I am a full-time practicing dentist in Massachusetts and went through a period of burnout, regret, and resentment toward dentistry. It took years but during the long climb to getting back to enjoying dentistry, I learned a lot about burnout, what causes it, and how to avoid it.
I recently pulled this hard-won wisdom into my book, The Stress-Free Dentist: Overcome Burnout and Start Loving Dentistry Again. I don’t want any other dentist to have to go through what I did. But if they are, then I have a few encouraging words for you because trust me, I’ve been there and back.
YOU CAN DO THIS.
There are many reasons burnout in dentistry exists. Some of the big ones are:
- The overwhelming amount of debt or overhead
- Lack of HR and business training
- The day-to-day exhausting nature of the profession
It’s important to remember to not give in to the false belief that dentistry is just a stressful profession and there is nothing you can do, or that this is the profession I chose and I’ll just have to deal with the stress until I retire. No. This is no way to live and this mentality is unsustainable for a 40-year career.
There are concrete steps you can take to relieve pressure in these areas. For instance, one way to conquer this false belief is to invest in yourself, learn to deliver a new treatment or technology, and introduce it into your practice.
Adding these new modalities, especially high-value services such as guided implant dentistry, sleep and airway treatment, 3-D printing, impression-less digital scanners, and/or clear aligners can create what I call the three R’s: Return on fun, Re-energize your staff, and practice, and Reinvent yourself.
This will be the third of a five-part series focusing on how one can rejuvenate their careers and overcome or avoid burnout in dentistry by adding some of these high-value treatments and technologies.
Part one focused on adding guided implantology to your practice and part two was about adding sleep apnea and airway treatment.
For this installment, we’ll focus on adding 3D printing to your dental office.
3D printing vs Milling Machines
First of all, let’s start with what 3d printing actually is and how it differs from the CAD/CAM milling machines which have been on the dental market for many years and that most dentists are familiar with. I compare these methods as being polar opposites.
A milling machine is a subtractive method which starts with a block of material and then uses burs to drill it down and sculpt it, typically into a crown or bridge. A 3d printer on the other hand is an additive method that starts with nothing but a build plate and builds up layer by layer to create the final product.
My personal experience with 3D printing
I currently use 3d printing for implant surgical guides (see part 1), but am actively in the market to upgrade my machine to one that can fabricate night guards, study models, bleaching trays, dentures, temporary prosthesis, etc. I’d eventually like to start my own in-house clear aligners as well.
My printer is the size of a toaster oven and is a bit dated. I bought it about 7 years ago. It was very affordable and required very little post production processing. However, the prints take a long time and it has limited capabilities on what it can make.
There was also a lot of trial and error with tweaking the calibration settings, at first, but since then the prints fit the model or mouth typically without adjustment.
Investing in Technology
You may be thinking this all sounds very cool but should you get one for your office? Like I mentioned in the beginning of article #1, A lot of what I talk about may not necessarily have that return on investment. When it comes to technological investments, it really depends on how much you use it and what you are using it for.
There’s nothing more frustrating than when you invest in some technology or just learn a new technique and you can’t get patients to move forward with treatment. Well, this is typically not the case for a 3D printer since you are already doing these procedures but are just sending them out to a lab. Now you can do them in-house but with a quicker turnaround time and less cost.
No more pouring up or trimming models. No more worrying if a model got broken or mislabeled or lost. These analog methods that most dentists learned in dental school are inefficient and eventually could be a way of the past. Now, with a 3D printer, your office has the ability to reproduce a case with a few clicks.
Re-do’s can be a killer to your day’s production compared to analog methods. You won’t have to re-impress and send out to the lab for a remake. Instead you just re-print the file that is already stored in your database software. The patient can call and say they lost or broke their night guard or denture and you can just re-print and deliver another one.
Super cool, right?
Guess who else is going to think it’s cool. Your patients and your staff.
Staff and culture
Your assistants and staff will thank you for allowing them to get rid of pouring up and trimming models and impressions. An intra-oral scanner along with a 3D printer will save them tons of time and space. It also reduces the cross contamination of a bloody impression and process of disinfecting it. Staff would much rather print than pour up a model.
Be selective who you train
Like any new system or technology you are adding to your practice, you have to train and educate your staff. You also have to select the right staff member and can’t just pick anyone. Train those that enjoy technology and who have a lot of attention to detail. They should be able to understand and negotiate the software and post processing responsibilities.
Staff will have fun doing it and feel part of the office and direct care to the patients. If you have read my book or heard me speak, you’ll remember that “delegate” is my favorite word.
Wow your patients
Show patients and staff the printer. Don’t keep it hidden in your back office. Make an attempt to show them the printer in action. Most likely they have never seen one in person. It will be one of the most impressive things your patients and staff will experience. Patients will be impressed and will refer their friends and family and be more likely to move forward with treatment.
Your engineer patients will be most fascinated. 3D printing has become a buzzword. They have heard about it and it will wow them with your office’s breakthrough technology
Have some fun
You can even print some cool, non-dental stuff. Your family or kids will get a huge kick out of you printing something for them. I also scanned and duplicated a piece for my tennis racket stringer. Woot Woot. You will be the family hero if you bring home a miniature 3D printed version of baby yoda.
3D printing is the now and the future of dentistry. Hop on board and enjoy the ride.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Eric Block is a full-time practicing dentist in Acton, Massachusetts. He’s also a husband and father of two kids. He is on a mission to help dental professionals across the country overcome burnout and anxiety.