When it comes to my own health, I have simple rules:

  • work out hard three times per week
  • early morning walks in the woods with my dog every day
  • always look for meaning in my life
  • live and love as hard as I can
  • everything else in moderation

These simple rules take care of my physical, mental and spiritual well being. I have always found that when I am physically fit, I usually also feel mentally strong. As well, hard cardio work outs have the ability to bring out brilliant ideas or sensible solutions to difficult problems.

My work as a dentist is very mechanistic. Reduced to my simplest expression, I drill and fill teeth for a living. Not much meaning there… But because, like paediatricians and obstetricians,  I see my patients more often than most other health professionals, I, like them and  all of my colleagues, am uniquely positioned to impact health.  So, a few years ago, somewhere between a meditative walk in the woods and a  hard cardio work out, a wild dream was born: Shaping the Future of Dentistry.

Today, our small group of Shapers work at laying the groundwork for a journey to excellence for dentists and their teams in dialogue with one another, towards a higher level of engagement. We aim to help shift our awareness of health and of the nature of our responsibility in sharing oral health knowledge within and beyond our clinics.  We have crafted quality questions to engage the heart into meaningful conversations and to be used as containers for a collective higher purpose. The current project emerging out of Shaping the Future of Dentistry, “Dentists Leaders in Health,” is an effort to bring Art of Hosting methodologies into the profession of dentistry. I also have a dream of hosting a large scale participative leadership session using AoH methodologies at ASM, the annual Ontario Dental Association Spring Meeting, one of the largest gatherings of Dental professionals in North America.

It all started when I responded to a general invitation for suggestions from the Editor of the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association, John O’Keefe, himself a man with a vision. I sent him a piece I had written for the Debate and Opinion section of the Journal,“Prevention: Dentistry’s Legacy for the Future.” During the same period, I began hosting World Cafe Conversations on Leadership, Oral Health and Education for small groups (20-40 people) in my community.

As a result of hosting and participating in meaningful conversations about health,  my work style in the clinic shifted from a surgical approach (drill and fill) to one of active prevention and risk management. My conversations with patients changed. I gained the courage of saying that no matter how good my dentistry was, it would never match the engineering marvel that is a natural tooth. This type of upfront, honest talk needs to happen if we are going to effect sustainable changes in health systems.

The purpose of Shaping the Future of Dentistry is to ask seldom asked questions and spark conversations that will ultimately lead to a collective shift in mindset. The goal is to reach a critical conversation mass around ethically weighted questions. Then a large scale participatory change intervention in health led by dentists will become possible.


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