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Episode #415: Failure Is an Option, with Dr. Jim Otten

the best practices show podcast May 03, 2022
Failure Is an Option

 No one does perfect dentistry — no one. Failures can happen, even when you do the best work possible. So, why are dentists obsessed with perfection? Failure has its benefits, and Kirk Behrendt invites Dr. Jim Otten, co-instructor of Global Diagnosis Education, to share the lessons he learned from failing so you can develop a healthy mindset and attitude for when things don't go as planned. Each failure can be a step to success! To take the first step, listen to Episode 415 of The Best Practices Show!

Main Takeaways:

  • Failure is going to happen, eventually.
  • Each failure can be a step to success.
  • Be willing to take risks and next steps.
  • Focus on the most important things.  
  • Manage your patients’ expectations.


  • “In dentistry, we can have a bit of ambiguity tolerance. Can't we? We can have failure. We will experience failure at some level. I always loved the quote that Jack Nicklaus had. He was talking about any round of golf he played in his professional career, and he said, ‘Of the shots that I take, of the 67, 70 strokes that I take, maybe two of them are exactly the way I wanted in that round. The rest of it is to miss it well.’ So, if he was to have that perfection mindset of, ‘I have to hit every shot perfect. It has to fall exactly where I want it,’ he would've never achieved what he achieved. And every dentist should think the same way.” (7:59—8:42)
  • “If you don't pull the trigger and take imperfect action, be willing to take imperfect action and risk — minimize your risk, now, but risk — you'll never grow.” (8:45—8:57)
  • “All of us suffer, in some way, from our limitations that we have around our thoughts and our ability. And oftentimes, we get frozen.” (9:00—9:12)
  • “The best lessons in life I ever learned were from the biggest failures I had, because they challenge you to reach down into your core, discover who you are, and how you're going to reframe the rest of your future and move forward.” (9:37—9:53)
  • “If you don't like the game you're in, it’s like Scott O'Neil says, change the game. It’s time to change the game. If you don't like what you're doing, if you're not satisfied, if you're not feeling enriched by this, it’s time to change the game. Well, how do you do that? You have to be willing to take risks, and you have to be willing to take the next step.” (12:20—12:38)
  • “The first step, I think, is a matter of awareness. And when I say that, I think about the quote that Maya Angelou has. She says, ‘If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you look forward, do so prayerfully. But the wisest course is to be present in the present, gratefully.’ And I think that's the first step, is to allow yourself the forgiveness for anything that you are trying to pull forward from the past. That's done. If you did your best and it didn't work out, it didn't work out. And your future is something that you certainly want to focus on. But be present in the moment. What can you do each day?” (18:31—19:26)
  • “You have the time that you create. You have control. And it really depends on your level of passion and commitment, whether you're willing to take time to start making progress. So, it sounds harsh, but we all have the same amount of time, and we all have the same structure of time. It just depends on how you want to use it.” (21:44—22:11)
  • “I always wanted to be the best I could be. I always wanted to be my best and try to do my best. And I noticed that my best effort, in similar circumstances, wasn't working out as good on some patients as in others. And I started thinking, ‘What's going on? I'm doing the same things, same techniques, got the same preps, making the same impressions, using the same materials, using the same lab. This patient’s doing good. This one’s breaking teeth.’ And so, it was bothersome to me, and I think it’s because I was paying attention. I think if you look at your dentistry as a learning laboratory, you'll start to see these things.” (24:17—24:51)
  • “I think that's the fear that people have in dealing with people with joint problems or with any kind of complex restorative care. We do have the techniques and the way of gathering and assessing information, diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment methodologies to be successful. But along the way, especially in the realm of occlusion and TM joint dysfunction, you're going to find that people don't respond the way you think.” (32:46—33:15)
  • “I don't tell people anymore that, ‘This is going to fix your problem.’ I tell them, ‘Look, we’re going to use a bite splint. And what the bite splint is for is to manage your problem. It’s not to correct it. Discs are not coming back. And we’re going to, hopefully, get the inflammation down. Your muscles are going to be relaxed and, hopefully, you're going to feel 90% better. And 90% of our patients do get about 80% to 90% better. You could be one of the 10%. I don't know.’ And so, I always make sure that I say that, because I don't know. And I used to take that on as my failure, and it’s not.” (33:18—33:57)
  • “Offer yourself forgiveness and light. In Scott O’Neil’s book, [Be Where Your Feet Are,] he talks about being where your feet are. Focus on the present. Focus on what's most important, and don't hesitate to really write those things down and be clear about what's important in your life — your family, your faith, your health, and your practice — and how does that all integrate together.” (39:02—39:30)
  • “Focus on what's important. Because if everything is important, then nothing is important.” (39:42—39:47)
  • “I get questions all the time on the platform of, ‘Hey, I've got this patient, and I've got this problem, and I don't know where to send them.’ And my first question is, ‘Why not you?’ Why not you? Why aren't you the person that can be the answer for their problem?” (46:13—46:32)


  • 0:00 Introduction.
  • 3:17 Dr. Otten’s background.
  • 6:35 Failure is an option.
  • 9:54 Be willing to take the next step.  
  • 12:39 Things that get in the way of your progress.
  • 15:20 Vulnerability-based trust is the future.
  • 18:07 Biggest first steps you can take.
  • 21:30 You have the time that you create.
  • 23:23 No one has ever done perfect dentistry.  
  • 25:30 Failure in occlusion.
  • 31:35 Lessons in managing patients’ expectations.
  • 35:04 How Dr. Otten’s courses can help you grow.
  • 38:45 Last thoughts on failure being an option.
  • 40:24 Information on Global Diagnosis Education.

Reach Out to Dr. Otten:

Dr. Otten’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/james.otten.71

Dr. Otten’s social media: @jamesottendds


Global Diagnosis Education courses: https://stoneoakaesthetics.com/global-diagnosis-education

Brené Brown: https://brenebrown.com/

Be Where Your Feet Are by Scott M. O'Neil: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250769879/bewhereyourfeetare

Dr. Jim Otten Bio:

Dr. James F. Otten is a 1981 graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry. He completed a one-year residency in hospital dentistry with emphasis on advanced restoration of teeth and oral surgery at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Leavenworth, Kansas. He taught crown and bridge dentistry as an Associate Professor at UMKC before entering private practice in 1982, where he served as Chief of Staff of a large group practice in Fayetteville, Arkansas, before opening his practice in Lawrence in 1984.

Dr. Otten has pursued rigorous post-graduate education since 1986, accumulating thousands of hours in advanced continuing education that he has intentionally applied to his practice in order to develop its personalized care philosophy. He has completed the rigorous curriculum at two prestigious institutions – The Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education and the Dawson Center for Advanced Dental Education. Dr. Otten lectures nationally and internationally, and he has recently been asked to join the faculty at the Newport Coast Orofacial Institute in Newport Beach, California.

Dr. Otten has been named a Fellow of The American College of Dentists and an active member of The American Academy of Restorative Dentistry.

In pursuit of excellence, Dr. Otten has gained a considerable reputation, both regionally and nationally, for his expertise in disorders of the jaw joints, as well as crown and bridge dentistry, implant restorations, complex bite problems, removable and partial dentures, and naturally beautiful esthetic dentistry.


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