Thursday, July 14, 2005

My flexor pollicis brevis is GINORMOUS

Growing up the son of a dentist, I had several opportunities to follow my father around and watch him do his work. It bored the hell out of me.

This was actually a major reason why I avoided dentistry for the longest time, despite my father's opinion that I'd find its unique blend of science, art, and business enjoyable and fulfilling. I'm more of a Macro kind of guy but not to the exclusion of Micro tendencies. I love to see the before/after pictures of a dental procedure, and I can still see and appreciate the miniscule differences that makes each tooth unique. I just don't have the patience to sit around and do it. For me, there are sexier things to watch than a Class III filling or a crown prep.

Today was the first day drilling with the handpieces. Our task was to drill down to a precise depth (1.25 mm), then even out the sides down to a depth of 1.75 mm, and then add a beveled edge around the edge of the tooth. I'm finally starting to appreciate the level of skill involved in preparing a tooth for even the most basic fillings. I'm able to see precisely - I can spot a crooked haircut pretty easily - if it's my head, at least - and I have a rough idea of which pen lines are 0.1 mm, 0.2, 3, 0.5 mm... But getting to the point where I'm drilling 1.75 mm precisely is another thing entirely. I haven't the hand skill to even smooth out the bumps on the floor of my prep without cutting into the sides and leaving little gouges in the walls.

The first prep went well. I managed to stay within the black outlines on our prep pad and turned out a decently hollowed out circle. Proud of my work, I moved on to other things. That's when the gouging and the cutting and the hurting began.

By the end of the lab period, I had ruined four decent preps. My thumb muscles were sore/borderline numb. And I still couldn't figure out the proper grip on my handpiece.

If this were private practice, that would translate into about 4 lawsuits and 4 pissed off patients telling 50 other people to go somewhere else.

One thing that I have to say: at UOP, the instructors go out of their way to keep a positive learning attitude. All throughout this week, they have been emphasizing that we are all considered doctors already - we're just in-training. They've been fostering a very non-competitive, nurturing atmosphere. "Don't compare yourself with your neighbors. Everyone learns at a different pace. Don't worry about your grades - they're just there to tell you which areas you need to work on. We're here to train and to graduate you. You're here to become the best dentist you can be."

This is such a change from undergraduate mentality, where everyone was fighting the curve and people were just pathologically competitive - at least in the Pre-Med program. In college, we'd ask each other about their grades, or their progress, and even study together. However, I still felt this sense of tension and envy even between classmates, some of whom I considered to be my friends.

Here at dental school, all that has seemed to have disappeared altogether. Being a valedictorian here doesn't mean you'll become a great clinician or an outstanding business owner. Getting straight C's doesn't mean you are an awful dentist and always will be.

Dr. Dugoni said, "when you graduate, you'll be a minimally competent dentist." Now, after tearing up my prep pad beyond repair, I'm beginning to see what he means.

This is only the beginning. There's no way I should expect to have the hand skills, artistic eye, or clinical judgement of an old salt of a dentist 20 years running. I'm here to build my foundations for a 30-year long career. Now I'm even more thankful that I took the Navy scholarship; I'll have 3 years to build my skills and learn everything I can before I set out on my own. And to think that I was thinking I'd open up my own practice and hanging up my shingle somewhere straight out of dschool. Ha!

Just you wait everyone. By the time this class ends, my flexor pollicis brevis will be GINORMOUS.


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