How Strong are You?

Our very rewarding work demands a lot of us. We need to focus on small objects. We need to manage people both in our chairs and around us. We have bills to pay, courses to take, labs and suppliers to deal with, families to support, and on and on.  In dentistry as in life, there is a ton of stress. In fact, show me a dentist without stress and I’ll show you a cadaver!

Stress takes a physical toll on us and we need to be prepared. I’ve seen too many dentists overweight, slouched, with poor core and muscle tone, and barely capable of making it through a long and taxing day. Many dentists have told me that they are too busy to maintain a fitness regimen. I maintain that being physically and nutritionally strong are the two most critical keys to a happy, successful life. Couple that with the reality that, for some of us, working well pat the conventional retirement age of 65 will be necessary, especially if our life expectancy is into our 80s and beyond. So, we don’t want to become, as Dr. Pankey once warned us, “too old to work and too poor to retire”

Let’s take a look at what I’ll call fitness 101

Attaining fitness can be very intimidating for those who have not exercised in a while. Really and truly, though, the only ingredients you need are focus and patience.  A good gym with a good trainer and nutritionist would help, too, but let’s start with some basics.

For those with medical conditions, a consult with your friendly physician would be imperative.

For those who have not done anything in a while, some light walking several times a week would be a great way to work up to a nice baseline as I outline below.

I am trained to do 150 minutes of cardio a week. I do not care how it breaks down, as long as I have a minimum of 15-minute intervals. That is, I can do ten 15- minute sessions, five 30 minute sessions, two 45 and two 30-minute sessions, etc. Although I really enjoy running, my knees and back occasionally will politely request that I walk briskly. I listen to what my body tells me and, although I will occasionally defy it, I am generally attentive to what it tells me. Elliptical machines and stationery or real bicycles are also great.

Once you have your cardio act in order, it’s time to start thinking about resistance training. Toning your abdominal and back muscles; i.e. the core, is critical for flourishing as we age. A few suggestions- try holding a plank (the upward push – up position) for 20 seconds and increase your endurance gradually. And here’s a cute one- one fellow I’m following did some push-ups after each time he went to the bathroom at home

The impact of physical fitness on our focus, mood, self-esteem, and, of course, health is tremendous. The road to fitness begins with some simple steps which almost anyone can do. Of course, if you can engage a personal trainer and/ or a nutrition coach, you will get there at a faster pace.

Any way you choose to improve yourself is great. I did it; you can, too. Let’s take that first step now. As my mother used to say, you’ll thank me when you get older!

What Are Your Principles?

“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others”
Groucho Marx.

The latest book I’m reading is Principles by Ray Dalio. Groucho’s principles have made me laugh for most of my life and I strongly recommend his work for everyone. But Mr. Dalio’s principles are ones we can ponder and live by.

Mr. Dalio has made a ton of money, which is really nice for him. HOWEVER, to quote his book, “While making money was good, having meaningful work and meaningful relationships was far better.”

I strongly suspect that, while Ray Dalio is clearly a master of financial markets, his work is successful because he is passionate about the people he has served all over the world. He loves interacting with those people and, in a world far more pressured and insane than ours, loves what he does.

What do you love in life? What makes you happy? What are YOUR unique principles that drive your existence?

If you could answer those questions, you can, indeed, structure your practice around your own happiness. And when you’re practicing happily- when you actually look forward to Monday morning- prosperity will inevitable follow.

There are online tools to look at your values. One is the Guilford values test. The link to it is below. Take a few minutes and see if you can find your own unique set of life’s priorities.

In my world, life is about loving relationships. I love the people who come to me for care. Some of them have been with us for decades and know as much about my family as I do about theirs. In our office, we take the time to assure that happens for everyone to the greatest degree possible. The time we take to do that and to discuss each individual’s health needs, wants, hopes, and finances makes us special in their eyes and makes them special in ours. Could our team spend less time using our soft skills and more time slamming out crowns, bridges, “cleanings”, etc.? Absolutely. But we choose not to and those who come to us prefer our approach. Those are our principles.

I think that Ray Dalio would have been a fantastic dentist, cut from the mold of Bob Barkley and L.D. Pankey. I have not finished his book yet, but it is pretty clear that his principles are very applicable to what we do. (So are Groucho Marx’s, but perhaps not necessarily in our dental offices.)

So, what are your principles? What thrills you? What do you value most about your life? And how does it all tie back into your daily work. A little bit of reflection could get you to the acres of diamonds that are in your backyard.

Staying Strong IS SO Important. Here’s One Good Reason

I was in a car accident last Friday, rear-ended while I was standing still. My car is repairable and will be OK. So will I. In fact, I am in far less discomfort than I or my chiropractor anticipated. I am convinced that this is due to 3 factors: 1- The gentleman who hit me swerved before impact and only hit the right rear corner of my car. 2- I have a well-made car. 3- and most importantly- my core strength is very, very good, thanks to the training I take in our gym.

We are engaged in a profession that is physically demanding. We need to be able to sit, stand, walk, bend, focus, look up, look down, loot to the sides, and move in ways that take a toll on us (that’s why they call it work) This requires a fair degree of strength and stamina.

If our bodies are not functioning properly or if we are in pain, our work and our temperament get disrupted. Dentists are known to be at risk for back issues. I happen to be a poster boy for that. Thank goodness (in the form of a great chiropractor and physical therapist) I have overcome some significant back issues.

At age 64, I am stronger than ever. My exercise program combining cardio and strength training enables me to look forward to working as long as I want, to approach work and play with tremendous energy, and, as I just learned, to withstanding the stress of a significant impact.

I am under no delusion that I am indestructible or that a more powerful impact could have had far more severe consequences. But I do know that my conditioning is a gift that keeps on giving.

Is your physical condition conducive to being your best? Do you do 150 minutes of cardio and two resistance training sessions a week? Can your workouts be improved? Have you engaged a trainer or, at least, done some research and reading on conditioning?

Stay strong and live healthy. I can do it. YES, YOU CAN, TOO!

Humility and Relationships




In Humble Inquiry, Edgar Schein discussed some pretty risky but rewarding behavior which, I think, is critical to a relationship driven practice and life.

You see, many of us were taught that the hierarchical, authoritarian model was the way to live and work.

At home, I’m the father. The bread winner. The provider of all the tools needed for success. My family simply needs to listen to me and everything will be right.


In the office, I’m the practice owner. I’m the boss. I’m the doctor. I’m risking it all for my success. I know how to fix your problem. Therefore, team members (read employees) and patients need to do nothing more than listen to me.




If my wife and my now grown kids heard me say this with any degree of seriousness, they would – at best-  laugh at me.


In the office, if my team heard me in the same way, they would either roll their eyes or look for another job. And if my patients heard me say this, followed by an authoritarian case presentation, their response would be the classic “Well, I’ll think about it” And I’d likely never see them again.


And if I were serious about those statements, there would be far less liquor in my house and even less hair on my head


Life is about relationships built on respect, trust, and love. Life is about listening and understanding. Life is about the open and safe exchange of ideas. Life is about humble inquiry. And, although dentistry used to be about the all-knowing doctor providing remedies to the subservient patient, our profession has become more about the same principles of humble inquiry. That, my friends, is a change for the better.


One of the challenges to maintaining a rewarding practice is creating a safe environment for the exchange of critical personal information. Within the limits of what is legal, if we engage our teams in some exchanges of personal information, we deepen those relationships and build loyalty, productivity, and, I dare say, a bit of love into our workplace. If we know our likes and dislikes, our hopes and fears, our challenges and triumphs, we bond so much better.


And if we somehow unlock the door to our patients’ minds and understand who they are, we can take the role of doctor to once unattainable levels. If we truly know the people we serve and act on a mission of altruism, we can use our relationship skills to motivate them to become as healthy as they want to be.


So how do we do all this?


Let’s understand what Schein calls Here and Now Humility


We went to college and dental school. We take God-knows-how-many hours of Continuing Education in the areas of our choosing. Indeed, we may well be more educated than our teams and our patients. We may have a clear and unmistakable vision for our practices and for our patients’ health. But we need our team to support and help us on our mission. They know more about some things than we do. They will see things that we occasionally cannot see. We need to be humble enough to create a safe environment for them to (get ready for this) point out the things we do not see or do not know.

And we certainly know more about occlusion, caries, periodontal disease, health, wellness, than those we serve. But our services are, for he most part, elective. There are so many ways to get a person to health. And each person has his or her own paradigm of what health, comfort, function, and esthetics are. Each person has his or her own intrinsic motivators and there are dozens of dentists they can choose if they don’t like our message or do not feel connected to us.


Here’s a suggestion for you: ask a team member how they’re doing. Then listen generously without interrupting. Listen carefully and follow up with another open- ended question about what they discussed. Allow them to open up a bit. Be supportive if they express some frustration. Be a cheerleader if they talk about something great. Perhaps then, or perhaps on another occasion, talk about something important to you. Let them get to know your human side. Allow them to see your vulnerability. Make it safe for them (within legal limits, of course), to be vulnerable, as well. It will take your relationships to much higher levels.


And how about using those same principles in your pre-clinical interviews? If you’re not doing pre clinical interviews, try doing one with a new or existing patient. Once you get good at it, you’ll love it. Dr Pankey taught us to never treat a stranger. It makes so much sense to earn trust and learn how to motivate each individual who joins your team or asks you for help.


Humility is the key to riches in every sense. Try it!


Dr. Stern

804 W. Park Ave.
Ocean, NJ 07712
(732) 493-8030

A National Guard Soldier with Attitude




Many of you know that I spend a fair amount of weekends treating National Guard soldiers. I am privileged to work with an outstanding team of dentists, physicians, auxiliary personnel, and administrators. Our dental team is charged with providing soldiers with triage and very basic dental services. Our mission is to free our heroes of any condition which could lead to needless pain and suffering, especially if they are deployed overseas to defend our nation. We are civilians serving in collaboration with our State Dental Officers, practicing dentists who belong to the Guard. Our team sees between 200 and 400 soldiers a day, which is no small feat.

I spent this past Saturday with our terrific team at a military base near my home here in New Jersey. Our work load was light but steady and, as usual, we were moving nicely through our process. About halfway through our day, I encountered a Sergeant who appeared very stone faced and almost hostile, despite my best efforts to establish a small relationship in the short time I have with these people. The Sergeant refused to answer any of the necessary questions I had about his medical history. He clearly was looking at me as some tooth fixer who had no business doing anything beyond looking at his teeth and getting him out of my presence.

I was clearly thrown by the Sergeant’s hostility towards the universally (?) likable, relationship centered, people- loving me. I always take time to make our soldiers comfortable; yet, I was met with borderline nastiness from this sergeant. Because of his lack of cooperation, I was unable to finish his triage to the standards the military needed, but I also knew that I could not coerce this man into giving me the information I needed. So I curtly dismissed him, forms filled out as best I could, and sent him on his way. He won, I lost, so I thought.  Something was very wrong and I just couldn’t pinpoint it.

During my usual fifteen minute lunch break, I discussed this soldier’s situation with our State Dental Officer, an insightful, compassionate Colonel who is deeply dedicated to the well-being of his soldiers. I’ve known this man for 7 years and we share a tremendous respect for one another.  The Colonel informed me that the soldiers we were seeing were all MMRs- Multiple Medical Resource; that is, they are affected by past combat experience (read PTSD). That explained everything and reinforced a principle that is key to dentistry ( and life, for that matter).).

You see, my Sergeant-with-an-attitude turns out to be a hero. He is carrying demons in his soul that neither I nor any untrained individual could comprehend. He must have encountered some awful emotional trauma overseas that he could not bear to discuss with a stranger. Although I very wisely backed off insisting that he disclose information that I was legitimately “entitled” to know, I did not fully grant this gentleman the dignity and love (yes, I said love) he has earned from me and 300 million people he has never met.

The lesson here for all of us is that every person we encounter has a story. At any given moment, we all are carrying thoughts of love, happiness, sorrow, stress, triumph, and tragedy. And at any given moment, any one of those emotions could dictate how we react to anything or anyone.

In our military work, there is not a whole lot of time to conduct relationship – creating interviews and guide people to their best dental and health decisions. But in our practices and in our daily lives, we have multiple opportunities to connect, co- discover, and empower other human beings to become better. A relationship centered dentist (and spouse, parent, sibling, friend, etc) has the ability to spend time understanding the person who is asking for help. Relationships of legitimate concern and empathy lead to outcomes that are magical, healing, and inspiring. Relationships reward us not only  with a great career which brings us a good livelihood, but also with  things that transcend material wealth. It’s no wonder that Dr Bob Barkley taught us that the health of the relationship is far more important than the health of the patient.

I love treating fearful patients and I love my soldiers. Yesterday’s experience was a reminder that I am a very good, but not perfect practitioner of relationship centered work and life. I hope I can meet my Sergeant-with-an-attitude sometime in the future and thank him for making me a better person. And I do hope that when I meet him again that he will be freed of the burden he bears from his work defending all of us.

If you see a soldier, please thank him or her. Commit an act of kindness toward them if you can. They take tremendous risk so that we can live as we do.

And when that patient -with-an – attitude visits your office, take the time you need  to learn their story. Whether it’s a minute, and hour, or 3 appointments, make it your highest priority to know your patient.  When you know  who they are, what their joys, sorrows, triumphs and defeats are AND when they know you’re sincerely concerned, your work will be meaningful, therapeutic, and tremendously rewarding.


Dr. Stern

804 W. Park Ave.
Ocean, NJ 07712
(732) 493-8030

Are You Minimizing Your Work?




Words have a powerful effect on perception. Are you selling yourself short when it comes to describing your practice or your services? Patients visit you because they trust you to be open, honest, and experienced in communicating the condition of their oral health in a way they will understand. To accomplish this effectively, you need to be mindful of your word choice.

“Check Up” or “Comprehensive Examination”

A “check up” sounds menial and unimportant. You might say you take your car in for a “check up” or “tune up.” Oral health care is diminished when it is referred in this way. Use the more professional sounding “comprehensive examination.” This emphasizes the fact that you and your team are doing a lot more than just checking the mouth and teeth. You are looking for signs of decay and oral cancer, providing a thorough cleaning, and offering recommendations for additional treatments. That’s a lot more than a “check up.”

“Just a…”

Don’t use this phrase when leading into a diagnosis. “Just a cavity,” or “just a little inflammation,” minimizes the importance for action. Your patient might heed this as permission to wait on further treatment. The public is often not aware of the importance of their oral health and how oral diseases can spread, worsen, and lead to other painful and costly problems. Be clear with patients when making a diagnosis, but never make it sound unimportant or that it can wait.

“Bleaching” is Not Synonymous with “Whitening”

When describing whitening treatments to patients, it may sound like a natural choice to use the word “bleaching.” Avoid using this term. To some patients, this may imply bleach is used in the whitening process. It also sounds far more painful than “whitening.” Using the term “Bleaching” sounds dangerous, or that it involves the use of harsh chemicals. “Whitening” is an ideal term to use as it also serves as a description for what patients can expect after treatment – a whiter smile.

Word choice matters. Patients are relying on you for information about their health. Be clear, be concise, and be honest with your patients. The public’s perception of dental professionals is not always positive. Clear communication is one way to bridge the gap between your team and your patients. Show your value to your patients by choosing strong words to describe your services, and avoid minimizing the importance of your work.