The Antidote to My Pain 

June 7, 2024 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

By Barry F. Polansky, DMD  

An excerpt from Spare the knives…save the dental souls! published in Dental Economics, March 1, 2002 

For many in our profession, the daily onslaught of difficult procedures, rejected treatment plans, assistants who just don’t get it, the end-of-the-month cash-flow crunch and other office “fires” can lead to a fate not unlike the victims of the Chinese torture. 

The ancient Chinese employed a form of slow execution called “The Death of a Thousand Cuts” in which the victim was sliced repeatedly with a knife. Each individual wound was superficial and nonlethal, but the accumulation of hundreds of cuts proved fatal and caused much more pain and suffering than one sure stroke. 

Henry David Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I’ve come to believe that, in dentistry, there are a higher proportion of people in that category than normal. We start our dental practices to give ourselves more life; yet, inevitably, our practices slowly suck up the lives we have. 

Ironically, it wasn’t the dentistry that caused my distress. It was the “business” of dentistry that devoured my soul. All things being equal, I love the clinical side of my profession. But all the problems that confronted me in my practice—social, financial, and physical, during the normal day-to-day routine were overwhelming. The business of dentistry is hard! Unfortunately, I didn’t quite recognize that at first. 

Like many people, I studied philosophy at college, enjoying the sense of order that a well-constructed framework of ideas could bring to an otherwise indecipherable argument or problem. So, when faced with such a myriad of problems in the early days of my practice, quite naturally, I began to search for a philosophy of dentistry that would help me make sense of the issues at play. 

I looked to successful dentists to find my mentors, and, at the time, there were some great ones—Pankey, Dawson, Reed, Becker, Barkley. What I learned was a real eye-opener! I thought the antidote to my woes would be advanced clinical skills; however, these dental gurus were talking just as much about staff management, financial control, and the philosophy of running a business as they were about how to cut a great crown prep! I was surprised, but it made sense. I put these ideas into effect, and my practice turned the corner from that time on. 

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About Author

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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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