Being a new dentist is a wild ride.
At the beginning of my career, it was common for me to feel like the smartest person in the room while simultaneously feeling like the dumbest person in the room.
Yes, I had just dedicated the last decade of my life to becoming a dentist, but at the same time, I had leadership troubles, confidence issues, and constant anxiety. While dealing with some lows, I also had extreme highs and so much joy and fulfillment out of my profession.
Being a dentist is complex! I believe all dentists have dealt with the same struggles at some point, which is why I want to be open about my experience. During my days, I get to improve people’s lives by doing a craft that I love, and each day I am grateful.
Why I'm Grateful to be a Dentist
The first and most obvious reason I am grateful to be a dentist is the fact that I get fulfillment at my job, daily, for having the opportunity to help other human beings.
I am a huge people person and love meeting others from all walks of life.
My job allows me to get to know people on a deeper level than some doctor-patient interactions because I spend more time with my patients than they spend with their medical doctors.
I see my patients every 6 months at least, sometimes more if they are in active treatment. With each appointment, I have the opportunity to change my patient’s life for the better, sometimes in a small way and sometimes in a big way.
I have the ability to give people confidence, to get them out of pain, and to guide them to health.
I think the best way to connect with patients is to meet them where they are and start there.
In the past, dentists used to shame patients for having bad oral hygiene. Now, we are trained to take a closer look at the human being in front of us and find out what is going on with them at a deeper level.
When a patient is experiencing mental health issues, the first thing that they stop doing is self-care. Guess what? That includes brushing their teeth!
Showing compassion towards these folks is imperative for their success. I believe in my patients and encourage them by giving them tips and tricks to make oral hygiene more manageable when they are going through a tough time.
Working with My Hands
Even though I love helping my patients, I have to admit I love the craft of dentistry just as much.
Working with my hands is something I love doing. I am an artist at heart and my whole life I have loved to create.
Restoring teeth is truly an art form. In my toolbox, I have different materials, methods, and supplies that help me put tooth structure back where it has been lost.
Each patient and each tooth is unique. The treatment plan I come up with for each patient depends on the presence of disease, which part and how much of the tooth needs to be repaired, gum health, their bite, their medical history, age, oral microbiome, diet, lifestyle, etc.!
I must come up with a plan, tell the patient the plan, and hope they agree to it, and then I need to execute that plan well. There is a lot of pressure because I am doing work on a human being.
It is an art, but I can't just throw the canvas away and start over if a complication arises in dentistry.
Along with being an art, dentistry is a science.
Dentistry is constantly changing and evolving, especially now that digital dentistry and AI have entered the playing field.
Since I started practicing 3 years ago, I have only taken around 5 physical impressions on a patient. Every time I do a root canal, I use my CT machine to obtain a 3D radiograph of the tooth I am working on. Each new patient gets a high-quality digital wellness scan so that when I am explaining the treatment, they understand more clearly. Smile design software is incredible and it makes planning cases so much more predictable by allowing us to see the outcome.
These are all new tools for dentists that weren’t around 10 years ago. By not keeping up with the times, it is easy to fall behind and be one of those dentists we have all heard about….someone who is “stuck in their ways”. I love that this profession allows us to be lifelong learners and that we are always looking for ways to improve.
Becoming a Leader
One of the most unexpected things that I am grateful for is how I have grown to be a leader.
I was not a natural-born leader, but is anyone, really?
When I began my career, past influences of society on me made me question my capabilities. In my mind, I struggled to be a leader because I didn’t look like my idea of a leader.
In my mind, a leader was someone who was older with lots of experience, someone who was confident in themselves, someone who was comfortable giving commands, someone who was unphased by conflict…….basically the opposite of myself.
I saw myself as an imposter. I felt like a self-conscious 15-year-old girl again each time a patient commented on my age or my appearance or questioned my expertise.
The weight of this crushed me in the beginning, I’m not gonna lie.
I knew I had to overcome this feeling, so I spoke with my mentor (my boss) about it. I eat lunch with my boss every Wednesday and we talk about everything. It is a time for us to discuss cases, hardships, wins, watch online CE, etc.
One day, about 1.5 years into my career, I asked my boss if he has any advice on how I can get out of my own head and stop being so anxious with my patients. He said something I hated to hear, but something I NEEDED to hear.
He said, “I don’t think you believe in yourself. You don’t have confidence and you don’t value your own work. If you don’t value your own work and believe in yourself, why would you expect anyone else to?”.
WORLD = ROCKED
His words hit me like a ton of bricks, and it was exactly what I needed. This man worked alongside me every day, and he saw something so obvious that I was unable to see in myself at the time. It did not feel good, but that one conversation changed everything for me.
Not every day is easy, and it was a long and expensive (financially and emotionally) road to get here.
I am grateful for the money that I make as a dentist. I believe in the quality of my work, I value my skills and knowledge, and my ability to help my patients.
Yes, I have a lot of student debt.
Take it from me, if your main goal is to be rich, don’t be a dentist.
Being a dentist is physically and emotionally exhausting some days, but this profession allows me to make a comfortable living and pay all my bills, and have some cash left over for savings.
Before I was a dentist, when I was considering my goals for the future, one of my top 3 goals for life was to be able to enter a grocery store and buy ANYTHING I wanted for my weekly grocery haul. I remember my first paycheck as a dentist and how I met that goal and how good that felt.
Is Dentistry Right for You?
If you are a pre-dental student, you may be reading this and thinking, “Is dentistry the right profession for me?”
This job can take a lot out of you, but it can be one of the most rewarding as well.
This job is about art, science, health, engineering, psychology, managing
people, running a business, and more. The daily life of a dentist is always different and never boring.
For me, signing up for this career has been the best thing I have ever done and it has
opened doors to experiences I would have never had otherwise.
I have wanted to be a dentist since I was a little girl, and I am now living my dream. Each day when I wake up, I have gratitude in my heart for my job. By being a dentist, I have been forced to grow in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise. I am not sure who I would be if I wasn’t my current dentist-self, but I know this profession has made me a strong and resilient human, and I am grateful for all the times, good and bad, that have led me here. By sharing my days and being vulnerable online, I hope to inspire young dental professionals and inspire patients as well. This is a crazy profession that changes on the daily, and I love being here for it all!
~Britany L. Baker, DMD