A mental fitness mindset

Dr. Frank Caputo discusses the importance of dentists focusing on mental health and balancing their successful practices and personal lives. 

Do you remember hearing your inner voice during your last surgery? What about your reflections later that night? I know that anxious thoughts don’t feel great when your mind replays them.

“I hope my patients gave their full health history and follow my post-op instructions.”  

“There’s a little extra bleeding. Let me check a few more times to make sure I didn’t perforate the lingual plate.”  

 “I hope Mr. Smith doesn’t have a numb lip tonight when the anesthesia wears off.”

We all have these thoughts no matter how skilled we are. As my colleague Dr. Ramsey Amin says, “The full arch practice ain’t for the faint of heart.” Prioritizing your mental fitness is as important to your success as hand skills and literature reviews. I invite you to reassess the difference between normal internal provocations and intrusive or unproductive thoughts, while providing you with helpful tips.

Once upon a time, I envisioned being in a practice strictly limited to dental implants with an emphasis on full arch rehabilitations. After hours of literature review and clinical education and practice, I’m a Diplomate of the American Board of Oral Implantology and owner of a thriving implantology practice. I live and practice my passion every day. But with the shift from “a general dentistry practice that offered implants” to “a practice limited to implants and dentures,” I’ve felt the realities of the mental load. I’ve realized the power in reframing my mental health from something I focus on in times of crisis to something I proactively practice to maintain peak performance in all parts of life.

Here are some tips to ease your implant journey.

For prep — Manage the patient’s surgical and prosthetic expectations. Sharing realistic information before the plan goes awry is always easier than explaining it after. It pays off twofold: First, when in surgery and you need to pivot from the plan, you can already quiet that internal voice, which begins nagging that “the patient won’t be happy.” Second, it’s easier for the informed patient to accept your new plan with confidence instead of second-guessing your skills.

For surgery — The best surgeons have a profound understanding of head and neck anatomy. To stave off intrusive thoughts, double-check your progress against the anatomy facts you know. Checklists serve well here. If you still find the thoughts lingering, try asking yourself, “Am I in a loop with these irrational scenarios?” Acknowledge unproductive thoughts (since you physically can’t ignore them); then work to refocus on advancing your procedure.

For the office Enroll your team. Make sure the front desk knows what’s normal for post-op calls. Train them to clearly and calmly articulate patient’s concerns at the appropriate moment. Comments such as “Hey, Dr. Caputo, yesterday’s patient doesn’t like the teeth and is upset” can quickly dilute your focus in the operatory and trigger unproductive narratives in your head when you can’t address the issue.

For your fullest life — Be proactive, and find a therapist. Working on yourself in therapy is not just reserved for crisis. It’s a powerful path to high mental fitness and can increase fulfillment in your professional and personal life.

The goal is to find balance and have tools to quiet or stop internal anxieties, so you can deliver consistent results. These are personal reflections, not medical advice, and I hope you’ve found them helpful. Bonus tip —  never underestimate the power of being overprepared for every procedure. As Dr. Amin (and Louis Pasteur) says, “Luck favors the prepared.”

Dr. Brett Gilbert and Sue Jeffries also talk about focusing on mental health and providing a safe space for dentists in their article, “Dental Mental Network,” at https://implantpracticeus.com/dental-mental-network/.

Frank Caputo, DDS, graduated from Marquette University School of Dentistry in 2011. He is a Diplomate of the American Board of Oral Implantology and Fellow of the American Academy of Implant Dentistry. He has a dental implant practice located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is the co-director of the soon-to-launch AAID Chicago MaxiCourses® and is a faculty member for Implant Pathway in Tempe, Arizona. 

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