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Episode #598: The Truth Behind Happy Dentists, with Dr. Gary DeWood

There is one thing even the best dentists can’t help you with in your practice. That one thing is your happiness. To bring you closer to it, Kirk Behrendt brings back Dr. Gary DeWood, executive vice president of Spear Education, to reveal the secrets to becoming a happier practicing dentist. By identifying three simple things for yourself and your business, you will experience more joy in this profession. To find out what they are, listen to Episode 598 of The Best Practices Show!

Episode Resources:

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Learn more about Spear Education

Upcoming seminars at Spear Education

Main Takeaways:

Identify how much time, money, and patients is enough.

Have a clear vision of what you want for your practice.

Make a plan for your goals to make them happen.

Only you can know what makes you happy.

Don’t try to be everyone’s dentist.


“Aristotle said — and I don’t know that anybody has really changed anybody’s mind if they disagree with this — that the whole purpose of life is to be happy. That’s what everybody is seeking. In fact, the more I have thought about that, read about it, and talked about it to people, the more I believe that to be true. The difficulty is no one can define what it is that will make you happy, or what things you need for you to be happy. That’s when you get into the whole thing about, you have to decide for yourself what it is you’re after. What do you want? How are you going to decide? That is not something anybody can help you with.” (4:13—4:54)

“It’s impossible to feel successful at the end and say, ‘I did that all myself.’” (7:28— 7:33)

“There’s a time in your life when you should have a consultant. I believe this. That’s why I said I don’t think anybody does it all themselves. There’s a time when somebody has to tell you what to do, ‘Do this.’ Well, first of all, I would offer this, for what it’s worth, from my own personal experience. If you say to somebody, ‘I don’t know what to do,’ because you trust them, and they don’t immediately ask you, ‘What do you want?’ it doesn’t matter what they say — don’t listen, because that’s going to be about them. If you know this person and they say, ‘Well, what are you after?’ — because I honestly believe unless you have some sort of an outcome in sight, any advice you get is going to be, ‘So, what?’” (8:45—9:32)

“What is your vision? What do you have as a vision? For me, it’s, ‘What do you want? What are you hoping to get?’ And, by the way, it’s going to change throughout life. It changes all the time. It’s like looking at the horizon. It’s out there. I see it. By the way, every step you take toward it, it moves a step away because that’s where it is. That’s where it exists. So, I think that what we have to think about doing is asking people to spend some time in their head before we can begin to answer those other questions and be advisors for them. And unfortunately, sometimes that gets in the way for some of the people who are looking. Because I remember being, ‘What do you think I should do?’ And what I really meant was, ‘Tell me what you think I should do so I can make up my own mind anyway.’” (10:19— 11:11)

“If somebody asks me, ‘What should I do?’ I will tell you my first response. You’ve heard me use this before because I use it with dentistry all the time. ‘I would love to talk about what you could do, because should is a power word and I don’t want the power in this. I’m not the person looking to decide.’ And now, I can answer your question, ‘Based on what I know, this is what makes the most sense to me.’ And that works for everything in life, I think, not just talking to patients. It works for your own life. What do you want out of a practice?” (11:20— 11:56)

“Sometimes, the best thing you can do is find someone who gets your story out of you so you can hear it for the first time.” (12:29—12:39)

“Part of the problem is that we were all taught to sell people dentistry. And unfortunately, nobody wants to buy dentistry. No one alive, no human being alive, wants to buy dentistry. They want to buy something that dentistry will get them. And so, when we try to sell them dentistry, we’re existing in our logical mind because it’s how we were taught, and we’re scientists. Of course, we would go there. Unfortunately, that doesn’t move the needle.” (14:31—15:00)

“What I love to tell people, I say, ‘Go back. And this time, don’t talk about the dentistry. Don’t talk about the dentistry.’ We were taught this way: ‘Here’s a list of what’s wrong with you. I have this list I made of everything that’s wrong with you. I have this list I made of everything I’m going to do to fix it. Here’s how much that costs.’ And then, if they said, ‘No, thank you,’ you’re supposed to now educate them. I said, ‘Why don’t we educate them first, and then just stop? So, try this next time. Next time you’re talking to somebody who has a bunch of things they didn’t know about and they’re receptive, they’re asking some questions, they’re in, go over everything that you’ve discovered, and then stop talking. After a few seconds, if there is not something coming from the patient, say something like this. ‘Kirk, based on everything we’ve discovered and saw together, which of those things do you believe is the number-one priority that we should be acting on immediately?’ And look them in the eye. Now, if they say something like this, ‘Well, could you tell me again?’ don’t be hurt. Don’t be surprised. Remember that almost all of the population on the planet, for sure in the U.S., has been conditioned not to listen to our lecture because it might make them buy something they don’t think they want, because that’s been their experience in the past. And if you don’t go there, it’ll be different for them. I promise you they will hear you the second time because they know you’re not going to ask them to buy anything.” (16:07—18:05)

“[Someone who came to our occlusion workshop] came up and said, ‘I have to share a story with you. I went home, and I did what you talked about. I cannot tell you how many people have asked me to do their dentistry.’ And I said, ‘Well, tell me more about that.’ He had a whole story. He said, ‘You know what? I just stopped telling them the treatment plan until they asked. And all of a sudden, when they asked, it was very different.’ That’s what lights me up, because the truth is this — it’s exactly the same treatment plan. Nothing changed with what you knew to do or didn’t know to do. What changed was your ability to allow the patient to have a reason to want to hear that. And unfortunately, that’s not how we were trained.” (18:32— 19:14)

“At some point, you’ve got to decide, what are you willing to sacrifice to be able to do something for a patient? And, by the way, I think it’s noble. I don’t see this as a negative, somebody who tries to figure out a way to do good stuff at a lower fee. I love you. Good. That’s wonderful. But what are you willing to do to make the fee low? And unfortunately, that’s going to be an endless cycle. I mean, the cheaper you do it, the more cheaply someone will ask you to do it. At some point, it’s this race to the bottom. And don’t hear this wrong. Some of the best dentistry that I have ever seen came out of places that lots of dentists badmouth every day as being mills and stuff. I’ve seen some beautiful dentistry out of places like that. I’ve seen some really crummy dentistry out of places that had incredible reputations. What I mean is, that’s not what it’s about. Obviously, it’s easier to not make the bad stuff happen if you’re being paid enough to do stuff.” (19:40— 21:31)

“Let me tell you the first step to, ‘How much is enough?’ Claim it, ‘I want more money.’ Money is about choice. Money is not what I thought I heard when I was in dental school at Case, which was, ‘Gary, if you think about money, you’ve just prostituted yourself to the dollar at the expense of those people you’re supposed to be serving.’ Somehow, I heard that. And it stuck with me a little bit because it got in the way for some things until I could finally claim, ‘Well, no. Actually, it’s one of the tools I need to use to be able to figure out a way to do the best stuff for all those people.’” (29:21— 30:03)

“If you want to know how to answer, ‘How much?’ you have to say, ‘What would I do with more money?’ For yourself, what would you do with it? If you don’t have enough money and you say to me, ‘I want more,’ and I say, ‘How much?’ and you say, ‘Well, I don’t know,’ my answer is going to be, ‘Well, I’m sorry. You’ll never get there because you haven’t established why you want the money. Tell me what you’re going to do with it. What are you going to do with it?’” (30:34— 31:03)

“People always want more time. And so, then I say, ‘How much?’ And they go, ‘Umm . . .’ I say, ‘Can I ask you another question?’ This just happened the week before last. ‘What would you do with that time?’ The answer was immediate. They said, ‘I have a four-year-old son. I would love to find a way to spend more time with him. That would be important to me.’ I said, ‘Okay. In a normal week, how much more time do you want to spend with him?’ Now, he got into a whole discussion about, ‘Well, I don’t even know if it had to be in one week. Maybe it’s taking some more days off here and there.’ I said, ‘Okay. How many do you want to take off in a year?’ ‘I’d love to have an extra ten working days that I could do anywhere in the year.’ I said, ‘Excellent. Why don’t we sit down and make a plan to make sure that you have the income that’s appropriate to be able to do that? Because once you have a plan, you know exactly what you’re shooting for.’ And do you know what I’ve discovered? Most people who make a plan make it happen.” (31:06—32:11)

“It’s hard to see when you just know you need more. When you’re frustrated about time, and you feel totally stressed out, and you don’t have time for anything, I say, ‘How much more time do you need?’ If they can’t answer that, it doesn’t matter because it doesn’t work. And this is the most important part. You can change your mind whenever it’s appropriate. And sometimes, it’s appropriate as soon as you said what you think you want. You say, ‘Well, I think I want this.’ And then, you go, ‘You know what, though?’ I’m serious — that’s what happens. As soon as you begin to establish a claim — just show me the target so that you can see it yourself. As soon as you can see the target, I can say, ‘What ways do you see would be possible to get you there?’ I hear often, ‘I don’t know.’ And I say, ‘Well, why don’t we investigate some possibilities? Because now, we can talk about what might be possible. What could be possible? What could you do to make that happen?’ You’ve got to say, ‘What are you going to do with more time, more money, more patients? What are you going to do with them?’” (32:34— 33:43)

“One of the best realizations that you can have is that you can’t be everybody’s dentist. As soon as I realized I couldn’t be everybody’s dentist — I don’t want everybody to come to me. And what I’ve learned in the years since is this. First of all, if I have more time than patients in my life, I have to say, ‘What is getting in the way of more patients coming here?’ If I had more patients than time, I have to say, ‘Who am I letting in?’” (35:51—36:32)

“Life is way too short for me to spend time with people that don’t want to be happy when I’m with them. It just ain’t worth it.” (36:48— 36:56)

“If you haven’t clearly identified who those people are that you would choose to spend your time with, who are you looking for? It’s going to be hard to say, ‘What would be the best thing we could do to recognize those people, and then find a way to have more of them and get them here sooner?’ Now, the number-one thing for patients is this. I believe this. First of all, you have to know what you want. When people say, ‘You know what? If they call, make them an appointment,’ I say, ‘Is that how you plan your life? How’s that working out for you?’ Because usually, it’s chaos. Put them in the schedule.” (38:23—39:10)

“One of our clients decided they wanted to grow the practice, thinking about maybe adding somebody, and all this stuff. They wanted 100 new patients a month — solo practitioner. I said, ‘Okay, perfect.’ I tore off four sheets of the giant paper that I had their schedule on and drew a week in each one. I said, ‘Put 100 people in that schedule, and then go ahead and block in your rocks for me.’ They came back to me after about an hour and they said, ‘We decided 35 is a great number.’ So, step one, identify what you want. I got what you meant when you said 100. And that’s just because 100 is like, ‘I want a high flow of new patients.’ But the first thing you’ve got to figure out is, what is it, really? What do you really want? And then, I say, ‘Then commit to it. Put them on the schedule. Schedule them.’ It’s amazing. You will do things you don’t even know that you’re doing to have those people in those blocks. Seriously, that’s what happens. This sounds totally crazy, but anybody who has experienced it knows this. If you can’t identify what it is you want, it’s harder to hit it. As soon as you identify it, you do things that you don’t even know will have an impact on that because you already know what you’re after.” (39:13—40:29)

“If you want to change the mindset around dental benefit plans in your practice, whose minds have to change first? It ain’t your patients. It’s you and everybody in your practice.” (41:00— 41:09)

“I know I’ve used this one before, so people have probably heard this one, where somebody walks in and says, ‘I have this dental insurance, but it sucks.’ And then, I say, ‘Yeah, they all suck.’ And then, you and I both now are whining. It’s like, tell me what good that does anybody. They really don’t suck until you tell me what you’re basing that on. They’re exactly what they’re supposed to be. When that mindset can change in your practice, now we can go to the real thing about this.” (43:10—43:36)

“If my mindset is that [insurance sucks], then a patient is going to pick up on that. And now, we’re both righteously indignant, and patients don’t do anything. People will do whatever is in their best interest in any way they can.” (45:00—45:14)

“The number-one question I think that every dentist can answer for themselves is, ‘How much is enough?’ It doesn’t matter where you are in your career. It doesn’t have to be, ‘That’s in stone, and that’s all I get.’ It has to be, ‘Right now, at this point in my life, to the horizon as far as I can see it, how much is enough? What would make me be able to go home at night and say I’m okay?’ Answer that for yourself. Answer it. And then, say, ‘Is there a way for me to get that?’ Because sometimes, what you find is you need to identify it and say it to yourself so you can hear it for the first time.” (50:37— 51:12)


0:00 Introduction.

2:37 Dr. DeWood’s background.

3:53 How do you define happiness and success?

6:00 You can’t do it alone.

13:06 Don’t talk to patients about the dentistry.

19:40 What are you willing to sacrifice?

21:32 Do you truly want to do big cases?

24:29 What a great schedule could look like.

28:04 How much is enough?

34:44 You can’t be everyone’s dentist.

39:12 Identify what you want first.

40:42 Change the mindset around dental benefit plans.

49:09 Last thoughts for happiness in dentistry.

51:49 More about Spear Education.

Dr. Gary DeWood Bio:

Dr. Gary DeWood is the Executive Vice President of Spear Education. As one of the founding members of Spear, he directed Curriculum and Clinical Education for nearly a decade prior to joining in the launch of Spear Practice Solutions. Today, he splits time between teaching and consulting.

Dr. DeWood serves as an instructor in multiple Spear Workshops, including Facially Generated Treatment Planning, Occlusion in Clinical Practice, Advanced Occlusion, Sleep Medicine in the Dental Practice, and a special focus workshop on temporomandibular disorder. He also maintains a limited private practice on the Spear Campus in Scottsdale, Arizona, and lectures nationally and internationally on practice management, treatment planning, case management, case acceptance, TMD diagnosis, appliance therapy, occlusion, and esthetics.

Prior to his contributions at Spear, Dr. DeWood maintained a private restorative general practice with his wife and fellow Spear Resident Faculty member, Dr. Cheryl DeWood, in Pemberville, Ohio, before dedicating most of his time to teaching full-time. With 40 years in general dentistry, he provides a unique perspective on the application of the dental principles taught at Spear. He has spent years focused on diagnosing and treating functional occlusal problems and TMD, and as part of that focus completed the craniofacial pain mini residency at the University of Florida College of Dentistry in the early 1990s.

Dr. DeWood served as clinical director at The Pankey Institute from 2003 to 2008. He has held appointments as associate professor at the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry and assistant professor at the University of Toledo College of Medicine. He earned his D.D.S. from Case Western Reserve University in 1980, and an M.S. degree in biomedical sciences from the University of Toledo College of Medicine in 2004.


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