my 5 year old on the front desk.. the tip count goes a little higher!
    …… gotta make your fun where you can!

  8. I think the reason most dentists seem to frown on those that have gotten out is because (like myself) they have no idea what they can do other than be a dentist. We aren’t trained to do anything else and our set of skills is so specific to patient care that they are not easy to apply in other work settings. That being said, I am sure they are more applicable than we realize but in dental school we are only taught to be dentists and there is no option to learn about alternative careers. Also, like myself, most dentists have spent considerable time, effort and money to get into this career so you feel like a colossal failure if you decide to quit since you put so much effort into getting there. If you are at a point like rickauf and this is true for me too-you can’t get out that easy once you have a family and become dependent on your income. I would never criticize anyone for leaving and some of those that do probably are just as unhappy but won’t admit it. Again, I commend those that can get out and find something that makes them happy. For me until I have some sort of aha moment dentistry will have to be a means to an end too.

  9. Hol….err..BH..: Exactly!
    ..not to ‘hijack the post…. i hope it adds to it.. but one thing to consider is WHY an individual went into dentistry.
    I think it’s interesting, if not disturbing, that LLB, You have stated in previous posts your reason for choosing the profession. It reads like the perfect rationale for an application, and since you have decided to move on, but continue to work with people, help others, obviously you have an altrusitic outlook.
    I do not want to sound sexist, but almost every female dentist (my wife included) i have ever met started out, with a higher outlook, but practicing dentistry is an indiscriminate harsh mistress… it will grind everyone down. I still think that most female dentists handle the stress better (don’t become as bitter)… and stay outwardly optimistic.
    Perhaps us ‘guys’ are hardwired to be ‘lunch pail laborers’… so we kep trudging on, but probably bring everyone around down with us. might be a reason so many dentists feel compelled to be part of the ‘cult’… pankey… spears…. it’s all the same crap. (if you understand your 1st year Wagner’s Occlusion textbook.. you understand it, if you don’t, flying to seattle, or fla 3 times a year for some phony ‘fellowship’ won’t do crap…. butit will make you appear ‘cooler’ amongst your peers at the next cheap shoe/polyester blazer study club meeting.
    when the inevitable “why did u become a dentist” comes up… I am usually quite straightforward:
    when i was a kid, our dentist had tons of cash, drove a Porsche / Jag, was always traveling, had lots of attractive women working for him, and didn’t seem to work a lot of hours. Hey, from age 6-17, thats ALL i needed to see. Of course, in retrospect, not EXACTLY the best rationale for choosing a profession….. but times have changed.
    You notice that all the ‘oldsters’ define themselves as dentists? it consumes their life. They come to meetings after they retire… they just don’t go away.
    The younger dentists….. they all are looking for the quickest way out, early retirement, etc.
    I figure… i sell my practice… work for the owner a few days a week, mooch off my wife, and try to get my cupcake shop (or meth lab… whatever…) up and running.

    1. I wonder if the differing reasons for entering the field b/w men and women goes back to gender roles– typically the man’s role was to provide for the family and the woman’s role was to raise the family. When men looked for a career, they wanted stability, income, etc and when women started to do that it was more about relationships and nurturing. I don’t know… just a thought?? I must admit, part of the attraction for me were also the apparent perks you mentioned noticing. I think times have definitely changed and the loyalty/relationship aspect of it is much more difficult.

      Your observations about the old and the young dentists are pretty fascinating, and I think right on. I have different theories about that too, but that would take up too much space– stuff about how our younger generation (my generation) group up more privileged so our work ethic sucks. The older generations had to work. They knew it and accepted it, and they thought they were better for it.

      These old guys are funny. I worked for a 77 yr old. The guy is still practicing, and when I left last year he was shaking all over the place with his handpiece. He still refused to start to distribute his practice to me, and in fact, held on more tightly as the years went on. This guy does not know how to exist if he’s not a dentist. All his adult children work in his practice because when they were kids he’d take them in on weekends to be his assistants to work on patients after hours, and none of them can find jobs on their own. I’m not sure why I’m saying all this, but it’s kind of crazy how this behavior can trickle down into the next generation. To each his own, I guess. I can;t imagine why any patient would want to sit in his chair.

      rick- you could never hijack my post. Hell, I’ve told you before that I love your comments so much that I want you to write a post.

      1. You are ‘right on’ yet agin about our dental elders. I agree 100% that the reason they don’t retire is they have absolutely NO idea of an idea of an identity of than being Dr.Tooth. But I also agree that is derived from a time when your patient base was loyal and not shopping for someone 5 bucks cheaper. I admire and wince at those guys… they had no problem going in on a sunday afternoon to fix a ‘cracked fiiling’ for a patient, but tha at was beacuse that patient was actually grateful, and you probably saw their entire family. a good ‘pro-quo’… but hose days are looong gone.
        your comment about ‘Dr. Shakes, D.M.D’ cracks me up, i worked for a guy 20 years back who was 82 (only took me 3 years he had NO intention of selling me his practice).. he was so ‘confused’ at times he would be taking pocket measurements with a 7/8. On more than one occasion i would hear him yelling at his assistant about “not putting on a sharp scalpel blade”…when in fact he was trying to use the handle end to make his incision.
        LLB… you should write a book on this stuff, i swear, with all the stories here and your way of ‘ word-smything’ to the public… you would be amking the rounds on the morning shows in no time… and hence fulfill your rightful claim to TV fame! 🙂

  10. I cannot imagine having people define me as a dentist only. There are so many other things I would rather have people define me for, a parent being one of them. These oldsters must have had it easier than us. I think they had more patient loyalty and more respect. Things have changed so much in the past 30 years and doctors no longer get the respect and trust they used to get. What has happened is that a few bad apple physicians, dentists, etc. have spoiled the barrel for the rest of us. If a patient isn’t happy with your opinion or fees they run to the next dentist seeking a better deal or they try to find someone who will say what they want to hear. Yes rickauf, dentistry will grind you down. I also went to dental school with high hopes of helping others, taking the fear our of dentistry, and having a practice full of loyal patients that I could grow old with. The reality is not that at all. I would love to pick and choose my patients and procedures but that just doesn’t seem to happen and I am sure all the Pankey and Spears won’t change that either. I also think many dentists are out there just trudging on because they don’t know what else to do-I think that is the real cult.

    1. For a while I think my identity was just dentist. I didn’t have any passions or hobbies that inspired me at all. I started to resent is after a while and at times cringed when I would tell people that I was a dentist. So true what you and rick have both said about times changing. So sad… but, oh well! I did Pankey, and it helped only temporarily. I still love Pankey, but talk about cult… (I say that in the most positive way!!)

  11. Your comment, “It’s what you make of it” captures the plasma of your experience. Whenever I get hit–even blind sided–by bad karma, I remind myself of this thought: If what was just said or happened adds to the quality of my life, then I can carry it with me. If not I hit the jettison button. Many years ago I was coached into becoming, and expected to become, a surgeon. Had I known then what I understand now, I would’ve been able to manage comments such as, “Oh, how could you not be a doctor? It’s a great profession.”

    1. Isn’t it funny that we let other people’s opinions define our own realities? But in this case most of the time the responses I received from others reflected my own thoughts/fears/insecurities, even if neither of us were aware of it. Truly, once I became more confident about my decision other people’s reactions reflected that. I love this question you ask yourself. Does it serve me? If not, move on. How close did you get to becoming a surgeon? Sounds like at the time that was a tough decision.

  12. Once I was tending bar for a bunch of OB-GYN’s at one of the OB’s houses for a holiday party (and I’d seen a fair number of them as a patient – but no one really ‘saw’ me b/c I was just the bartender) – ANYWAY – they were totally dogging this woman OB (who actually was my CURRENT OB at the time) b/c she left her lucrative practice to work in a free clinic (horror of horrors). The comments they made about her were completely unprofessional and horribly judgmental and not at all related to the fact that she wanted to do something different – yes, she didn’t leave the profession but she decided to do volunteer work at a clinic for the very poor – SO my feeling is that when you break out of a tight knit group – everyone feels threatened. It’s their issue – not yours. Small minds have to put others down when they can’t appreciate that people make different decisions –

    1. Ah… fly on the wall. Isn’t is sad when you see people being that way? Especially people who are caretakers. Your story is exactly the BS I’m talking about. The same thing happens in dentistry– even the dental students belittle teachers (behind their backs, of course) and say they teach because they can’t hack it in the “real world”. These kids (I know b/c I was one of them– shame on me) don’t even have degrees, but they think they can judge someone who is there to teach them. You hit it on the head– it’s that breaking out of a tight knit group thing.

  13. I think another reason doctors behave like this when they hear of other people leaving the profession is that most doctors perceive themselves as having reached the pinnicle in terms of education and career achievement. Going through all that additional demanding schooling, boards, stress, and taking loans out the wazoo to do it certainly makes a person feel like they have achieved something special when they finally graduate with their doctorate degree. Since it is so tough to do and very few achieve this honor to become a doctor, anything else is perceived as “below” that. Most people who change professions usually do so to make more money and/or get a higher position with more responsibility and status. A lot of them do this by going back to school to get a higher degree. This is percieved by others in our society as good because you are moving upwards. When one has reached the top of the educational ladder by obtaining a doctorate degree and they decide to leave the field I think it is confusing to other doctors as well as to people who are not doctors because they just don’t understand why someone who “reached the top” would want to get out. Since you can’t really go higher or upwards in terms of education or career advancement from being a doctor it turns a lot of heads when one suddenly leaves the profession. I think this is why Lolabees and others who have left have gotten this reaction. Many wonder why one would want to leave all this money and status after having gone through so much to achieve it, so you get people thinking that the person who left just couldn’t hack it. No one ever stops to think that maybe that person could be unhappy. Our society focuses on achievement first and happiness is way below that. I was also highly encouraged to become a doctor by my family. No one ever told me that I should do something that makes me happy. It was all about getting a career to make money with the thought that the happiness would follow because of the money. That is just not the case at all. You have to be strong if you want to leave a profession like dentistry and not care what anyone else thinks. Nothing should get in the way of your own personal happiness and for those that are critical I believe they come from one of three camps: 1.) They are truly happy so they just can’t understand anyone who wouldn’t be 2.) They really are unhappy but they just can’t or won’t get out so they are jealous of those that do 3.) They trudge on and do it because they feel like if they are toughing it out, everyone else should too and perceive those as weak who don’t. If more people focused on happiness with their career goals I think a lot of people would be doing something totally different. Money does not buy happiness. You need it to live and you need enough to be comfortable but if you are unhappy is it really worth it? You just can’t put a price on happiness.

    1. I really enjoy reading your comments here, Blue Heron, they are so insightful. Gosh I would have loved to come across this kind of perspective when I was a student. I hope your words make a difference in many lives.

      1. Thanks Mary!! 🙂 Sorry a little late on that one as I see you commented on 1/13 but thanks for the kind words.

  14. Hello lolabees !
    Lovely to read a post by yourself again.
    Ok so here is my response .
    Sod the smug ones .
    Notice how people who have the courage to pursue their dreams only applaud others that do and generally it’s people who lack courage that come out with more stinging remarks
    . It actually has very little to do with dentistry and everything to do with quitting a career you (although may be very good at) just doesn’t resonate with your soul .
    I have a close friend who has become a consultant psychiatrist and is also forging a career in the music world – and a pharmacist who left his career to become an Ayurvedic consultant . Good for them !
    I have spoken to dental colleagues who look at me with bemused expressions when I explain that i really don’t want my own practice and I def dont get thrills from having flash cars or massive dental contracts in my hand – but it’d far rather travel , write , learn photography etc .
    My husband loves dentistry and really supports me in my dreams .
    As for your post ‘ 10 reasons…’ Well that was such an inspiration to me that it lit the match that has set me going down my jolly path now ! So thank you ! Will keep you posted x

    1. Rinku- glad to hear from you again! That’s very true. That must be great for you to not only have your husband’s support but that of 2 good friends going through similar transitions. How lucky that you can motivate and inspire each other. I can’t wait to hear where your jolly path takes you. Does it involve writing?? Definitely keep me posted! x

      1. Thank You.
        I was having a great break, getting some reno’s done on the house, but then my Dad had to have a triple by-pass done and it had been very worrying, he is 81 so you can imagine emotions were running on high. Anyway he is doing just great, and I have moved in with him until I know he can again cope on his own.
        I won’t be back blogging myself until the New Year, but I now have a bit more time and thought it would be great to catch up with everyone.

        1. So sorry to hear about your dad. That is so scary and stressful. Glad to hear he is recovering well. Thanks for checking in again, and I’ll look forward to your blogging return! Hope you’re enjoying the results of the reno’s.

  15. I’m really glad I stumbled upon this. I have quite the opposite situation. I graduated in fashion merchandising and am working in a corporate apparel company doing global sourcing. It’s a fascinating career because you deal with different cultures and Are basically monitoring the progress of production… But you live in excel sheets all day.

    Anyways, I chose to switch careers after working here 1 year and to go into the dental field. In fact, I go back to school to complete my pre-reqs this Monday! I couldn’t be more excited. I have shadowed several dentists and it seems very rewarding and fun to interact with so many people. I learned that I need to embrace my love of school, learning, and my need to be hands on and interactive with others. I want to make a difference by giving back and helping others. My mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and boy did it open up my eyes about life and what I was doing!

    I can relate to the idea of changing careers and people thinking you are absolutely nuts! My whole family is looking at me like I’m crazy trying to do the impossible. BUT you know you the best out of anyone, and it’s not until you get into the real working world where you realize what you really enjoy/ are meant to be doing. Life is filled with change and you should embrace it! So many people get stuck doing the daily routines of life that they stop living and actually enjoying it. I take those open stares and discouraged comments about my career change and use as encouragement to keep working toward where I’m going.

    It’s a big move and it’s a scary one. You are essentially leaving a comfortable lifestyle to seek the new. So I wish you luck and I hope you find what you are looking for just as I am.

    However, I am really curious to know why you are leaving the field and what you learned about yourself that steered you into making this huge decision.

    Best of luck and thanks for this post!

    1. Hi Jenn,
      I’m glad you found the blog! It’s funny about different careers– something sounds so interesting and exciting and then once you get down to it, it’s all spreadsheets and not much glory. I love to hear from many different people, but especially those that are taking the big leap to change careers. I find it really motivating, and it’s nice to hear that in some way we all share some common experiences. Somehow that seems to make it easier for me. I agree– change is inevitable, might as well embrace it and have fun with it. Have you heard the quote, “the only constant in life is change”?

      I’m sorry to hear about your mom. Wishing her good health and a speedy recovery. It is amazing how an event like that can make you prioritize what is really important to you. I love your reason for choosing dentistry, and while I didn’t love it, I think it’s a great career. It’s smart that you are shadowing people who love it, and hopefully I can share with you why it wasn’t right for me, so you can see both sides of the coin. And who knows, if you go into the field and after a while want to change down the road, I have a feeling you’ll make it work. It’s funny, I always said I wanted to have a career change 10 years in, and that’s exactly what happened. I said it even when I didn’t hate my job. I just always thought that when I looked at my life, that’s what I envisioned. Weird, but we forget that there is no rule that we have to stay in one career forever.

      Thanks for the kind words. I’d love to hear what you decide to do with your future. Good luck!!

      The main reason I didn’t love the field was it is very high stress, and I was not great at managing that. I tended to take it all on my own shoulders, feeling responsible for everything, including patients’ choices. (That was my own problem though–it’s not the ideal way to view your job.) A series of bad jobs is another huge reason. Here are some links to some of my posts that I think may interest you and explain more. If you have any questions, let me know.

  16. Never expected such afeeling of gratitude at 5 AM. Your reflections on leaving dentistry are articulate, insightful, and honest. Your observations necessarily provoke a look in the mirror, and yes, as Dr. Polansky states, this profession is rife with uncertainty and frustration. But when put aside momentarily, the profound fulfillment to be gained from hearing people say you have made some impact on their lives; to be part of their lives as we educate and provide for them sincerely and passionately, that is a privilege. Thirty years in, and I feel like the luckiest person alive.

    Your “Ten Reasons” blog is trenchant. And many patients will always be “under the line” (made it through C4) and ungrateful, dismissive, even spiteful. But can’t give up on even them. Often what people say and the way they behave toward us as professionals belies what they really mean. It ALL distills to trust. Never encountered a procedure, a technique taught at Pankey I couldn’t do proficiently. But the psychology is the thing. Gain the patient’s trust (“Art of the Examination” is a must) while sincerely educating. Will you fail a lot? Double-hockey-stick yes !!!! But when you make a difference it is SWEET.

    I personally wish you success, Ms. Lolabee, in all you do. Gaining trust and compliance will be you’re goal regardless of the road taken. Chances are you’ll make someone’s day. I know you’ve made mine.

  17. Oh my goodness. I feel like I could have written most of this blog. Where, oh where were you when I was struggling with my decision to leave dentistry? Definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It would have been easier knowing i wasn’t alone. I’ve been out almost 5 years now and definitely don’t miss it! I’m so happy you’ve found another career that you truly enjoy- I’ve been busy with having kids since dentistry but I’m looking forward to finding something else too. Anyways, congrats for having had the courage to write about all this!

    1. Yay! Another one! I never wish it upon others to have to leave this career, but as you said, it makes you feel like less of a freak to know that you are not the only one who feels that way. A lot of people have felt supported by this blog, but I have felt supported by the response by others out there like me. I think it’s made my first year out SOOO much easier. I’m glad you found the blog. I think you might be take the title for the longest one here who is out of the career. I’m with you– I don’t miss it one bit. In fact when I chat with some of my dental friends and they describe certain procedures or events in their offices, I feel a sense of relief. 😀
      Of course, now I’m curious to know how the process was for you, but I guess I can assume it was similar to mine since you said you could have written this blog.

      I wish you much luck in discovering what’s next! At least you know where you don’t want to be– I really think taking the step to leave dentistry is the hard part.

      1. The whole process was SO hard. I thought I might be depressed, and I didn’t want to leave a career due to untreated depression, so I met with a career counselor, psychiatrist, and two psychologists. I took antianxiety and antidpressant medication. The consensus of all the professionals was that I had “situational” depression directly related to job unhappiness, and I needed to leave the career. However, even hearing that from several professionals, I still wasn’t convinced that I was going to be strong enough to leave dentistry. I felt like I would be disappointing my family, friends, patients, co-workers, husband, and mostly myself. Not to mention all the time, money, and effort I had put into the school process! It took almost a year of therapy to get me to the point where I felt like I could leave. Although I did end eventually end up confessing my unhappiness about dentistry to my family and close friends, I kind of “stretched the truth” about why I was leaving for many other people. I was afraid that if I told the truth, I would to burn bridges if I were to return to dentistry. In general, the people I told were very supportive. Obviously, I wish I wouldn’t have spent so much time worrying about what everyone else was going to think about my decision. Even though I have never regretted the decision, I still do feel sad sometimes that my career that I worked so hard for didn’t turn out the way I had planned. Do you feel that way, too?

        1. Wow, at least you did your due diligence to find out if you should leave or not. Similarly, I would say that I had what I would describe as a chronic, low-grade depression for many years. That might not be the right term, but I say low grade because I didn’t have the symptoms you hear about– sleeping all day, appetite changes, isolation, completely dismal outlook. It was just like a gray cloud hanging over my head. I got the winter time blues every year, which I haven’t experienced since I quit. I saw a career coach and a psychologist too. I would say all 10 years in the career were a roller coaster, even in the first 3 years when I wasn’t even aware that I didn’t like it. The last 7 of the 10 years were temporary ups that always slid back into the lows. The lows were too low for me, so I finally decided I couldn’t take it anymore. That was actually when I started seeing the career coach. That was one last attempt (like you) to see if it was me or the career– would I feel the same way no matter what I did?? At that point, even though I realized I wanted out, I still tried to make it work. I had nowhere else to go. It took me 3 years from that point to actually quit.
          I feared the same things you did, and in the end, like with you, everyone was generally supportive.

          I’ve come to the same conclusion now– that it was silly to worry so much about being a failure or being perceived as a failure, letting everyone including myself down, etc. I wouldn’t say I feel sad that it didn’t work out, but I do feel like my life could have been so “awesome” if I had loved it. I still think it offers wonderful things– if you actually like it. But I also realize that there is so much more out there, and I’m actually having fun trying to discover what that is for me. Or… you could say I’m having fun not feeling so unhappy anymore- LOL 😉 I also think blogging about it and sharing these experiences with others has allowed me to enjoy the process. It’s given me some strength to realize I’ve done the right thing for myself and the power to realize that maybe taking a different path can lead me to where I need to be. Your story is inspiring!! I’m glad you shared it. I hope you’ll stick around the blog and share your resident expert ex-dentist advice. 🙂

        2. PC,
          I am still practicing dentistry but I also feel bad that what I worked so hard for did not turn out the way I planned either. My current situation is actually a good one-my hours and schedule are great and I have a nice practice with an excellent partner that I enjoy working with. You would think I should be thrilled but I am just sick of doing dentistry and I no longer get any satisfaction from this career. It is sad for me to come to this realization after all the work I put in to get here. It has become complete drudgery and I have made many changes along they way “fix” the way I feel but in the end, I just don’t want to do this anymore. I wish I could quit but I can’t at this point in time without causing some hardship to my family since we rely on my income. When I first graduated thought I was going to change the world and had so many high hopes for all the people I was going to help. It turns out that satsifaction for me in this career does not come often and if weren’t for the paycheck I would have quit a long time ago. Oh yeah and I still have loans to pay!! While I am certainly not in over my head I cannot just walk away either. Don’t feel bad-be happy that you were able to walk away. You should feel relieved that this burden was lifted from you. Although I understand why you feel bad sometimes because we do put in so much to do this career. However, no one ever thinks that they may not actually be happy in the end. I wish I had a blog to read about this a long time ago. Maybe I would be doing something different.

  18. I am a dental hygienist and I think dentistry is such a cult lol. People in the industry are soooo fake…all the fake smiles and over the top friendliness its exhausting. I quit a crazy jimjones cult like office and have been sooooo happy. I have a new attitude to be myself and ignore all the crazy cult members around me in dentistry. They think I am nuts but I am happy and life is too short to deal with all the dental craziness. Hope the best for you with your career change, good for you. I left my job telling everyone…I don’t want to retire here. I have more to give than what the dental world has to offer. Good luck

    1. Thanks, Jolie! Glad to hear you found a much happier situation for yourself. I agree– life is too short to waste it being unhappy. Did you leave dentistry or just that office?

  19. I need to read through all your old posts. This was good.

    In my past life, I was a professional translator in two Arabic dialects. I also had a security clearance. All this was during the wars. Needless to say, I had a lot of work and lots of career opportunities. Many of my old friends went on to very lucrative jobs in intel, some paying $300 a day overseas (= tax-ambiguous/free money). Many are now making 6-digits as analysts in the intelligence community. When I left the IC, I went through a very similar process as you describe in many of your posts, but I knew national security work was killing my mental health.

    This process of making the right choice has come up again in my life from time to time. It has lead to hesitations and restlessness, indecision, frustrations, and a susceptibility to fear and conformity, but I realize now and I know more than ever that this process has everything to do with self-discovery, who I am and what I want (and what I can give), and not any specific career choice. The process is of course life itself. And it’s worth it. It’s just the steps ahead are never known. And that sometimes gets me, but there’s an art to coping with that.

    1. Thanks. Isn’t it funny that something can seem so great on paper, but it just doesn’t fit in with who we are or want to be? I remember you mentioning your career search a few months ago. Sometimes the process needs time for all the pieces to fall into place. I often feel a lot of the same things you mention. Fear of the unknown is the hardest. I recently wrote a post about worrying about the future vs wondering about the future. If I can be more curious about it, as if I’m watching a movie and wondering what will happen next, it feels more fun and less scary. If I worry about it instead, I just cause myself a lot of unnecessary suffering.

      The self-discovery is good… that will help you decide if you’re being authentic or just conforming to others’ rules. I think when you follow your own path, you can still find a place to fit in. Sounds like good work you’re doing for yourself! Glad to hear from you again!

      1. Hey, sorry I haven’t stopped by in a while. This is The Gaming Linguist under a new username. Just wanted to say hi and that I like your analogy about watching a movie. Gonna read a more recent post to catch up with you now. 🙂

  20. Hey! I am in a middle of a reconversion process. I started new studies to computer science. I find it very exciting, I love math and programming. I hate working with people, I didn’t earned much as a dentist, and I really hope my life changes. Is a long process. People, especially the ones that aren’t into this profession, don’t seem to understand. I did this for my stupid parents, who push me through this. Omg, I cannot believe I can take my own decisions without feeling guilty, insecure, or constrained to do their wish. I’m sorry for all the time I lost, all the wishes I couldn’t fulfill, being to busy fulfilling others wishes. I still have to work on that. If you have an advice for me, I wanna know it.

    1. Hi Jenna,
      I guess the only advice that I have is to follow your heart! A lot of us went into this career and stayed in it for other people. As you can see, that won’t get you anywhere that’s any good! Keep doing what you want to do and don’t let anyone stop you!

  21. Hello Lolabees! I am in my 5th year of dental school, and I have realized I do not like it. I actually kinda hate it! The only thing that keeps me going is the guilt I feel for all the money my father has spent on this career and the time…I mean, 5 years! I also fear what others would think of me if I quit right now like “she’s a quitter”, or “and after all that time and money spent, you’re just gonna give up?!”. I’ve started to express my unhappiness with this carreer to my older brother and he thinks I need to push through, everytime he says that tear start streaming down my cheeks because I DON’T WANT TO! I want to stop right now! I want to do something else! I find myself in a very difficult place. Reading about wht you did gave me strength, I mean, if you were able to do it, why can’t I? I’m smart and I think I can do anything I actually WANT to do! What do you think Lola?

    1. Hi Sandra, D’oh!! Uh oh! 😉 I felt all those things too– mostly the fear of what others would think of me (quitter, failure, etc…)

      What do I think? First, I think you KNOW very clearly what you want and don’t want. If tears start streaming down your cheeks, then there is no confusion here! Here’s the thing, you might find it valuable to go out and find a job in the field. It might not be forever for you, but who knows what you will learn about yourself in the short run? If you really think you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t. I think you can do anything you want to do. Do you know what that is? I know I felt stuck for a long time because I didn’t know what that was. So if you have any ideas, then you are 1 step ahead of where I was. I’m glad my story helps you to believe you can do it, because you absolutely can. I can also send you an email with a few other thoughts…

      1. Hi Lola. I always wanted to learn other languages and work as a translator or something like that. I have been doing some research just to expand my knowledge in that field. I don’t want to rush into making this decision, I must bee 100% sure it’s what I want. Please send me that e-mail lola I would absolutely love to hear more of your thoughts on the matter.

  22. Hi Lolabees, i’ve been a dentist for over 10 years and about a month ago i have decided to quit, i am from México, I’ have been dealing with fear of what people may thing or say, reading tris is helping me so much, because sometimes i doubt of my desition, but then I thing tha tihis carreer doesn’t make me happy but makes me very anxious and unhappy, and thinking of the future makes me afraid or the idea of regreting my desition.

    1. Hi Karimi, I’m so glad you found the blog! It’s so helpful to know others feel the same way. I had all that same fear and doubt. There is definitely a discomfort that happens when we make a change like this, but I hope you will get to find out that you will be so much happier if you push through and find what brings you joy! I’m looking to connect with people from Mexico. Can I send you an email? I hope you will see there are a lot of other posts here and comments from others that will make you feel more confident in your decision!!

  23. Hi,
    I’m trying the phased withdrawal. A bit outdated and likely to be very unpopular. Like leaving Afghanistan really. Down to 3 days a week now. Survival rations!
    Can I just give 3 months notice and slip away in the ebb of the tide? Write a book and talk comedy on some talk show?
    My tyrannical father was in it. Things started going wrong for him and with the UK NHS just as my brother and I were going through dental school: we wondered what the hell we were walking into.
    Its a bloody awful career, with egomaniac ‘ colleagues’ around every corner….

    1. I did the same thing! Went down from 5 to 4 to 3, and then eventually 2 days a week until I was out. It’s a great way to do it. I hear things are tough in the UK in dentistry. What are your plans?

  24. I’ve been practice for 22 years, honestly i am so tired of worrying on a daily basis. Practice is very slow and competition fierce. I abhor coming to the office knowing patients won’t show or the schedule is empty. After 22 years it feels i haven’t achieved any thing. I practice in a poor area and have worked in welfare areas my whole life. I consistently go to CE courses and am amazed how well the lecturers are doing and how some of the other dentists are doing. I always wonder what am i doing wrong. Why do I fear working in a better class area, I know I am very good at general dentistry. I just hate looking at another margin, worrying if the patient going to have pain or cause problems. My big question is what else can I do to earn a living. Dentistry is all I know. I have a young child and can’t just risk every thing by quitting and seeing whats around the corner. Can some one please tell me what are my choices. I am not a sales person if i was I would be a making a ton of money in dentistry which I am not. I am too gosh darn honest for my own good and cant get my self to do the dental sales job every body else seems to be doing, at least the one’s in corporate dentistry and big clinics. Can some one please help me out and tell me what to do?

    1. Yup. I think a lot of us can relate to what you say. As for your feeling that you haven’t achieved anything, read this post. I think it might give you a different perspective. I felt the same way, and then recently something made me see things a little differently.

      You are trapped by the golden handcuffs that keep most of us here– that there is nothing else we are good at. What do you like? Is there anything that interests you? I have ideas, but what worked for me isn’t necessarily the right fit for other people. Have you thought about working with a career coach? Maybe picking up some part-time hobbies/interests that might open doors for you? That’s the kind of stuff I did. My advice is to find a way. You can do it.

    2. Hi David. I understand where you’re at. You don’t have to be a salesperson though. I moved to an upmarket practice where I stick to being honest. It goes against what patients expect. Patients aren’t stupid. The patients actually trust me more! They turn up.
      I’m not saying I love the job mind. I found that I could cope better when I split the week up between 2 practices. I’ll stick it out until the rules and regulations force me to pack it in.

      1. Thank you both. Today again I had no shows the whole day. I just don’t understand why do even set an appointment if you don’t want to come in. In 22 years my chairs have never been this empty. I just don’t get it any more.

        1. I hate that, and the same thing happened to me today in my weight loss business! Ha! I guess it’s not just dentistry. 😉 Ugh, sorry to hear. I don’t get it either.

  25. Wow what an interesting article. I’m a dentist for five years now and have lately thought about a career change. I clicked on the article to see if there is any advice for someone thinking about a career change from dentistry. Maybe a dental background could help you break into another field/career. Instead and to my surprise I find that there are others considering the same but fearing to actually do it because of what other “cult members” might think. Luckily I have never really given a nickle to put it mildly about what others think about anything I do. I have by now successfully treated thousands of patients and always tried my hardest in performing my very best. I’m not ashamed in the least about considering other options for my future. I even told people before starting the Univeristy that eventually I will probably want to do something else. My question is how can it be frowned upon to change careers when its as natural as evolution. May I remind you that having careers and making money is not necessarily a natural way to live. We are simply forced to do so because of the international monetary system. A corrupt system based on competition. We all know this and if you disagree then please don’t bother answering because there simply wont be any point in fruitless arguing. I hope I’m not being rude in my honesty. May I ask what career you did change into? How do you like it? Has it allowed you to be financially independent enough to do the things you love to do? Could you consider doing it until you retire? Sincerely // Fredrich

    1. Hi Fredrich. Glad you stumbled upon this. I always envisioned a career change for myself too. Yeah, it’s weird that someone else would care what you do, but I think in some way it threatens them– not sure how, but can’t think of what else it could be?? I do think some of that is our own perception– we think they’re going to care much more about it than they do in the long run. I was surprised (sort of) to find that after I quit and told others that I didn’t like it, many of them confessed the same thing to me!

      It’s funny that you mention the part about the monetary system because I’m currently working on a post about what success is and the happiness that comes along (or doesn’t) with it. We use money to completely define success, and it’s such a bad marker for it. I changed into a career in anti-aging and weight loss. Definitely could do the anti-aging forever, but not totally sure about the weight loss as my “forever.” I like it, but I’m not sure it will engage me for 20-30 years. I don’t make as much money as I did as a dentist, but I make it work, and I am much happier!! I don’t have kids, and I do have a husband who also works, so financially I had less resting on my shoulders when I decided to leave. I think it would be tough to switch if you were locked into needing a certain income. You know what’s crazy? You talk about a mindset, and I make less money now, but worried more about money when I made more! It’s because I was so unhappy, and my income was the only think that I thought would get me out of there. Anyway… could go on forever.

      What do you think you want to do??

  26. So sad I wrote this long comment about my desired escape from dentistry and how your my idol then lost the page 😫
    Either way it’s comforting knowing I’m not alone!
    I was curious if you maintained your license and dental society memberships after you quit?
    I will post again just have to got work….. Cue …….the anxiety and depression to start building😔😕😫

    1. Oh no! I hate when that happens! I hope you’ll gt a chance to share your story some other time. You’re right- you’re not alone. There are a lot of us out there. I did maintain my license but not my memberships. It may be a little strange, but you never know what life will throw your way, so I figure it’s easier to pay for my license than to have to get a new one after many years. I’ll probably write a post about it when I let my license expire- lol. Memberships are always easy to pick back up, so to me that was just a waste of money. 🙂 Hang in there. You can find a way out. Just don’t give up!

      1. Hi there… I have been waiting for a blog like this for years. I was almost contemplating doing something drastic because dentistry is sucking the life out of me. I grew up poor And thought my career would save me so after I relocated to the US I went to dental school second time around just to please my family. In the process I have been dying little by little everyday . I have spoken to my hubby about this several times but I don’t think he understands . He did say that he is willing to support me in a career change. I am unhappy, depressed, and suicidal at times. Money I make is ok but important for the mortgage. I feel stuck . Can u write to me a few options or how to find a career coach

        1. Hi DD.

          I’m so sorry to hear you are experiencing this, and you can probably see you’re not alone! You can definitely make a change. It’s possible. I sent you an email with some questions I have…

        2. Sure. Just did! Check your spam, and if you still don’t get it, fill out the contact form on my blog on the “Contact” page, and I’ll reply to that.

        3. Hi Dr depressed!
          I know how you feel. I’m stuck in the same position. Well, almost. I’m a foreign trained dentist, too and i moved to the US 3 years ago. I started the process to get into a international dental program here, but I just don’t know if I wanna struggle through school again and then the big burden with the huge amount of student loan. But, the biggest factor is, that I don’t really like being a dentist or at least I’m unsure about it. I only would do it for my family, because they expect me to do it.
          I only know about teeth and I don’t know what else I could do. BTW, I’m also a trained dental lab technician with many years of experience.
          Lolabees, I really really like your website and your decision to leave dentistry! Sometimes following your heart is the best way to be happy!

        4. Hi Schanner, Glad you found the blog! It’s amazing how expensive it is to go through the international program here in the US. You have to really want to continue in the field. Would you ever want to work in a dental lab? Do you envision yourself leaving dentistry altogether? I think all of us feel like we can’t do anything else. It’s a common theme, for sure. You’d be surprised, though, that you are capable of doing anything you want. I guess finding what you want to do might be the hard part! I know that’s what took me so long. Just curious– where are you from?

        5. Hi Lolabees,
          Yes, I think the biggest issue is in finding the right career or finding out what I really wanna do. I work in a dental lab right now and I always enjoyed that kind of work, but I cannot imagine to stay in a lab forever. That was exactly my point when I switched my career more than 10 years ago.
          Lolabees, what was your biggest factor that helped you in your decision to leave all that behind?
          BTW, I’m from Germany.
          Is it somehow possible to get in touch with DR. Depressed?

  27. I am so glad I found this blog!!! I read through all of it and can related to every word! Granted, I am not a dentist but an “expanded duty dental assistant for the past 34 years. I fell into this career as an after school job and without going into a novel, life happened and I never got out. I have hated it since day one. I have switched job and states multiple times. I have worked for very high producing prosthodontic practices to slower paced general practices and no mater what, I hate it. It gives me depression and anxiety. Every day. I am actually an over achiever and, without sounding arrogant, an very good at what I do and paid a decent wage. There are so many things I hate about dentistry from so many different angles, I could write a book! I know I have no one to blame but myself for staying in it so long. Since I have no other job skills, my question is, at 50 years old, where do I go from here? I’ve given my life to a field that wore me down, never offered insurance or retirement. I lost many, many good years of my life to dentistry and crappy employers all for nothing. I feel like no one can relate unless you have been through it. So, my question is, how can I go about figuring out if it is just me, what I might be interested in doing, and where to go from here? Can anyone help? Thanks again for this blog. I finally don’t feel so alone!

    1. Welcome, Lisa! I’m so glad you found it too! I agree that anyone in the dental field can relate to these things… whether you’re a dentist, EDDA, assistant, hygienist, front office, or even a lab tech! I am so glad to hear the perspective from an EDDA. It sounds like you have been through the same things dentists go through– and as you mentioned, you’re stuck without a retirement plan. I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling this way and that you feel stuck. That is so hard.

      When I was leaving my last office, I was friends with a 50-something year-old EDDA. She was just like you sound– overachiever, so good at her job, etc… but she hated her job that she had been at for 20 years. She was very unhappy and felt unappreciated by her boss. We spoke a lot about the fact that anyone can change at any time– especially if you’re such a conscientious and hard worker. She never left. I left, and she’s still there. The only thing that held her back was her fear. It’s enough to paralyze most of us, but a few of us realize that if we don’t do something, we will regret it. You sound very talented and like you could adapt to anything you choose– it’s just believing that. Most people can’t do that kind of work that you do. To answer your question… it’s not just you. There is probably something out there for you. Since you mention writing a book… I”m going to email you. Maybe you’d be interested in writing something from your perspective, and we can talk about this further!!

  28. Hi Lola.
    Well, I’m off work now. Nerve injury affecting hand no less.
    Stonecarving. Thank God no family to support. My miserable dental persona outside surgery took care of that!
    So, wahey….
    New life in Art
    Anyone want a 2ft x 18 inch gargoyle pulling his own tooth out?
    Ebay in february !

    Generous bidders welcome

    Go on, its only money…. 😜

    1. Simon, do I say congrats(!) or I’m sorry? I mean, I know you were cutting down your hours, so congrats that you are able to move on to something else you love, but I’m sorry that it’s a result of an injury. That’s not really how we ever really want it to go down, although I know some people who would take any reason (even if they don’t really want that.) You have to share this gargoyle here. Surely one of these dentists lives in a castle and needs a gargoyle pulling his tooth out, right? Seriously, though, please share! Will or do you have a website?

  29. I know I’m late to the party, but I just found this lifesaving blog! Reading all of the comments, I felt almost relief that I wasn’t the only one who had these thoughts. I was just talking to my sister she said that I sounded depressed, but honestly I don’t feel depressed- I just feel almost hopeless to my situation… spending that time and not knowing what other job to fall back on that will at least not be TOO much of a pay cut. I have an undergraduate degree in Finance, but I wouldn’t even know what to do with that at this point either. Does anyone maybe know of how to get into maybe something I could apply dentistry to? Maybe something like product development for a dental company like Colgate or some company like that? Teaching sounds terrible and I would never work for an insurance company….. I just feel like I need a second career to present itself and give me an opportunity before I will ever have the courage to leave clinical dentistry. I just don’t even know how to apply my business undergrad and dental knowledge into something. Should I do medical sales? Something else in healthcare? Can you tell me your experience with a career coach? I don’t want to just fill out an assessment test….. Thank you so very much for sharing and allowing other people to share to. It’s been therapeutic to read that I’m not alone 😉

    1. So glad you found us, So Anxious! You’re not late to the party. This stuff is timeless. 😉

      You are not the only one who feels this way, and as you can see, there are a lot of us. All of your questions and doubts (golden handcuffs, lack of skills, what else is better,) that you describe are pretty universal to a lot of us. Some of your ideas of other job options are great ideas. It sounds like it would be worth looking into those things. I thought about some of those options, too, years ago when I was first exploring leaving dentistry. I never made it very far in my research, so I can’t tell you what working for Colgate, for example, looks like.

      In regards to your career coach question, one of the first things I did when I felt stuck for so long was work with a career coach. It was very helpful for me, and that is why I have decided to go into career coaching for dentists myself. If you ever want to see what it can do to help you, go to the work with me page, and I give a complimentary consultation.

      You’re not alone. Welcome to the Cult of people who want to get out. Just kidding. 😉

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