Michael Ling, DDS - March 2020

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How My Craft Has Evolved as I’ve Grown

Dental school does not prepare you for dentistry in the real world. Student dentists are taught that everything is cookie-cutter. If something is “A,” then you do “B.” There’s no variety, no changing up your system to favor client needs. It’s all After I had been practicing for a while, I learned that this approach wasn’t designed with every patient in mind. There were some patients who would ask me, “Why am I getting this treatment?” And the only answer I could give was, “Because that’s how it is.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. Every year, I grow and learn, adapting the way I practice and the way I approach patients, treatments, and appointments. This is no truer than when I look at how I treat pediatric patients today compared to even just five years ago. When I first started out — prior to having kids, mind you — I would explain administering the numbing agent with a needle to kids as “a pinch that feels like a mosquito bite.” All the kids would hear were the words “pinch” and “bite,” and kids almost always cried when I was administering the treatment, despite its very low discomfort level. As I grew in my practice and became a mom, I learned how to change my language. I realized telling my daughter her vaccine at the doctor was going to feel like a “pinch” only caused her to panic and have a meltdown before we even made it to the office. Imagine what I put other parents through all those years! So, I changed my approach. I learned that you can tell a child everything that’s going on, without telling them what you’re about doing what the diagnosis presents.

doing. Today, I explain that it’s not a needle I’m using. It’s a special tool that’s going to help their tooth fall asleep. I will explain that after I use my tool, I’m going to rub their gums, then we’ll count to three and the tooth will get sleepy. Since I began using this kid-friendly language, I rarely have a kid who is fearful or squirmy. I explain the procedure in a way they can understand and reassure them that this is nothing to be afraid of. This is just one of the many valuable lessons I’ve learned throughout my career, but I’ve also learned quite a few lessons that have changed the way I think about my work and my life. I used to agree to see anyone who walked in our door and claimed they had an “emergency.” In addition, I would fill every hour in my day with patients, and I rarely said no when someone needed a shift covered. This really bogged down my schedule, and I was often leaving the office hours later than when it closed. I was tired and stressed, and I was missing out on my family’s lives. I wasn’t home as much as I should have been and wanted to be. Today, I have built-in buffer times in my schedule, which allows for true emergencies to fill in throughout the day as needed. I have learned how to distinguish between a true emergency and something that can wait until the next day, and I feel happier, lighter, and more confident. I’ve even learned the value of saying no and how to have tough conversations with patients because of the confidence I have gained through setting boundaries. It wasn’t easy, and I still don’t like the conversations where I have to deliver bad news. But through practice, classes, and observing my husband’s knack for these conversations, I’ve been able to grow. With all I’ve learned over the past five years, I know I can transform the way I practice, and it will only continue to make me a better dentist down the line. Who knows how I will improve next? All I know is that it will be worth it.

—Dr. Meg Ling

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