Friday is my favorite day. Not that the other days of the week are bad. I really do still enjoy my family dental practice, but, for the last few years now, I’ve looked especially forward to Fridays. There is something neat about handing down almost three decades of experience as a dentist in Gettysburg, PA to a new generation of eager minds. For three years now I have forced myself, against my groggy will, to rise at the crack of dawn and suffer the unpredictable two hours of traffic to the University of Maryland Dental School in Downtown Baltimore.
The dental school is a huge, modern complex rising eight floors from its inner city block and standing proudly across from the medical school across the street. While I never went to the University of Maryland, (I’m a Georgetown graduate), I am proud to call this dental school my adopted alma mater.
As I enter the third floor of the building my charges await me. The huge, ultramodern clinic floor is broken into sections by specialty: one area endodontics, or root canal treatment; one area periodontics; treatment of gum disease. One area is devoted to children’s dentistry. My section is for general dental practice; dental fillings, dental crowns, dental implants, cosmetic dentistry, etc.; the bread and butter of my Gettysburg dental practice. Six to eight third and fourth year dental students line up to present their cases. These are very bright, but totally inexperienced, dental students eager to sap my mind for the experience and dental wisdom they crave. For the tens of thousands of dental procedures I have performed and could now do in my sleep , they have done, at most, ten! For the thousands of patients, each with their own unique personalities, medical histories, and nerve anatomies, that I have come across in daily practice as a Gettysburg dentist, they have seen but a handful.
One by one the students present their cases. Medical histories can be involved and complicated. Is it safe for this patient to undergo routine dental treatment? Has a medical consult been ordered? Which local anesthetic is indicated and why? What do the x-rays tell us? What are the indications and contraindications for the proposed treatment plan? What are the choices of materials to be used?
Once the pre-op discussions are complete it's time to begin. Sometimes shaky, novice, student hands need my guidance and a little encouragement. How well I remember the first time I ever injected a patient with local anesthetic! Over the years I’ve learned how to give a virtually painless injection and I mentor the students in the technique. I teach them all I can about conservative, modern dental treatment. I stress the importance of treating the whole patient, not just the tooth.
Three hours later the morning clinic session is over. With prodding, encouragement, and often a little hands on help the procedures are completed and signed off. The appreciation of my students for my help more that makes up for the two hour city traffic retreat back to Gettysburg. I thoroughly enjoy my “day job” as a family and cosmetic dentist in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, but I have to say teaching family dentistry one day a week refreshes the spirit and is good for the soul!