My New Dentist Life: Knowing enough to know what I don’t know

By | October 26, 2020

Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in a New Dentist Now blog series, My New Dentist Life, following a new dentist’s first year experience out of dental school.

Photo of Dr. Goff

Dr. Goff

The three-month mark! I am getting better at managing multiple patients at a time, my speed is slowly improving, and my treatment planning skills are tested daily. However, there are still many “lessons learned” and days that I am reminded that I know enough to know what I don’t know.

Work this last month has had busy days and less busy production days. There are days filled with exams while the “high speed” gathers dust.

While I notice my nerves are getting better, and I am gaining more confidence in myself, I still recognize how I can improve from the way I communicate with my patients to how I perform my treatment.

One of the many lessons I have learned is that your work isn’t always going to be perfect. What matters is that you recognize the imperfection, inform the patient and make it right.

I’m not talking about anything of major significance, but on a busy day I cemented a crown that at first (initial BW) appeared to be a good fit only to take a final radiograph and realize it needed to be removed and redone. Had I slowed down, recognized and acknowledged the imperfect crown (either due to my impression and/or crown design) I wouldn’t have spent the next 3 hours of my day removing and redoing my work. That’s right I made a mistake.

Too often we see Facebook posts, webinars, or continuing education seminars of “the perfect case,” but it is just as important to know that we all make and are going to make mistakes. As a new grad I’m sure that will happen again. My goal is to always improve on my work, limit my mistakes and make it right when I do make a mistake.

This last month has also been filled with great experiences. I have had multiple patients with severe dental anxiety. I was able to talk with them about their anxiety and provide treatment. After his/her appointment they told me what a good experience they had, and they don’t want to see anyone else for treatment besides me.

One patient was so distressed that as we were about to begin treatment, he stood up and was actually ready to walk out as he told me he just didn’t think he could do it. Thankfully after a good conversation he did stay for treatment and we were able to help him.

The last few weeks have also brought me opportunities to provide a wide range of GP procedures other than restorations and crowns. I have been doing much more endo, bridges, extractions (including full-mouth cases), dentures, implant planning and implant restorations.

Photo of Dr. Goff

Dr. Goff and his daughter Taitley visit Sam Houston National Forest on Aug. 25.

As for my life outside of work and living in Texas, I am glad to report that I am surviving what is the hottest and most humid place I have ever lived. I have never been so grateful for good air conditioning nor did I think it was possible to sweat walking the 20 feet from my front door to my car. Needless to say, I am welcoming winter with open arms. I spend as much time with my wife and daughter as possible and we continue to explore the area.

I would like to leave with one final thought as I have mentioned in each of my blog posts that I wish everyone well with the current circumstances throughout the country with COVID-19, the protests/riots and the upcoming election.

I don’t want to say anything politically influencing in any way but share a brief thought. Regardless of what makes us different, from the color of our skin to who we are voting for next month, let us not forget that we are all Americans. We are all on the same ship together. And while we strive to influence change in many ways the best way is to live each day with kindness for those around us, no matter how similar or how different. We do it every day as dentists. We are impartial of the patient in our chair. Let us be an example to our communities in the office, out of the office, online and wherever we find ourselves making our voices heard.

Dr. Justin Goff is a 2020 dental graduate from Touro College of Dental Medicine at New York Medical College located in Hawthorne, N.Y. He was raised in Wyoming and is a graduate of Utah State University (Class of ’16). Dr. Goff is a first-generation dentist. He is married with a 3-year-old daughter. Dr. Goff will be working as an associate general dentist in Montgomery, Texas. Outside of the dental office, he enjoys time outdoors and is an avid fisherman.

7 thoughts on “My New Dentist Life: Knowing enough to know what I don’t know

  1. Sampada J Deshpande

    very well written, justin! I liked that you mentioned being imperfect- although it is distressing in the moment, it is what helps you sleep at night! Thank you, all the best!

  2. Gary Solomon, DDS, MAGD

    This was a very thoughtful essay, full of wonderful advice. It reflects the best aspirations in us all.

  3. Grant D Hensley

    You did the right thing by replacing the ill fitting crown. You did not compromise your high standard and admitted this to your patient. This alone separates you from the majority of dentists in practice and you will see a successful practice built slowly over time, filled with patients who will refer others to you because of your integrity and concern for them.

  4. Leo Goode, DMD

    Dr. Goff,

    You’re on the right track. I am impressed that you are willing to admit when you are wrong and when you don’t know something. That will serve you well throughout your dental career. That will enable you to learn more, relate better to your patients, and develop better skills as a dentist. The vast majority of patients will appreciate your honesty. The Ego can be a big impediment to learning. Refusing to admit you are wrong or pretending to know something you don’t is more likely to get you into trouble than to protect you from trouble. Apparently, you realize this early in your career. That says a lot about your integrity, and in the long run integrity matters. I wish you the best of luck. Keep up the good work. As I said, you’re on the right track.

    I am a retired dentist in Pittsburgh, PA

  5. Rick M Singel

    Justin, nice essay. One thought, however. You have no idea of what you don’t know. LOL
    I’ve been practicing 39 years and I am daily shocked at what I don’t know yet. Practicing dentistry is a lifelong learning experience. Good luck to you.
    Oh and by the way, sounds like you are working in a big corp. clinic. Don’t develop bad habits, like feeling the need to see 12 patients at the same time.

  6. Richard D. Marchand

    You seem to be a very realistic new dentist, starting out from dental school is a big step up in our profession. I started a new practice in my small home town right out of school 40 years ago and thought I could do anything. Reality quickly set in, and I learned to count on the great local network of specialists to help me out of the situations that I was not skillful enough to address. Don’t be afraid to ask for advise or be afraid to refer.

  7. Aaron Yancoskie

    Dear Dr. Justin,

    We are extraordinarily proud of you! Keep up the good work!




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