The Eighty-Five Percent Myth

by James M. Kerr, DDS

From my vantage point of having been in dentistry for more than 30 years, both in active practice and as editor/chairman of Oral Health, I have witnessed a lot of changes in dentistry – some for the better, some for the worse and some where the jury is still out. Having had two careers, one as a publisher, the other as a dentist, I know more than a little about business, marketing, people skills and dentistry.

Probably the majority of North American general dental practices today market themselves as ‘cosmetic and family dentistry,’ which certainly covers a wide area, and is quite in tune with the paradigm shift of the ’90s. These aesthetic and market-oriented practices are today’s reality, even my own. However, it is with those who “professionally market” our practices that I have some difficulties.

According to the Carnegie Institute study report, “only 15 per cent of a dentist’s success comes from technical expertise with the remaining 85 per cent of one’s success being the result of people skills.” Have you ever read anything in dentistry so professionally dismissive?

Those solely promoting the marketing of dental practices must have created this ridiculous, hypothetical twisted logic. If they are saying the four years spent at dental faculties studying the art and science of dentistry and the very costly post-graduate continuing education courses represents only 15 per cent of our successfulness as practitioners, I don’t think so.

Of course we all know that people skills, the computer, the Internet, marketing, communications, dental journals and motivational courses will spur growth and success, but never 85 percent of that success equation of a dental practice.

In my 32 years in general practice I took more than 130 graduate courses, LD Panky, Chicago and New York, on topics from veneers, crown and bridge study clubs, soft tissue management, implants, the whole gamut. I must admit about 18 percent were motivational practice management types, the balance were scientific and technique-oriented to improve my dentistry.

Your expertise, clinical skills, judgement and patient care are number one. If you don’t have it in your hands, in your head and in your heart but have to rely mostly on ‘people skills and advertising,’ then in my judgement, you really don’t belong in dentistry and won’t honour our profession.

Beginning with our January, 2000 issue of Oral Health and as part of our ongoing effort to enhance our national voice, the editorial board’s structure now encompasses contributing consultants for each specialty. We look forward to these consultants bringing even greater clinical content to our readers.

In addition, Oral Health is delighted to further its continuing education program with the addition of the Self-Learning Self-Assessment Program. SLSA, which previously appeared in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association, will appear in Oral Health monthly.