I run…therefore I am

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EDITORIAL: Are you prepared for the rush?


Are you prepared for the rush?

Practicing dentistry is nothing short of taking one long roller coaster ride.  One moment you’re in a quiet solitude waiting for patients who never show up.  The next time you’re in a frenzy battle with a wailing pedo. patient, or wrestling with a persistent apical third or even searching for a severed artery from a patient spitting pools of blood.  The ride can be fulfilling as one successfully delivers a well made complete denture or it can be dangerous as one tries to stabilize a fainting patient’s vital signs.  How about retrieving a swallowed reamer or a broken needle?

With its expected tumbles and turns, twists and falls, a dentist should always be at the helm of every emergency (or ordinary) situation within the clinic.  Unexpected turns may catch the complacent dentist in the most uncompromising and frantic moments.  One should, therefore, be ready to contend with it, with enough artillery of knowledge, skill and guts and a lot of luck.  Only then, can one survive the ride.


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The Filipino as a Dentist

It has been exactly 10 years since I finished my last few clinical requirements and finally secured a diploma.  Of course, after six years of toiling and burning the midnight oil, I still had to hurdle the boards, undergo hospital training and actual clinical practice before I finally get the hang of it – you know, the practice of dentistry.

Perhaps, I am quite fortunate for a decade after, I am still holding an explorer and surviving the various obstacles (and abscesses and infections) that come with the caries war and battle of the tartar.  More importantly, I’ve found my own niche – practicing a profession which I tremendously love.  (Am I harping too much on the subject?)

Like everyone else, I had to start from below.  Others, out of lack of interest, patience or luck had to move out of Dentistry and branch out.  This profession is obviously not for everyone, even armed with a DDM title or a place in the boards, as one friend was.  Still for others, this country is not for them to practice the profession – what with all the unethical, not to mention, septic practices, erratic patient appointments, dipping rates and skyrocketting rentals.  Of course, once they’ve set up the office in greener pastures, a whole new set of problems enter the picture – high insurance rates, lawsuits, discrimination, etc.

In the 70’s, hordes of professionals made an exodus to the land of milk and honey and this was known as brain drain.  After the yellow revolution, more and more Filipinos have returned and chosen to stay in this country.  The picture is not exactly rosey nor promising but life is slowly getting better.  And this is perhaps the best time to pay tribute to the Filipino dentist who have remained (out of choice or fate) and chosen to serve and treat his fellow Filipino.

The weather fluctuates at the bate of an eyelash, corruption and pollution darken the atmosphere and balasubas patients abound but hey, this is the only place where we work and fit best.  Mabuhay! ang Dentistang Pinoy!


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The short feature, “You Know a Dentist is Filipino If …” is an offshoot of Alice Mendoza’s compilation of  “You know you’re Filipino if …”.  Such anecdotes laugh at peculiar yet distinct characters of Filipinos while incising the nature of our race, both negative and positive.

Along this line, a dental version of this compilation plays on the Filipino dentist’s real attitudes and practices, ethical or otherwise.  The article doesn’t condemn any of this character.  We try to let the reader classify which are the negative and the positive.  At first glance, one can easily pick out the sheeps from the goats.  But let’s try to go beyond…

Example is the raging debate on to what extent does a dentist use disposables and the effect of these dental wastes to the environment.   In the first world, almost all instruments and materials which enter the patient’s mouth are now disposable such as hand instruments, handpieces, files and gowns.  ADA can always boast of highly aseptic techniques employed by its members while sidelining the tons of garbage created by these disposables.

So are there any alternative to these disposables?  Expect the Pinoy dentist, out of economy and frugality, to come up with solutions.  Non-disposable instruments can be designated to regular patients for an extra fee while metal handpieces can be disinfected and sterilized.  The Filipino dentist has enough time and helping hands to clean, disinfect and sterilize his instruments unlike his American counterpart.  In the end, the Pinoys contribute less waste to his environment.  (There are even roaming ahentes who collect used carpules.)  But what can be disposed and recycled/reused?  How many times does a bur (which can be sterilized) be used before being dispose?

If anything, the feature was meant to provoke and encourage discussion on issues perenially hounding the profession (such as asepsis) and find some solutions.  Not everyone may identify with all the situations given (you’re not supposed to!) but these are all actual stiuations which happen everyday in the Philippine setting.  So are we just going to sweep them under the rug and simply concentrate on the more noble and glowing aspects of Philippine dentistry?  Of course, when we open up these issues, only the calls made by the dentist and not by the patient would be considered.

Oh, by the way, years ago, when I trained and worked in a government hospital, we used the suturing needle twice.  After the first use, we remove the suturing material, clean the needle, insert a new material then soak it in cold sterilization for 24 hours.  It was the best we could do for non-paying indigent patients.  Believe or not.


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Dental Resolutions for 1998

Dental Resolutions for 1998

a) I will try to diversify my activities outside the clinic so I won’t have time to blame myself or curse my neighboring clinics of the low patient turnout.

b) I will read more on the basic sciences in dentistry and not merely rely on literature of new products.

c) I will always follow-up on my patients with comprehensive treatments (high rates) even if I know that a denture or a bridge is bound to fail.  I will avoid these one-shot deals.

d) I will always share a tip or new knowledge with my fellow dentists as a means of improving dental standards.

e) I will check and talk with a fellow dentist before believing rumours and heresays he supposedly said against me.

f) I will always update my knowledge and skill by attending lectures and reading on dentistry.

g) Without being too frivolous, I will always try to provide the best dental service, use the most reliable materials, and treat my patients with sympathy and understanding.

h) I won’t scrimp on cheap materials just to save a few pesos.

i) I will refer to a specialist, cases I cannot treat properly.

j) I won’t deliver a denture or cement a crown to a patient, unless he has fully paid or signed post-dated checks.


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Surviving the Mean Season

1998 would have been the banner year for the Philippines, being an emerging tiger, raring and roaring on the year of the tiger.  It was supposed to be the most fitting achievement for a struggling yet sovereign people, 100 years after our first resistance against the first colonizers.  But as always, it was not to be.

Without fail, something or somebody, perhaps by fate, is destined to burst that bubble and trample on our rising gains, and bring us back to square one.  Be it nature (El Nino), the world (Asean economy) or personalities (Victor Wood and the presidentiables).  I won’t go back to 1989 or even 1964.  And so we welcome the year with bleakness and pessimism.  Why should 1998, pictured as a glowing child, be exposed and shocked to such uncertainties?  It seems our country has been relegated to forever play second fiddle.  As one Filipino saying goes, “Pinasawsaw at pinatikim lang “ (just a momentary taste of the good life).

For the ordinary dentist, life has to go on as prices of materials and supplies skyrocket, leaving him biting the dust.  It is during these desperate times (though we’re not yet in recession) that the dignity and  decency of the Filipino dentist is put to the test.  We are after all, professionals.  Not Neanderthals who always have the urge to whack each other in order to survive.  Definitely, bringing down one’s rates to lure more patients is not the solution.  Nor scrimping on materials and sacrificing on asepsis and quality.  Our profession is a lifetime endeavor built on trust so taking the short cut to rise and shine is not the way.  Even if the dollar would shoot up to P50.

Perhaps, what I have to offer are tried, trite formulas you’ve heard blasting on the radio (economize, buy Filipino…..), or picked up from the January lecture (make the most out of your rented space…..), or even tipped by your friendly dental rep (prices of equipments will rise by 40%, so buy while you still can….), or dentist friends (are you finished with your panic shopping?….).  So I would rather leave it blank.

What I can share is just a reminder.  Keep your head up and never attempt to tarnish Dentistry (by unprofessionalism, etc.) in your desperation to make ends meet.  I would rather see a struggling dentist whose sense of ethics and principle are still intact than a highly successful one who has forgotten the basics of decency and professionalism.  Economy and practicality could get us through this turbulent times, but without ethics, the effort is not complete.