Learning happens when a specific experience results in a lasting behavioral change. With this definition, it can be argued the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 taught something to every person on the planet. It's inevitable humankind will someday look back and consider this time – our time – as a major turning point in human history.
So, what was 2020's most important lesson? What did we learn? To find out I contacted some of the brightest minds in the dental profession for answers.
Evidently, when thinking about this, one can distinguish lessons on both personal and professional levels; however, upon reviewing responses from many esteemed colleagues, I noticed some common themes. Most of their answers were well-known ideas and concepts but because of the pandemic's nature there was no other choice than to embrace and practice them with a new intensity.
- Never take things for granted. Nothing in life is guaranteed. (Impermanence)
- Live in the present moment.
- Slow down. (Priorities change)
- Spend more quality time with loved ones.
- Learn to adapt.
All these answers seem to be universal and are used consistently in conversations with people from all walks of life; however, since this is Spear Education, let's review these answers in the context of how they may influence our lives and our work as dental health providers.
“Not taking things for granted” and “learning to live in the present moment” convey a notion of impermanence, which in 2020 absolutely awakened our patients' sense of awareness in their overall health, including their dental health. This has clearly translated into increased traffic to dental offices with a renewed and genuine interest to pursue a more mindful and conscious approach toward their dental health. In my practice, we've noticed greater interest from patients for procedures addressing dental erosion and tooth wear but also root procedures involving root coverage and periodontal health.
The dental office is a safe place
It should be overtly uncontested, that 2020 taught the world, yet again, dentistry has not only the ability to adapt to the specific circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and prevail as a profession, but it proved the dental office is a safe place.
Traditionally, dental teams are experts in infection control and as a rule rigorously utilize universal precautions. It was during the mid-1980s when the HIV/AIDS epidemic caused the profession to revisit its infection control protocols, which since have become standard across the board.
“When I look back at what (Spear dentists) did to make it through, they took an objective look at their financial situation and made rational decisions based on data. They communicated regularly with their teams. They were transparent and forthright.” -Adam McWethy, Spear Vice President of Content Strategy
While dentistry was initially listed as a high-risk activity for COVID-19, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) alongside proper disinfection and social distancing protocols proved the dental office is a safe place for the dental team and patients alike.
I feel incredibly proud that as a profession we managed, yet again, to overcome the threat of an infectious disease, and in this case, a highly transmissible one.
The ‘Zoom Boom'
2020 also taught us to slow down. For dentists, it means taking time during a patient's visit to reevaluate their dental health priorities. At my practice, we've been continuously and pleasantly surprised by the number of patients who, in the past, had bluntly expressed they were not interested in having any esthetic changes to their smiles, and now, these same patients are coming to see us with the specific request for smile enhancement.
Since the pandemic, more of our patients are working from home devoting lots of time to their computers in virtual meetings thus paying more attention to their smile. Also, executives are not traveling as much and now have some flexibility in their work schedules for elective esthetic treatment.
Society is in a so-called “Zoom Boom,” which is positively impacting plastic surgeons, dermatologists, and restorative dentists provided we are aware of the trend. Therefore, it's important to have the entire practice team be alert and responsive to our patients' sprouting priorities.
Brilliance in the basics
One of the powerful insights I received in my quest for lessons learned, was from Adam McWethy, Spear's Vice President of Content Strategy.
He replied, “The greatest thing I learned in 2020 was that to succeed in a time of chaos, a business needs to focus on having brilliance in the basics. Don't mistake it as easy. Staying focused and executing is one of the hardest things a business will ever do. When I look back at what our consulting clients did to make it through, they took an objective look at their financial situation and made rational decisions based on data. They communicated regularly with their teams. They were transparent and forthright. They systematically reached out to all their patients, during and after the shutdown, to help keep connections.
“These are simple things to do, but it requires determination, consistency, and grit.”
As we are unequivocally starting to see a light at the end of this grim tunnel, with a massive vaccination endeavor in place, let us leverage the universality of this pandemic and embrace it as a collective checkpoint that catapults us into an era of structured holistic awareness and well-being, an era in which the “We's “outweigh the “I's.”
Ricardo Mitrani, D.D.S., M.S.D., is a member of Spear Resident Faculty.