KDA Today

KDA Today

For Immediate Release

Date: Jun 23rd, 2015
Contact: Dr. John Thompson
Phone: 800-292-1855
Email: info@kyda.org

Irrelevance

At the Kentucky Meeting in March, I was asked the question, “You practiced dentistry starting in 1971; what would you have done differently?” My immediate reply was, “Probably very little. I think I really enjoyed every phase of my practice career...not every day, but dentistry provided a great life experience.” The follow up question was, “If you were starting a dental career, today, what would you do differently?” I had to pause and consider what has been happening in the last five years, before I replied, “Everything!”

There are times when a brief conversation with a colleague can be a true epiphany. What I realized was that the sociological and technological changes that occurred over the life span of my practice career were phenomenal, but fairly predictable. The business plan required consistent remodeling and retooling. If you could relate to people well, you could develop a great staff that would help you create a wonderful patient base. The changes I faced were not always fun, but could be met with reasonable planning and tweaking.

I walked into my “old office” this past week and my former partners, Bill and Pada, were having an air compressor system, larger than my car’s engine, installed. The addition of air driven milling devices and additional hygiene services had already made the fairly new compressors we had purchased together obsolete. Donna, my assistant for over thirty years, said, “Dr. Thompson, if you came back to work, we would have to teach you how to do a crown here!” She was right! We were doing digital impressions when I left the practice two years ago and the 3M Lava system is now in the store room. A patient who first came to me in 1974 was there and we had a great conversation while his crown was being milled. This computer-assisted design and milling was being supervised by Garry, my thirty-year plus laboratory technician, who is no longer waxing crowns. We had resisted the implementation of this technology until it could match the quality of our in house laboratory. I am missing some exciting innovations in dental practice.

What I am also missing are the changes in healthcare that are affecting how dental practices operate today. This last recession has changed the way patients perceive and seek dental services. It is not just an age-driven demographic shift, but an economic shift, as well. Patients are following their insurance more than ever before and in Kentucky, twenty-five percent of eligible patients are covered by Medicaid. Another factor that is affecting dental practice is the fact that adult patients are self-directing their preventive services and choosing less frequent dental examination and cleanings. The American Dental Association's Health Policy Institute points out those changes in adult dental utilization began as early as 2003. These shifts were beginning to be seen in my fee-for-service dental office as I left my practice.

My continued active involvement in organized dentistry, as editor and as an interim executive director, has made me an accountable witness, but not a participant in these exponential changes. I recently spoke at our KDA Access to Care Conference and as I was preparing my comments I was aware that I was now preaching and not practicing what I was talking about. This fact was brought home to me following the event when the comment was made that, “You no longer depend on the practice of dentistry to make a living.” The fact is that the further in time you get from clinical practice, the less relevance you have to what is occurring today, because events that change the practice dynamic are occurring at a faster pace than ever before.

It has been said that the price of wisdom is the cost of mistakes you made. If there is any truth to this, I should have acquired a significant wealth of wisdom if I could only remember the mistakes I made and the outcomes. One thing is certain; I am not faced with the multitude of decisions required to operate in the shifting practice model of today. My opinions are just that and they are based on old truth.

I have tremendously enjoyed my position as your KDA Editor. This bully pulpit has been mine for seven years and I have done my best to study trends and relate them to dental practice and life in general. Sometimes one writes and lays oneself bare to criticism. It helps to be a little thick-skinned when publishing one’s own opinions in commentary form. Seeing deficiency and chiding the profession to think about altering course is a responsibility that goes with this position. Right or wrong, I have never been short on opinions, and I have been taken to task on a number of my comments. I have also enjoyed hearing where something I may have written has helped someone with an event or conundrum they are experiencing. I do know it is one level of exposure to say something and another to write it down and then publish it in ink!

While it has been my pleasure to observe and write for KDA TODAY, it is also my responsibility to understand when it is time to pass the torch. I have been recruiting Dr. Beverly Largent to take the position as KDA Editor for quite some time. She has finally said the time is right for her, as it is for me and Beverly will become editor with the July/August 2015 issue of this publication. Dr. Largent has a rich history of involvement in our state organization and is a past president of KDA. In addition she is a past president of her pediatric specialty’s national organization. She is heavily involved in the KDA’s Medicaid Workgroup and her continued dental practice provides relevant experience as an ongoing source for her commentaries. I look forward to reading her perspectives. She is the right person at the right time. We can be confident of continued success for our journal. It is Melissa Nathanson who continues to guide our communications so wonderfully well with her journalistic expertise and coaching.

My long-time “old” friend, Karl Lange, had told me he was finally retiring from clinical practice in July. It was February and eighty degrees. We were at the beach in Anguilla having just spent a great time snorkeling. I waded into a conversation about his plans as we were sipping a five O’clock beverage. I asked him, “Are you giving any thought to becoming irrelevant?” He didn’t even blink as he looked me in the eye with a slight sneer, “I’m not there yet!” I didn’t even let him finish his drink. I made him take it to go.

We will all get there and it is quicker than we think. I know it is time for me to stop writing about dental practice before I prove, beyond a doubt, that my opinions have become irrelevant to the present scenario. What I do know is that we share a wonderful profession. The future is just about as bright as you want to make it and I am having a very good day.

Thanks for reading! John

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