Dental Tribune America

Interview: “Don’t play the blame game”

By Franziska Beier, Dental Tribune International
October 18, 2021

Dr Gary Glassman, an endodontist maintaining a private practice—Endodontic Specialists—in Toronto in Canada, provided Dental Tribune (DTI) with an editorial on misadventures in endodontics. DTI wanted to explore the topic further and spoke with Glassman about why it is so crucial that dental professionals share their failures with one another and how changing the way we view failure can advance professional development.

Dr Glassman, in your editorial, you describe that dental professionals behave like an ostrich when a mistake occurs—they bury their heads in the proverbial sand and hope that the problem goes away. Do you have any advice for your colleagues on how to handle such a situation?
Making a mistake is one of the most feared consequences in dentistry. It can be overwhelming, and your first instinct will probably be to take flight. However, we all know that running away is never a good way to face a problem. So, I would say that you should first stop and give yourself a few minutes to breathe. Then, think about what the mistake is, and instead of dwelling on it, assess how you can fix it. Don’t play the blame game. Take responsibility, and give yourself permission to correct the mistake. Committing a dental error and then dealing with it can be a humbling experience. Communication with your patients and with your staff, partners or colleagues is also really important. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help in a challenging situation. Remember, everyone makes mistakes. We are all human.

You also say it would be helpful to have an Instagram page devoted to failed dental treatments, so that dental professionals could learn from one another. Would you be so kind as to set a good example by sharing some of your greatest mistakes and explaining how you dealt with them?
Over the years, especially in my early years of practice, I separated instruments, perforated pulp chamber floors and transported apices. In recent years, technologies have been developed which allow more predictable outcomes, but then, every time a procedural accident occurred, I made small changes to my technique which helped prevent the same incident from occurring again. The key to success is explaining to the patient what has occurred, especially if it will affect a positive outcome, and of course, learning from the mistake and hopefully never letting it occur again or at least minimising its occurrence.

“Committing a dental error and then dealing with it can be a humbling experience”

You say it is crucial that clinicians share their failures. How would you encourage dental professionals to do so?
I would encourage them to ask the questions they don’t have answers to—maybe hold a group chat with other dentists and colleagues. It’s really important for dentists to share failures in order to prevent the same mistakes from occurring over and over again. I think there really needs to be more communication in this area of dentistry. Being upfront about things that have gone wrong opens the door to receiving tips or suggestions from another dentist who has made the same or similar mistake in the past.

In your editorial you state that we “need to reframe the lens with which we view failure”. Would you say that mistakes have helped you in your professional career, and if so, how?
I have definitely used my mistakes to help me in my career. First of all, I’ve learned to reframe my perspective and change the word “failure” to mean feedback. As well, I tell myself that I am not failing because I am doing work that I am passionate about. Failing is really just a great opportunity to become better at something. It’s a great time to learn something from someone else I admire. That’s why I do not hesitate to reach out to others in my field. I have also learned to become grateful for my mistakes. Failures don’t need to be turned into something negative. Taking action after making a mistake is one of life’s great privileges because it leads you further towards your goals.

I would like to close with two quotes that I find very fitting for this topic.
Thomas Edison said: “I haven’t failed 10,000 times. I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that haven’t worked!” And as Nietzsche said, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”!

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