The Link Between Positive Psychology and Dentistry

February 21, 2020 Barry F. Polansky, DMD

Positive psychology and dentistry are closely linked, especially for professionals who own their own practices. Human beings are all too good at focusing on what’s going wrong at any given moment. But the key to experiencing maximum success is determining what’s going right, and how to take full advantage of those strengths. 

What’s the tie in with dentistry? Dental patients come in all stripes and shapes, and the success of dentistry is dependent upon understanding people and strategies for dealing with what happens in your practice and personal life. During my study of positive psychology, I focused on: 

  • Understanding how and why people tick from studies on human behavior and how the brain and body are wired. I thought a lot about the implications for my practice of dentistry and personal pursuits. 
  • How to effectively communicate with and lead/teach others. 
  • Research-based tools for interacting with people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences 
  • Understanding happiness through personal fitness, gratitude, cultivating relationships, mindfulness, and savoring what is going right. 

During my study, I found my personal happiness was increasing through greater feelings of personal and professional success, improved physical health, and stronger social networks. So much so, that I proceeded to earn a Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP). Having Type 2 Diabetes and having experienced significant treatment for cancer, living my life in the healthiest way I can physically, mentally, spiritually and socially has become of increasing importance, not for my career aspirations alone, but for me personally. I believe all four of these aspects of life go hand in hand for total wellness–and a life well-lived. 

Beyond Positive Psychology 

As many of you know, reading is one of my favorite pastimes, and I do it with alacrity and joy every day. Studies from the fields of positive psychology and emotional intelligence played heavily into my reading throughout my career, and lately, I have been immersed in studying the philosophy of Stoicism which, when rolled over with the above, has naturally taken my passion beyond the soft skills (behavioral skills) of life to a philosophy of “total wellness.”  

This philosophy and enjoyment of it have made my transition from practice to a “retirement” life outside of practice an enlightening and wonderful experience. I have not left Dentistry in total, because I have a lot more to share and say that I will be writing about in the future.  

For Every Problem…a Spiritual Answer 

Wayne Dyer used to say, “For every problem, there is a spiritual answer.” Now that I am retired with much more time to think about my practice, aging, longevity, and philosophy—and when I see young dentists online writing about their issues and problems, I am more convinced than ever that the answers lie in philosophy. And so, it has come to pass that all roads of my life have led back to philosophy, since my first consideration of it, when I began The Pankey Institute continuum almost 30 years ago.  

With a few exceptions, The Pankey Institute being a major one, the dental community continues to undervalue and neglect the role of philosophy in being the best health care provider and wellness influencer one can be. The fields of positive psychology, emotional intelligence, and success in dentistry are undeniably linked. There is scientific evidence to support this. Your philosophy of life and practice (or lack of this) impacts how you go through life and your career, how your life influences others, what you achieve, and how well you feel about the life you are living. To me, the fields of psychology, dentistry, and philosophy are inextricably linked. I’ll write more on this later. 

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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).

4 thoughts on “The Link Between Positive Psychology and Dentistry

  1. Barry – Excellent piece. Practices without a well defined and shared philosophy tend to be like a ship without a rudder – drifting where the current wind blows. Let’s hope you and The Institute can continue to facilitate “spiritual” growth that is not available in our current dental school curriculum. Keep living a full life and enjoying the role of mentor.

  2. Thank You North—-Many years ago I was taken by Dr. Pankey’s philosophy which led me toward a journey of self-development. Along the way the science of well-being and positive psychology rang true to me. I have found that more than anything these lessons have helped me to develop what I think is the “good life.” This, I believe is the ultimate reward of Pankey’s original philosophy.

  3. Barry, thank you for your heartfelt post. Especially in dentistry, to connect with our patients (and with ourselves) we must have both an informed mind and an engaged heart. Having a daily attitude of gratitude, thankfulness, and forgiveness, opens us up to be present with others. It all starts with “knowing yourself.” Dr. Pankey was so right!

  4. Thank you Robert—-as Chris sager once said—The Pankey Institute is the “one place” to learn how to practice.

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