I was a senior in undergrad at the University of Florida (I know, I know, our football team stinks. What can I say? We are a basketball school!). I was taking ceramics. Yes, I wanted an “easy A.”
Much to my dismay, this ended up being a very time-consuming class. The teacher actually wanted us to work and get better at ceramics—the nerve!
I found myself at the ceramics lab at all hours of the evening. In this case, it was a Sunday night, past midnight, and I had just finished making my ashtray or something and I decided to walk through the senior lab as a short cut.
I walked past an open trash can and inside was some finished and glazed pottery. The reason that particular piece of trash caught my eye was that it was so colorful. I did a double take and walked back to the trash can and inspected the work. (I guess to the casual observer I looked like George Costanza from Seinfeld eating the Danish out of the trash can—but I was a poor college student!). Well, what I found in the trash can were six chalice-like glasses and a matching pitcher. WHAT?!!! I had struck gold. This set was better than anything I had.
So I started pulling the stuff out of the trash can and I heard a voice coming from one of the work rooms. A dude came out and told me that I couldn’t take that stuff. I looked around and said, “Someone was throwing this away and I think it is cool, so I am going to take it.” He said, “No, you can’t! See, this is my work and I don’t want anyone to have it.”
Now you see, I was this dental school wannabe, not really belonging in this part of campus, so I didn’t really understand those artsy-fartsy types. He could probably tell from the dumb look on my face, so he continued: “You see, if you look at the bottoms of all of those glasses, you will see my signature. Once I put my signature on something, it has to be work that I am proud of. If my signature is on it, well, that is my reputation. I put my signature on these pieces, and then I decided it was not up to the standards that I want out in the world.”
He continued, “Come on in here.” Before we started walking, though, he smashed all six glasses and the pitcher into a billion pieces. I guess he was serious.
He took me to his studio in the back and pulled out six new glasses and a pitcher. He said, “This is what I did to practice. No signatures on the bottom. So you can take these.” I was thrilled and shocked at the same time. I was still a little taken aback by the smashed set in the trash can. I am sure I sounded a little like Bill and Ted when I replied excitedly, “Ah, dude, thanks.”
I went home and showed all my roommates. They thought I had robbed a bank. This stuff was nice. We went straight to the kitchen and threw away some plastic cups to make room for our new set.
That was the story.
I have no idea where that pottery is today, but this story stayed with me 25 years later. That clay-molding dude in 1990 is still teaching me today.
Have you ever stopped to think about how many times a day you are letting your stuff, with your signature on it, out into this world? I know you and I are a lot the same. We are busy in our days. We are finishing up a procedure and, at the same time, two hygienists are waiting for a recall check, the next patient is here, and the composite resin you did has your thumb print on it from the placement. It will do, but it is not signature-worthy.
Have you ever told someone, “I am going to let you go, but if you ever go to another dentist please never tell him/her who did it?” Or, have you ever thought about telling a patient that?
I have. Seriously, I have actually told people this. It is my inner ceramist talking.
Have you ever been finishing up a resin, one you are trying to make really nice, and your assistant is looking at you with an expression that says, “What the @#$% are you doing?”
Your reputation is building, whether you want it to or not. Every day your art has your signature on it and you are letting it out into this world. We all do it. We do a crown that is the wrong color. We do a composite restoration with no contact. We do an anterior composite and that @#$%ing grey line shows at the margin right across the mesial of a central incisor. What do you do? Well, I guess that is different for all of us.
At the end of the procedure, I sit with the patient and tell him or her that this work is unacceptable to me. I tell the patient, “To you it might look good. To you it might be okay, but I am not happy with it.” I say this knowing that I have to reschedule this patient and he or she is going to be upset. If there is a crown involved, I know my lab guy is going to be upset, too. I know that I am now going to lose money.
But, after all is said and done, the patient is going to respect you. Your lab guy is going to respect you. And, most importantly, you are going to be happy that this masterpiece will have your signature on it.
Not to belabor a point, but I have made it known to my staff that nothing leaves my office without my stamp of approval.
You know the person who broke a tooth and you don’t have the time to do a crown, so you did a build-up? Has that person not come back? Heck yeah. Your signature is on it—or your thumb print. Two years later that patient goes to another dentist with a broken build-up.
The point here is that I don’t get dirty looks from my staff anymore, because they know that nothing leaves the office without looking good. I am a little OCD when it comes to this, too. I have been known to put anatomy in IRM before. I know, I know—I need help.
So I’d like to say, thanks ceramic dude, for the glasses and the pitcher, but also thank you for teaching me about pride and reputation. Twenty-five years later, I am really glad I took that route home.
John Gammichia, DMD, FAGD