Lifelong Learning Part 1: Change & Process 

March 22, 2024 Gary DeWood, DDS

Gary M. DeWood, DDS, MS 

Learning begins from our first moment of awareness as our eyes open and we have a response to something external to us that is brand new. That experience and all the ones that follow until the moment awareness leaves us to shape our reactions to and our actions in the world. 

Experiential Learning 

The brain is a dynamic and ever-changing organ, constantly adapting to new experiences and knowledge. 

When our youngest daughter Katie was a child, I was cooking dinner one night–my turn–and Katie was sitting at the island where the stove was. I turned around to get something from the cupboard and heard a loud inhale followed by a whimper. Upon turning quickly, I saw her move her hand rapidly behind her back. No more sounds came forth, but I saw a tear and I asked her what was wrong. She said in a wavering voice, “Nothing,” and then looking at the stove burners, “Mom told me those were HOT and never to touch them.”  

I gently took her hand from behind her and saw the blisters rapidly forming on her fingers. She started crying and said to me, “Please don’t tell mom.” I’m certain she never felt the need to verify the information her mother had given her again. THAT is learning. 

All of us have experiences like that every day. Some are memorable and become part of us, embedded in a manner as yet not fully understood inside our brains for almost instant access. Some “learning” seems to fade quickly or never even get recorded. I “touched” a lot of biochemistry information over the years without burning much of anything into my brain. Maybe I should have been touching the stove at the same time. Learning is not simply having an experience of something and then being able to view the recording later.  

The Definition of Learning 

In nearly all of the definitions I have located in my research I see that CHANGE and PROCESS are prominent parts of learning. For example: 

  • A change in disposition or capability that persists over time and is not simply ascribable to processes of natural growth. 
  • Relatively permanent change in a person’s knowledge or behavior due to experience. 
  • A transformative process of taking in information that, when internalized and mixed with what we’ve experienced previously, changes what we know and what we do. 

Choice & Focus 

My personal experiences have shown me that a big part of lifelong learning is what you believe about it and how you embrace it. It’s driven by some measure of choice and focus. 

Cheryl and I have sought out new ideas in dentistry wherever they took us. One of my friends in dental school, a wonderful man whom Cheryl and I still hold close, took a different path. Sometime around the 10th anniversary of our graduation we were visiting, and he told us that he had been able to get all the continuing education he needed without traveling.  

I discovered that his feelings around need and learning as it pertained to dentistry meant satisfying the requirements to stay current with licensure. He is NOT a bad dentist, but like many of the dentists I have come to know in the last 48 years, a hunger for dental learning changed once school was finished.  

A Drive for Learning 

I am reminded of one of the most original and influential thinkers on the creativity process, Robert Fritz, who believed you can create your life in the same way an artist develops a work of art. He said, “If you limit yourself only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want and all that is left is a compromise.” 

As a philosopher and scientist-physician, Dr. L. D. Pankey intentionally observed processes and their results (change) with the goal of becoming better at helping others. The embodiment of compassion, he was highly curious and actively sought ways to alleviate the sufferings and misfortunes of patients and colleagues. He traveled long distances to learn from others’ experiences. He inspired others to know themselves, their patients, and their work on a continuous road of mastery. As a lifelong “leisure” learner, he was interested in a wide range of subjects outside of dentistry as well. Through reflection, he often discovered he could apply this outside learning to his work. 

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Gary DeWood, DDS




The B-A-G Reflection Process

February 8, 2021 Bill Gregg DDS

For years now, I have followed this simple reflective process. I hope it proves to be helpful for you in your personal and professional growth. My reflection BAG contains Blessings, Accomplishments, and Goals. 


List all the blessings you are grateful for; family, friends, satisfying work, freedom to worship, health, warm home, living in America, etc. Give thanks for the blessings of life. Gratitude is essential to the journey, and too frequently in our “push” to “get ahead”, we forget our core blessings. Compared to these Blessings, getting ahead isn’t the most important thing. INVOLVE YOUR FAMILY THIS YEAR…even your two-year-old will feel the gratitude. 


Summarize all things you accomplished throughout the year. This is such an important step to write down because it never ceases to amaze me, when I reflect, just how much I have accomplished. I always need my calendar for this one because I find I forget all the little things I did do throughout the year. The journey can be so (apparently) slow and frustrating, that seeing how far you progress each year is very important. 


Now that you are grateful for the mess you have gotten yourself into, write down your goals for the coming year. Come up with 20-30-50 ideas. Many times, the “best” ones are the last few that pop into your head. Remember the Pankey Cross and plan in all areas, Work, Love, Play, and Worship. Know Yourself, Know Your Patient, Know Your Work, and Apply Your Knowledge (this is a part of that). Spend as much (or more) time and money on the behavioral - communication aspects of care as you do the technical aspects of dental care. Plan to integrate Joy, Wonder and Relationships into your work. 

Set Aside Quiet Time to Reflect

Please set aside quiet time to do this. The first time it may take several struggling hours. I reflect several times a year and still set aside a few hours, but it has become almost like meditation for me and is one of the most important things I do for myself. I do this to continually refocus my efforts and to enhance gratitude. This has become part of my personal Peace process.

Thinking Beats Regurgitation

Throughout our education process we dentists are taught to memorize and regurgitate…not to reflect nor to think (I believe, at times, thinking is beaten out of us). We look to others to provide us the “answers” we might be missing that will guarantee our passing the tests (success). Sometimes we glance at someone else’s success and, thus, we let others define success for us — and we all are obsessive enough to bust our butts for an “A” to please someone else. If we just miss being perfect, we feel like such a failure. And for those of you paralyzed by needing to be perfect…Perfection is a disease. The goal is excellence, not perfection. John Wooden said it best:

“Success is the self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best.”

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Bill Gregg DDS

I attended South Hills High School in Covina, Denison University in Granville, Ohio and the University of Redlands in Redlands, California prior to dental school at UCLA. My post-graduate education has included an intensive residency at UCLA Hospital, completion of a graduate program at The L.D. Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education ; acceptance for Fellowship in the Academy of General Dentistry (FAGD); and in 2006 I earned the prestegious Pankey Scholar. Continuing education has always been essential in the preparation to be the best professional I am capable of becoming and to my ongoing commitment to excellence in dental care and personal leadership. I am a member of several dental associations and study groups and am involved in over 100 hours of continuing education each year. The journey to become one of the best dentists in the world often starts at the Pankey Institute. I am thrilled that I am at a point in my professional life that I can give back. I am honored that I can be a mentor to others beginning on their path. As such, I have discovered a new passion; teaching. I am currently on faculty at The L.D. Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education devoting 2-3 weeks each year to teaching post-graduate dental programs. In other presentations my focus is on Leadership and includes lifestyle, balance and motivation as much as dentistry.




Embracing Digital Technology

April 17, 2019 Pankey Gram

On day one of the 2019 Annual Pankey Meeting, Dr. Gary Severance and Angela Severance will explore how digital technology continues to expand the opportunities dental professionals have to know their work and to provide better dentistry and ultimately better care.  Preliminary to this presentation, we share this quote with you.

“Be not the first to try the new or the last to leave the old aside.”

This is a statement from Dr. L.D. Pankey in his 1985 interview with the International College of Dentists. As a well-read and literary man, Dr. Pankey was familiar with Alexander Pope, an 18th-century English poet who is best known for his satirical verse and translation of Homer. Because Pope is the second-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (after Shakespeare), it is highly likely Dr. Pankey was inspired by the following famous couplet from Pope’s Essay on Criticism.

Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.

We offer this conjecture, because Pope’s couplet is often used across the professions in the context of evaluating and adapting to technological change.

Pushing Forward Mindfully

Dr. Pankey was on the forefront of the technological and methodological changes that rapidly occurred in dentistry during the 1950s and onward. He was internally driven to be and do his best for his patients and profession. He urged dentists to “know your work” to provide better dentistry and ultimately better care.

Digital technology in dentistry has advanced to address special needs, just as Dr. Pankey advanced in his systems of thought and practice to address special needs. He did this mindfully.

His genius, in concert with those of Dr. Arvin Mann and Dr. Clyde Schuyler, had produced the “P.M.S. Technic.” They had selected the best of the procedures that had been developed by outstanding practitioners in their special fields and assembled them into a system that functioned well for addressing full mouth rehabilitation. They applied their intelligence to “try” new techniques and new materials. They gained knowledge through carefully doing their best for patient, after patient. They then stepped out to share what worked successfully for them. Along the way, Dr. Pankey was mindfully developing his philosophy of practice. He intentionally set out to learn from many great minds, and the composite of principles he lived by and generously shared through his lectures, publications, and ceaseless conversations with other dentists have rippled into our lives today.

Learn, Converse, Lead with Confidence

As a community, you can share your knowledge, immerse in conversation, and lead with confidence. The L.D. Pankey Institute from its beginning was a radical departure from dental school settings of the day. The Institute pioneered a training clinic with overhead cameras and closed-circuit TV, anatomical simulators (which had heretofore only been developed for training in medical schools), and it’s characteristic “hands on” learning process. The Institute’s founding leaders conceived of novel ways to fulfill their goals. But—building the unique learning environment and learning process involved tens of thousands of hours of research, thought, and conversation. A group of “top” minds in dentistry worked together to close the gap between what was known (the science) and what was practiced.  Adaptation to emerging digital technology is no different.

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Pankey Gram