two men talking

Earlier in my career, I was lucky enough to have several mentors who helped me become the person I am today. They helped me develop the vision that I wanted for myself, my family and my practice. It seems like fate that they entered my life and our relationships grew.

Obviously, a mentor for dentistry must have a dental background, but a mentor about life can be anyone who helps you open your eyes and get you on track. It can be the same person.

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” – Oprah Winfrey

There are many practice styles in dentistry. Which style motivates you to help you reach your goals? Please realize, who you are today is not who you have to be tomorrow.

Many young dentists see the accomplishments/acquisitions of another dentist and assume they are very successful. One of my mentors pointed out to me a term that still strikes home to this day: “Big Hat, No Cattle.” As you may have guessed, he was from Texas. It doesn’t cost that much to buy a big hat, but do you have the cattle (dollars) to back it up?

The key is to befriend someone who has been successful in their field. If they are successful, they probably had mentors help them along their journey. They know the importance of paying it forward.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton

When I am mentoring a Spear Workshop, I always ask the students, “Is there someone at home that can help on your journey?” The most common answer is “no.”

If you are lucky enough to know someone who has gone through the journey, reach out to them. After each class, spend some time and find out how they incorporated what you learned into their practice. Ask them what they felt was important and why.

Many times, I am told “there is no one in my area.” Reach out to your lab and your specialists, they know who does the best work. Ask them who they would recommend you contact for help, ask them who does their dental work. It is possible that the person they recommend does very good dentistry but may not be, or want to be, a good mentor. Most likely, they will find time for you.

“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” – Steven Spielberg

These are the traits I believe make a good mentor and the path to a successful relationship. Meet with this person and chat. Try to have several questions that can help your mentor understand you and your goals. A good mentor will ask you lots of questions to better understand your question, but more importantly, to help you understand your question and help you find the answers.

Find time to shadow your mentor. Watch what they do and what the team does. See how the office runs and the relationships with the patients.

“You can observe a lot just by watching.” – Yogi Berra

The mentor that helped me the most was the one who helped me understand that we need to achieve balance in our life. Balance between work, play, family and giving back.

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

My journey started many years ago and there have been many bumps along the road. But I now realize that I only arrived at where I am because of the people who helped me along the way. I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to give back to our profession and help others along their journey. I hope one day you can say the same.

Good luck on your journey.

Carl E. Steinberg, D.D.S., M.A.G.D., L.L.S.R. ( is a contributor to Spear Digest.


Commenter's Profile Image Edward R.
July 23rd, 2019
Hi Carl, Great article with a lot of meaning for me. I never had a mentor and was perceived as a threat to the other dentists in town when I set up my practice. It was hard and lonely but eventually I built knowledge and confidence without a mentor. This is why I try to mentor new dentists. Regards, Ed Roman
Commenter's Profile Image Carl S.
July 24th, 2019
Hi Ed Knowing you as I do, the people you get to help will be better people just because they have gotten to know you. Since you and I are over that age or years in practice?.... I believe , as I know you do as well, it is our responsibility to help the next generation. See you soon Carl