The Value of Consultants, Coaches, and Mentors in Dental Practice 

April 5, 2024 Gary DeWood, DDS

Gary M. DeWood, DDS, MS 

As an associate dentist, you may be fortunate to learn from the instruction and observation of a senior dentist, but over your career, you will gain innumerable benefits from outside consultants, coaches, and mentors. 

One of my mentors, Dr. Richard A. Green, told me that one of the keys to my success would be to surround myself with a Board of Directors. He was correct. My board is composed of people who are willing and able to see my vision and hold me accountable for going to it. Some are consultants, some are coaches, and some are mentors. Sometimes they are all three in one person but no one person has all the answers. 

Consultants, coaches, and mentors help us in different ways. 

In dental practice, I often hear the words mentor, coach, and consultant used interchangeably to describe the activities of someone assisting the doctor with the management of his or her practice. I believe that these functions, while not mutually exclusive of the same individual, are different in their roles with regard to all three of you. 

What do I mean by that? “You #1” is the entrepreneur and leader of the business you have established. “You #2” is the manager of that business. “You #3” is the dentist working in the business. Each you possesses a different level of training, understanding, and ability. Each you benefits differently from consulting, coaching, and mentoring. 

Early in practice my partner and I hired consultants to see what escaped us and to give us solutions.  

Consulting is all about being an outsider looking in. The adage that consultants are individuals who are paid a lot of money to tell you what you already knew but couldn’t see, does not diminish their effectiveness or necessity, particularly in offering solutions.  

I met Jim Pride while I was still in dental school. In the early years of our relationship, following the acquisition of our practice, Laura, our Pride consultant, consulted us by telling us what to do. I was directed to employ systems that were developed by Jim Pride and his team while working with many Pride Institute clients. I did as we were “consulted” because I had no reference for individualizing the systems, something that changed as we found the parts and pieces that delivered and left behind parts that did not resonate for us.  

As my partner (who happened to be my wife) and I changed, our expectations changed, and our needs changed, we continued to need that outsider looking in to see for us that which we could not see. We did not, however, need or want to be offered solutions. The best consultants understand that their ultimate goal is to empower and develop their clients’ skills and abilities so that they can eventually operate independently. 

When we no longer needed a consultant, we needed a coach. 

Unlike consulting, where solutions with precise instructions are offered, coaching offered us a process out of which our vision for our practice developed. Dental practice coaches ask questions rather than give answers. They are observers. They take us inside ourselves and assist in our development as leaders. They draw out what is already within and empower us to act on it. 

What, then, is a mentor? 

For me, mentors are individuals who have traveled the path we seek to follow. They may fill the role as a consultant and/or a coach depending on our needs and their comfort with the things that are challenging us at any given time, but frequently their primary role is that of an example. The Pankey Institute community abounds in them. 

I have observed that dentists who develop a relationship with a mentor are able to move more quickly and clearly toward their preferred future. It is precisely for this reason that one of the goals of participation in a study club is to build groups with a broad range of experience and experiences. It is the third YOU, the practicing dentist, who gets the most from being mentored 

Dentistry is a tough job. It’s demanding and stressful to perform highly technical, intricate procedures continuously on a daily basis. Our mentors show us that we can do it because they did. Often there is peer-to-peer collaboration in “surfacing up” the mindset, approaches, and solutions that will work best for us. Always there is encouragement. 

Sometimes mentors listen. Sometimes they challenge. Always they support. Their map is not always the map we choose to follow, but their example–as individuals who continue to see their vision and map their future accordingly–inspires us to do the same. 

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Gary DeWood, DDS

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The Pre-Clinical Interview – Part 2 

March 11, 2024 Laura Harkin

Laura Harkin, DMD, MAGD 

Let’s delve deeper into the preclinical interview! 

It’s helpful to understand a patient’s perception of their overall health and oral health, as well as what type of restorative dentistry they’re hoping to have and why they feel the way they currently do.  

Sometimes, an integral family member has influenced the timing of care. For instance, you may hear, “My grandchildren are making fun of my teeth” or “My wife asked me to get my teeth fixed.” From this response, I know that I will need to be sure my patient personally desires treatment before rendering it. I’m also anxious to understand what type of restorative dentistry a patient is considering. For example, are they open to removable prosthetics, fixed crown and bridgework, or implantology? 

Recently a new patient came to my office with an emergency. Tooth #5 presented with the buccal wall broken to the gumline and a moderate-sized, retained, amalgam filling. He immediately said, “I do not want bridgework.” I listened quietly until he elaborated by saying, “When I had this front tooth replaced by my other dentist, I had to take it in and out, and I just found that so irritating.”  

I finally understood that he was referring to a flipper but calling it bridgework. So, it’s important to listen and ask questions when someone seems close-minded about having a certain modality of treatment. Delve deeper into the conversation because it may simply be confusion surrounding dental terminology. 

For the grandparents who ask for a better smile, I’d like to understand their thoughts on the scope of treatment and their expectations. Are they looking for a white, straight, Hollywood smile or a more natural appearance with a little bit of play in the lateral incisors? Are they mainly concerned about stains, gaps, or a missing tooth? Are there other problems they’re aware of such as tooth sensitivity, inflamed gums, or the need for a crown? This input is very important as we continue conversation with co-discovery throughout the clinical exam, diagnostic records, and treatment planning phase. 

Learn to count on your chairside for pertinent information. 

I’m fortunate to always have my assistant, Cindy, beside me for preclinical conversations, comprehensive examinations, and restorative procedures. Sometimes, Cindy interprets a patient’s statement or component of conversation differently than me. She may hear a message that I missed or read body language of which I wasn’t aware. Sometimes, auxiliary conversations between patient and assistant take place after I’ve left the room to complete a hygiene check.  

At the end of the day or in the morning huddle, we always take time to discuss interactions with our patients. Together as a team, we’re more efficient at acquiring accurate information so that we may approach the road to health most effectively for each individual. 

Determine if trust is present. 

As I’m getting to know a patient and before I choose to begin restorative treatment, I seek to understand if trust is present in our doctor/patient relationship. New patients often share past dental experiences, and, unfortunately, some have lost trust in dentistry itself. This may be warranted due to improper care, but it may also be due to a lack of understanding or unclarified expectations regarding a given procedure or material choice.  

It’s not unusual, particularly when a patient is considering a large scope of treatment, to serve as a second or third opinion. Building trust and waiting to be asked for our skills are key necessities before moving forward in irreversible therapy.  

The comprehensive examination, periodontal therapy, splint therapy, and gathering of records are all appointments during which opportunities exist to get to know our patients. True trust often takes time to establish, but the reward reaped is frequently one of empathy, friendship, and the ability to do our best work. 

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Laura Harkin

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Staying in the Question – Part 2

February 18, 2022 Mary Osborne RDH

Staying in the question — staying curious about what more you can learn about each dental patient and the intention to help each patient be more curious about their own situation, enables dentists and dental hygienists to be more effective in helping their patients.

What Do You Think You Know?

The next time you are reviewing the chart of a patient you are frustrated with, try this exercise. Instead of going too quickly to thinking, “What is wrong with this person? Why don’t they get it?” – ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What do you know about this patient and their situation, specifically because they told you this? They actually said it.
  2. What do you think you know? This has to do with the guesses you have, your intuition about what is going on. What do you think the patient has implied by what they said? Recognize which of your thoughts are guesses because those assumptions might or might not be true. If you act based on what is not true, you may miss opportunities to learn more about what is important to your patient. Asking yourself what you think you know is a way of challenging your assumptions.
  3. What do you want to know? What are you curious about? How can you take some of your “think you know” thoughts and move them into the category of “what you do know” about your patient.

The more you do this exercise, the more you become aware of the difference between what you know and what you think you know, and the more curious you will become about your patients. The more I have done this exercise, the more I have come to know that what I do know is small compared to what I do not know. I sometimes I realize I know very little about what is important to them.

Is the Patient Curious to Learn About Their Situation?

I have come to realize that the first question the patient asks is just the first step in their learning process. Sometimes they need help framing some of their more important questions. Or sometimes, a question is their attempt to share a little of their story, their struggles, their fears, their embarrassment. Often, I realize they have emotional discomfort I can address with empathy. In that moment, empathy is more effective in helping and leading the patient to higher health than the clinical information I could provide them.

Understanding that most patients have some level of anxiety about their oral health and oral health visits, I have learned to pause and ask a question before plowing ahead with information they may not want or need — or may not “hear” if they are anxious.

For example, if I see wear patterns on teeth when I do an examination, I could tell the patient what I see. I could say, “I see you grind your teeth.” But that type of statement is often perceived as accusing, not empathetic. What I have found to be more effective is to show the patient what I see. If the patient does not say anything that indicates she would like more information, I might ask her, “How long has that wear pattern been there?” or “What do you think has caused it?” I never want to deprive her of information. I want to give information when she has a little more curiosity — when she wants to know it and will hear it.

Sparking curiosity with a question often leads the patient to ask a question that reflects what is most important to them at that time. Discovering what is most important to them enables us to optimally make use of our time during that visit. We can provide information that is important to them, that they want. Or we can focus on providing the empathy they need to develop a relationship of trust.

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Mary Osborne RDH

Mary is known internationally as a writer and speaker on patient care and communication. Her writing has been acclaimed in respected print and online publications. She is widely known at dental meetings in the U.S., Canada, and Europe as a knowledgeable and dynamic speaker. Her passion for dentistry inspires individuals and groups to bring the best of themselves to their work, and to fully embrace the difference they make in the lives of those they serve.

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There Are Multiple Paths to Happiness

January 3, 2022 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Seventeen is young to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life. Deciding you want to become a dentist means that you are making a huge decision before you are aware of all the knowledge you will have to attain and the multiple skills and micro-skills in which you will need to become proficient.

It was a long time ago when I made that decision. I can’t even remember how I made it. I remember I was under pressure to decide from my parents and their friends. I remember telling others I thought dentistry was a good career because I had spent so much time in dental offices growing up.

That’s because I had malformed supernumeraries blocking the eruption of my centrals when I was seven years old. The dentist who suggested the supernumeraries should be removed, proceeded to remove the two good centrals by accident. This was followed by surgery to remove the supernumeraries and alas no centrals. This was traumatic to me at the time, but early in life, I learned to adapt to a dental prosthesis, having that replaced as I grew, and so on.

I wish now someone had set me down when I was in high school and given me real-world career advice like I did for my kids as they were growing up. Hoping they could avoid some of the mistakes I made, I would begin those conversations with Stephen Covey’s habit #2: Begin with the end in mind. And I would disqualify money as an end. Because money only buys people what they really want. I’d get my kids to think about what they really wanted to spend their lives doing.

Warren Buffet says he wanted to make money so he could be independent. In his biography, The Snowball, Buffet wrote, “It could make me independent. Then, I could do what I want to do with my life. And the biggest thing I wanted to do was work for myself. I didn’t want other people directing me. The idea of doing what I wanted to do every day was important to me.”

There’s truth in that for me. Independence is a universal thought that drives many of us, yet we are unique in our own lives…in how we ultimately determine and design our game plan to live independently.

If we had understood what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives when we were seventeen, then we could have better designed our careers to meet our adult desires. But that isn’t realistic, is it? It sometimes takes decades to a lifetime to understand ourselves.

Adam Grant in his book Think Again questions the unreasonable question kids are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In his book, he uses his cousin Ryan as an example of someone who chose to go into medicine because that’s a profession parents applaud. Once Ryan made his decision, he spent years staying on track.

Once you start, there is no turning back…financial debt…sunk costs…physical, mental, and emotional. We hit a certain milestone like owning our own dental practice and we tell ourselves we will be happy… that we will have all the things we want. But positive psychologists confirm that this is a poor prescription for happiness.

Positive psychologists say the road to happiness includes mastery, autonomy, positive relations, engaging work, and accomplishments. It’s a never-ending road. But each person takes their own road. There are many roads of mastery, freedom, positive relations, engaging work, and accomplishments.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying dentistry was a bad career choice for me. It is a great profession. The message of this blog is twofold. One, at the start of my predoctoral and doctoral education, at the start of my career in dental practice, and even midway through that career, I didn’t understand the complexity of what was before me–including getting to know myself well. And two, everyone needs to find their own happiness.

If you are reading this, you likely chose a career in dentistry. On your road of your own design, I believe you will find happiness in the continual act of mastering more, working with autonomy, fostering positive relations, and setting out to achieve new accomplishments. Money will be just a way to fund the things that really matter to you, and for many of you that will be making a profound difference in the health and lives of your patients. And when you segue, as I did, away from hands-on dentistry after practicing for four decades, you will find that new ways to use your people skills keep emerging. Your road to happiness continues.

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Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dr. Polansky has delivered comprehensive cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, and implant dentistry for more than 35 years. He was born in the Bronx, New York in January 1948. The doctor graduated from Queens College in 1969 and received his DMD degree in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Following graduation, Dr. Polansky spent two years in the US Army Dental Corps, stationed at Fort. Dix, New Jersey. In 1975, Dr. Polansky entered private practice in Medford Lakes. Three years later, he built his second practice in the town in which he now lives, Cherry Hill. Dr. Polansky wrote his first article for Dental Economics in 1995 – it was the cover article. Since that time Dr. Polansky has earned a reputation as one of dentistry's best authors and dental philosophers. He has written for many industry publications, including Dental Economics, Dentistry Today, Dental Practice and Finance, and Independent Dentistry (a UK publication).

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The Jaws Syndrome: Can We Go into the Water Yet?

February 3, 2021 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

I bet many of us feel like we are living in a movie these days.  I’m sure you have compared this pandemic to any number of movies. The first movie that comes to mind is  Jaws. In that movie, everyone wanted to know when it will be safe to go back into the water. And now, forty-five years later, people are asking a similar question: Is it safe to go back to the dentist?

Let’s explore the parallels.

The year Jaws came out, 1975, I was serving as a Captain in the Dental Corps at Ft. Dix N.J. During my time there I came down with Hepatitis B. I became infected from working on a patient…without gloves. Remember kiddies, this was 1975…there were no rules. It was The Wild Wild West in health care. As we all know, hepatitis is caused by a blood-borne pathogen. I became quite jaundiced and severely ill. I spent two weeks in the hospital. I started feeling better after one month.

I felt good enough to go back to work, but the U.S. Army had other plans. I couldn’t go back into the clinic until my liver enzymes were back to normal. I was tested frequently not only by the military, but also by the county Board of Health. I remember how diligent they were about the testing. They were serious…I couldn’t go back to work until I was cleared. That was mostly to protect anyone I would come into contact with. I was a known carrier, unlike the infamous Typhoid Mary who carried her disease covertly. I’m sure the public was grateful that the government was acting so responsibly. Like today, the public health department’s job is to protect the public. That trust must exist for us to function as a society.

Fast forward to 1981. I was practicing full-time in my own private practice when the AIDs epidemic arrived in the U.S. By then I had learned my lesson and I was one of a small number of dentists who wore gloves on a routine basis. But I was in the minority. AIDs changed our entire profession. By the time it was over (if it ever truly was over) the life of every dentist changed forever. This time around I learned how serious government could be in enforcing public health regulations. They meant what they said. (For those who are interested look up the case of Kimberly Bergalis). This was a classic example of the combination of bloodborne pathogens and dentistry.

One thing I noticed during that period was the public awareness of dental practices and sterilization techniques. AIDS changed everything. It wasn’t the isolated patient who wanted to see how instruments were being sterilized. Many people stayed away during the height of the crisis. In time the fear eased up but not before more stringent rules and regulations were enforced. And once again the public was grateful.

Now… almost 40 years after AIDS we have a new pathogen – the coronavirus– Covid-19. The biggest difference is that this one is an airborne pathogen. And that makes all the difference in the world. Fear is ubiquitous. There is a new shark in the water. Like Typhoid Mary, it does not show its fin.

Safety is a big concern for most humans.

Behavioral psychologist Abraham Maslow formulated the Hierarchy of Needs. At the very base of the Hierarchy are physiologic needs like food and sleep followed by safety and security needs. His theory stated that people would not seek satisfaction of higher needs (love, belonging, self-actualization), until the basic needs were met.

Forty-five years after Jaws roamed the ocean it is generally safe to go back into the water, but rest assured, we do know one thing… there will always be new and more dangerous sharks to worry about, and when it comes to humans, safety is a basic need after food and sleep.

Patients have been deciding on the essential nature of dentistry forever.

As long as fear remains and people do not have the absolute certainty of safety, they will not return to dental offices except for services they perceive as essential. If your client base is full of people who are truly health-centered and trust you, your routine dental services will thrive in the pandemic. Your patients won’t wait until they are in pain to book an appointment.

But that’s the test of what you are all about, isn’t it?

If your routine services are not thriving, then your practice has had a history of attracting a broader market of people. How is that working out for you now? Beyond COVID-19, if you are in private practice, pay extra attention to targeting individuals who want the finest health and give them ample reason to trust their safety with you… no matter what.

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Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Dr. Polansky has delivered comprehensive cosmetic dentistry, restorative dentistry, and implant dentistry for more than 35 years. He was born in the Bronx, New York in January 1948. The doctor graduated from Queens College in 1969 and received his DMD degree in 1973 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. Following graduation, Dr. Polansky spent two years in the US Army Dental Corps, stationed at Fort. Dix, New Jersey. In 1975, Dr. Polansky entered private practice in Medford Lakes. Three years later, he built his second practice in the town in which he now lives, Cherry Hill. Dr. Polansky wrote his first article for Dental Economics in 1995 – it was the cover article. Since that time Dr. Polansky has earned a reputation as one of dentistry's best authors and dental philosophers. He has written for many industry publications, including Dental Economics, Dentistry Today, Dental Practice and Finance, and Independent Dentistry (a UK publication).

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In Memoriam: Remembering Pankey Legend and Founding Member Dr. Bill Lockard

December 18, 2020 Pankey Gram

It is with the greatest sadness that we announce the loss of Pankey legend and founding member, Dr. Bill Lockard. As one of the original Pankey faculty, we’d like to give tribute to his legacy and impact on dentistry, specifically the Pankey mission and what it has meant to decades of dentists since its inception.

Dr. Myers William Lockard, Jr., who went by “Bill,” meant many things to the Institute and to the people who knew and loved him. Born in Oklahoma City and a child during the Depression, he was pointed toward dentistry by a high school instructor who suggested the career path after learning Dr. Lockard was interested in music.

He met the love of his life, Sue, while attending Northwestern University Dental School in Chicago. After an initial chance encounter, the two were set up on a blind date that signaled the start of a lifetime of romance and joy with their three children and now many grandchildren.

Dr. Lockard was a founding member of The Pankey Institute, serving as Associate Faculty, Advisory Faculty, and on the Board of Trustees. He developed Pankey’s first course for dental assistants and was an active part of the Pankey community for nearly 50 years. In 1984, he lectured in Japan, thereby creating a formative relationship with those dentists. After retiring from practice in 1991, he and Sue provided dental services to nursing homes for many years. As part of his commitment to dentistry, he authored a 2007 book titled, “The Exceptional Dental Practice: Why Good Enough is not Good Enough.

There are no words that can truly describe the loss of a man who lived such an extraordinary life. He will be missed by the Pankey faculty and alumni who attended his study clubs and dental groups, benefited from his mentorship and advice, or met him during Pankey’s Annual Meeting or other dental meetings. Dr. Lockard was an excellent clinician, educator, and writer for the duration of his career. We have the utmost gratitude for his contribution to the history of dental education and innovation.

At the request of Bill’s children and in memory of his dedication to dental care, donations may be made to the William Lockard Development Fund at the Pankey Institute to further promote excellence in dental faculty. There are three ways to donate:
(1) Call 1-305-428-5500
(2) Mail check payments to: The Pankey Institute, 1 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne, FL, 33149
(3) Donate at online.pankey.org. Register for free and select the “Make a Donation” tab. Dr. Lockard’s Fund is listed on the next page.

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Miracle Makers

May 26, 2020 Paul Henny DDS

As the Pankey community begins to re-open its practices, reports indicate that most patients are responding with high levels of trust and gratitude. This represents a clear indication that the investments we’ve made in building truly helping relationships with others are paying back significant dividends at a most critical moment. Relationship-based / health-centered dental practices are designed to give the kind of meaningful caring and support that relationship-starved people truly need as they venture back out into this brave new world. 

The truly person-centered Pankey practice model aligns well with research which shows longevity and happiness aren’t just linked to healthy diets, habits, and genetics, but also to the consistent presence of positive social engagement. My mother frequently spoke of these types of happy people as being “givers.” She’d say, “They are givers – not just takers, and they pass this attribute along to their children, because, well, that’s just who they are.” 

Abe Maslow called these types of personalities “B-Lovingindividuals—individuals who self-actualize through their unconditional love of others. These are the folks who buck today’s meta-trend of consuming more, contributing less, and living a silo-type of existence. And we look forward to seeing them on our schedules, enjoy spending time with them, and feel a tremendous sense of loss when they finally pass.  These folks are the ones who intuitively know that the loving attention they give to others, no matter how simple or brief, is an ever-expanding positive experience that yields out significant benefits to themselves as well. 

When you add up all of those moments, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, you end up with the smiling and joking Betty or Bob. They’re the ones who are the first to give you a hug when you’ve had a bad day or experienced a personal tragedy. And they’re the ones who alter the course of our lives through a laugh, a smile, by demonstrating strength, courage, and irrepressible hope. In short, they are miracle makers. 

As practitioners of relationship-based / health-centered dentistry, we need to remind ourselves that we’re miracle makers as well, because we’re also in a perfect position to listen intentionally, care more deeply, and help more significantly. But that’s only possible when we choose to see dentistry as being a helping profession and not just about teeth, technology, production – and now PPE! 

On a personal level, I’ve found myself sharing my feelings about what we’ve experienced with my team and patients, and I’m finding myself opening-up on an emotional level more each day. As a result, we’ve ascended to yet another tier of caring as a teamWe’ve used this communal tragedy as an opportunity to strengthen our social bonds through love and understanding instead of allowing fear to drive us further apart.  Abe Maslow would likely say that we’re self-actualizing on the individual, group, and community levels through B-Love. This represents a key realization, because in spite of all the new stress which has been thrown into the middle of our lives, we’ve been able to see the huge practice development opportunity the situation has created for us.   

Those of us who have grown technically, intellectually, and spiritually through The Pankey Institute have “givers” hearts (just go to one Pankey Alumni meeting and you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about). Consequently, this communal tragedy plays right to our natural strengths, inclinations, and existing practice structures. So, in spite of all of the changes surrounding us, it’s time to confidently step forward and demonstrate principle-centered leadership. And by so doing, we’ll be holding fast to what we already know is true – that the secret to living is in the giving. 

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Paul Henny DDS

Dr. Paul Henny maintains an esthetically-focused restorative practice in Roanoke, Virginia. Additionally, he has been a national speaker in dentistry, a visiting faculty member of the Pankey Institute, and visiting lecturer at the Jefferson College or Health Sciences. Dr. Henny has been a member of the Roanoke Valley Dental Society, The Academy of General Dentistry, The American College of Oral Implantology, The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and is a Fellow of the International Congress of Oral Implantology. He is Past President and co-founder of the Robert F. Barkley Dental Study Club.

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