The Way Dentistry Is Meant to Be

Tuesday November 09, 2021

We all have people we look up to, whether in our personal or professional life. One of those people in my professional life is the late Dr. LD Pankey. Dr. Pankey was a true visionary. There is an advanced dental education institute named after him in Florida, where dentists learn from his influential teachings.

I recently read an article he wrote in 1981, 8 years before his death. It is interesting to read some of the things he wrote, because it shows how little things have changed, and how well he understood people and his profession. I would like to share a few paragraphs from this piece:

“Another important element, then, in the future of dentistry is determining the answer to the question: why don’t more people with needs go to the dentist? In-depth studies on consumer attitudes have turned up a host of reasons, but one surpasses all the rest. Most people who fail to seek dental care fail because they don’t perceive their need. More astounding than that is the fact that the majority of people who do go to the dentist don’t perceive the need either!

If the public is ever to be enlightened about the importance of dental health, who will have to do the enlightening? I’ve never found anyone else I could depend on to do it. I had to build the one-to-one relationships with my patients that were needed to make my practice- and thus the future of dentistry- prosper and grow.

People with dental needs are out there, all right, but even when they do perceive their need, they must be assured there’s someone available who will identify with what they’re feeling and devote themselves to helping them to be healthy, happy and whole.”

Dr. Pankey asks who will enlighten the public about how good dental health is better for your overall health? His answer is the same today as it was when this piece was written. The dentist (and dental team), who is dedicated to taking the time to listen and build a relationship with the patient, is the only one who has the best interest of the patient. 

The insurance industry is trying to turn dentistry into a commodity, where a “cleaning”, a filling, a crown, or a denture is the same anywhere. It’s just “stuff” that’s done to fix problems. The insurance company’s main interest is profitability – period. Does it make sense that an insurance company should be able dictate who you can see as a provider?

The business of dentistry has reacted to these things as well. One example are the commercials on TV for a corporate dental facility that only does dental implants. The ads target the large sector of the population who think removal of teeth and replacement with dental implants fixes them for life. This is far from the truth. While there are patients who truly benefit from these types of procedures, many others have healthy teeth removed because it seems like the easier thing to do. 

You have to be the one to decide how important your health is. In 1981 there were no connections between oral health and systemic health. Today we know that a healthy mouth is so important to a healthy body. If your health is a priority, you should seek regular dental care with a professional team who has your best interest at heart.

Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley and Newburyport dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. He has a special interest in treating snoring, sleep apnea and TMJ problems. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have please email them to him at

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