Life-Long Learning Part 4: Challenge What You Know 

March 29, 2024 Gary DeWood, DDS

Gary M. DeWood, DDS, MS 

Challenging what you think you know will pique your curiosity and lead to pursuing more information and interactions from which you learn. Challenging what you think you know leads to learning with the benefits of brain development, longer life, emotional wellbeing, and inspiration to share yourself in new ways with others. Simply said, challenging what you know prompts intentional learning to BE more expansive, to grow. 

My hope is that after reading this blog series, you will take time to reflect on the following statements from three of the many people who have influenced me over the years. 

Quotes from Daniel J. Boorstin, historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Americans: 

Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know. 

The single largest obstacle to discovery is NOT ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge. 

Quote from Herbert E. Blumenthal, DDS: 

Don’t believe everything you think. 

Quotes from William J. Davis, DDS, co-author with L. D. Pankey of A Philosophy of the Practice of Dentistry: 

Learning best takes place when we “live” a philosophy, meaning living in a state of inquiry based on our values, knowledge, and goals. 

When the late Dr. L.D. Pankey decided to devote his life to saving teeth, he was forced to ask himself, “How can I help people keep all of their teeth all of their lives?” In 1925 L.D. didn’t know the answer or even if there was an answer. When he decided to never extract another good tooth, he was taking an enormous professional and economic risk. He was able to uncover and develop many principles that have proven instrumental in our understanding of restorative dentistry and patient communication.  

Philosophy, in its most valuable form, is more concerned with the right questions than the right answers. 

Now that I am back actively within the Pankey community of learning and inspiration, I have four wishes for you: 

  • May you come face-to-face daily with something that you don’t even know you don’t know.  
  • May you not be blinded by what you think you do know when it shows up and fail to see it because you believe everything you think.  
  • May you ask questions and intentionally seek answers. 
  • May intentional leisure learning be not just what you do but how you live. 

Related Course

Creating Financial Freedom

DATE: March 6 2025 @ 8:00 am - March 8 2025 @ 2:00 pm

Location: The Pankey Institute

CE HOURS: 16

Dentist Tuition: $ 2795

Single Occupancy with Ensuite Private Bath (per night): $ 345

Achieving Financial Freedom is Within Your Reach!   Would you like to have less fear, confusion and/or frustration around any aspect of working with money in your life, work, or when…

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Life-Long Learning Part 3: Leisure Learning Is Intentional Learning 

March 27, 2024 Gary DeWood, DDS

Gary M. DeWood, DDS, MS 

We might define leisure learning as “Anything that is taught in an organized formal or informal plan of education to assist an adult in learning something about his or her occupation, occupational opportunities, personal happiness, or social enhancement and into which that adult engages him or herself for the purpose of learning about it.”  

I’d like to rename it “Intentional Learning” for the purpose of our discussion. My best guess is that your intent in coming to The Pankey Institute is to learn something about dentistry that will help you do what you do better. The incentive for that goal, being better, is why you come. You are choosing to use leisure time to learn dental stuff with intention. 

Any information you perceive as other than about being “better at clinical dentistry” you might be less interested in retaining and consequently likely to forget quickly. You will not really learn the stuff for which you have limited curiosity. Interestingly, that stuff that is not about the “dentistry” is the most important part of what The Pankey Institute sends you home with. At least I and countless others have found this to be true. 

Intentional learning is essential if you want to live a longer life. 

In the absence of Intentional Learning, defined as “actively seeking out new information that you WANT to integrate into your experience and understanding of the world,” certain parts of your brain will shrink. Your capacity for learning and your critical thinking/problem-solving skills will diminish. A reduction in neurons and neurotransmitters will affect your memory, your concentration, your mood, and your physical movement. Blood flow to parts of the brain can even be reduced–use it or lose it is a common thread in nature.  

So, Intentional Learning is GOOD for your brain and necessary if you wish to thrive. Synapses continue to form and re-form if you are acquiring new information, experiences, and knowledge with intent. Intentional Learning reduces stress levels. Stress reduction not only helps us perform better in our professional life, but our personal lives as well. 

Intentional learning opens social possibilities. 

Homo Sapiens are social creatures, we crave interaction, in fact we require it. Intentional learning encourages us to take risks, adjust, and adapt as we go. It sparks social engagement which leads to happiness in so many aspects of our lives. It enhances motivation, creativity, and innovation. It provides an opportunity to open our minds, challenge ourselves, and appreciate new opportunities. 

Intentional Learning fuels even more learning
as it stimulates curiosity, renews our purpose,
and moves us toward problem solving actions.
It has the potential to keep us young. 

My mother’s desire for Intentional Leisure Learning, never left her; she was and is a voracious reader, and to this day at the age of 90, she loves nothing more than sharing something she has read recently and is busy integrating into her view of the world and how it works. Her beliefs are open to what she experiences in her life, to what she learns.  

The day will come, sooner than I wish, when “dental” learning will not be as applicable to my daily life as it is today. I will still want to be part of a dental study club, still challenge what I think I know, and offer whatever wisdom I’ve been able to store to the conversation.  

Once found, intentional lifelong learning is something one does not easily lose the desire for. 

I will never forget Dr. Parker Mahan’s words, “I know I too can never live long enough.” Some might hear those words as limiting. I hear them as liberating. The well of knowledge will never be dry. It is and will remain an infinite source of things that I can still learn. 

I am so grateful to be back home at The Pankey Institute after spending my intentional learning (and teaching) time for the past fifteen years in a place that has made a choice to focus on “dental” learning. The behavioral aspects of dentistry and developing understanding of oneself and others have always had equal focus at Pankey. And since that “other stuff” is not something that can ever be checked off as “learned” no matter how many years I have left to be here, my intentional learning can and will always be young and new. It’s why The Pankey Institute is not a place you DO, it’s a place you learn to BE. 

The Institute is a place where learning never stops because, when you learn to BE, you have learned to act. Being is an ongoing and continuous process. It’s something that is lived. It is community. It is home. It is still The One Place.  

Related Course

Creating Financial Freedom

DATE: March 6 2025 @ 8:00 am - March 8 2025 @ 2:00 pm

Location: The Pankey Institute

CE HOURS: 16

Dentist Tuition: $ 2795

Single Occupancy with Ensuite Private Bath (per night): $ 345

Achieving Financial Freedom is Within Your Reach!   Would you like to have less fear, confusion and/or frustration around any aspect of working with money in your life, work, or when…

Learn More>

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Gary DeWood, DDS

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Lifelong Learning Part 2: We’re All Lifelong Learners 

March 25, 2024 Gary DeWood, DDS

Gary M. DeWood, DDS, MS 

Adults have a wealth of experience to draw on and they like to do so as part of their learning. Adults are not used to taking direction in education; they choose what they want to learn. When my friend (in Part 1 of this series) lost his active interest in seeking out dental education, he had made a choice to learn other things he hoped to know.  

One of my heroes, Doctor Parker Mahan, told me once that one of the harshest lessons of mortality for him was the realization that he could never live long enough to learn everything he wanted to know. 

Adults need to create specific opportunities to self-reflect and internalize what they are learning in order to integrate it with what they already know. Adults have preconceived notions about education, learning style, and subject matter that interfere with their learning. Adults are often afraid to fail so they frequently guard their learning process by telling themselves why what they are hearing is wrong. 

Where children are sponges when it comes to learning, as adults our brains adapt to experiences and interactions that occur “on purpose.” We acknowledge a reason to remember that experience…to have that new knowledge. 

Here’s an example. 

Our eldest child, Patricia, entered a world in which those charged with her immediate care had barely learned to care for themselves–a world to which she adapted very quickly. In no time she had taken control of the lives of two sentient beings who proudly professed their independence and right to make decisions about their own lives but nonetheless jumped through the hoops of her creation as soon as they were offered. 

After the grandmothers had departed and Cheryl and I were now totally responsible for this baby FOR REAL, her training of us began in earnest. Turns out Cheryl and I CAN be taught, proven by our immediate response to Patricia’s guidance in managing her universe. A visit by Uncle Toby and Aunt Patsy presented us with an opportunity to learn from another source. 

Following a hearty meal, a very sleepy baby was laid in her crib for some sleep. Almost immediately upon our return to the living room Patricia realized she was no longer being held, and realized she was no longer where the “party” was happening. Being WITH the party is very high on Patricia’s list. When she “called out” in response to that situation, two very well-trained parents immediately stood to head for the emergency that was happening for the helpless baby. Uncle Toby looked at us as we simultaneously rose and said, “What are you thinking?” 

That might sound like a question, but it was really a statement that meant “stop.” So, when Uncle Toby asked his “question,” Cheryl and I stopped as we were instructed. Uncle Toby then asked, “What are you teaching that baby if you go in there and pick her up every time she cries?” 

As brand-new, first-time parents, this thought was alien to us. Being so well trained, we thought our only mission in life was to keep the baby from crying. With some angst in our stomachs that tightened each time Patricia’s wailing reached a new crescendo, we sat in the living room and pretended to ignore what we were hearing.  

Suffice it to say that when our second child Dale came along, he learned, and reasonably quickly, that we were not necessarily coming every time he rang the bell.  

Every day, we hear and see a lot of information that never makes the transition to “learning” because it does not produce change.
Change can only occur for adults when we enter into an agreement with ourselves that there is something we want to learn in what is being said or shown to us. We ACT on it. 

The truth is EVERY interaction we have with any other person or situation is a potential learning experience if we reflect upon it and internalize its meaning for us and act on it. It’s impossible not to learn. We do it all the time. Lifelong learning is thus a forgone conclusion.  

One of the greatest joys in dental practice is creating learning moments for patients by providing intentional opportunities for them to experience their oral health and interact with us in a way that provokes their curiosity, internal reflection, and acknowledgement of needs. Just as we are lifelong learners, we can trust that they are lifelong learners, too. 

Related Course

Creating Financial Freedom

DATE: March 6 2025 @ 8:00 am - March 8 2025 @ 2:00 pm

Location: The Pankey Institute

CE HOURS: 16

Dentist Tuition: $ 2795

Single Occupancy with Ensuite Private Bath (per night): $ 345

Achieving Financial Freedom is Within Your Reach!   Would you like to have less fear, confusion and/or frustration around any aspect of working with money in your life, work, or when…

Learn More>

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Gary DeWood, DDS

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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. 

Related Course

Creating Financial Freedom

DATE: March 6 2025 @ 8:00 am - March 8 2025 @ 2:00 pm

Location: The Pankey Institute

CE HOURS: 16

Dentist Tuition: $ 2795

Single Occupancy with Ensuite Private Bath (per night): $ 345

Achieving Financial Freedom is Within Your Reach!   Would you like to have less fear, confusion and/or frustration around any aspect of working with money in your life, work, or when…

Learn More>

About Author

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Gary DeWood, DDS

FIND A PANKEY DENTIST OR TECHNICIAN

I AM A
I AM INTERESTED IN

VIEW COURSE CALENDAR