Your other set of dental instruments

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Contour, which focused on advocacy.

Public Speaking

We have all heard classmates say, “I hate public speaking.” Some might have chosen dentistry with the intent to avoid public speaking. In reality, you will give many speeches throughout your dental school education and career. These speeches may not involve podiums, but the messages are no less significant. On a daily basis, we talk to patients, faculty and our peers. All of these interactions reflect on you as a professional.

We spend four years learning different clinical techniques and how to use different instruments. Little training is given on one of the most powerful tools: words. Politicians are masters at the art of using words to motivate people. You will need words to get people on your side. You want patients and staff to trust in your direction. Your words also can motivate patients to take better care of their oral hygiene or accept a treatment plan. The ADA Code of Ethics states, “The dental profession holds a special position of trust within society.” It is because of this trust we must carefully select our words as they can be misunderstood.


Last summer I interned for one of the dentists in Congress, Rep. Mike Simpson. On the wall in his D.C. office, he had framed his handwritten rules for life. Three of the rules stood out to me. First, “Hear both sides before judging.” I once met a patient who had neglected her oral health for years. I wondered how she could let it get this bad, assuming she had misguided priorities. But I was wrong. I learned that she spent the little money she had ensuring that her children had the best dental care possible. Knowing how a patient reached their current state of oral health is essential to proper diagnosis and treatment.

The second rule was “Learn to disagree without being disagreeable.” There will be times in your education when you disagree with a faculty member. How you handle those disagreements can help you stand out amongst your classmates. Calmly support your position with facts while recognizing the valid points of the alternate view. Finally, the last rule is “admit your mistakes.” It is called “practicing” dentistry for a reason. At some point, you will make a mistake. We all do, but owning up to it will help you grow as a professional.

Team of Advisors

Look at our leaders in Washington. They surround themselves with advisors who provide expert opinions. Developing a diverse team of mentors in dental school can elevate you to a new level. Bob Proctor, a motivational speaker, once said, “A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” When I looked for mentors, I started with a few trusted faculty having a mix of academic and private practice experience. Then I branched out to my local dental society and the ADA. Your classmates can also be mentors. Surround yourself with people who bring out your best qualities. You will be able to grow personally and professionally using these political tools.

~Dr. James Wanamaker, Buffalo ’16, 2015-16 Council on Advocacy Chair

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"ASDA Archives" revisits articles previously published by ASDA via the Mouthing Off blog or Contour magazine. If you have a favorite article from the archives that you'd like to see featured on Mouthing Off, email

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