In Praise of General Dentists





“I am here to say that a general dentist can be at peace and happy treating all people and being a caring doctor in relationship with his or her patients, no matter their age, income, or needs.”


MattMessinaBy Guest Blogger, Matthew J. Messina, DDS, a member of the Pankey Institute faculty and a nationally recognized spokesperson for dentistry, having appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, NPR radio, WTAM radio, and in numerous publications, including USA Today, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time, Prevention magazine, Reader’s Digest, Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, Vogue, and Men’s Health.


EARLY IN MY CAREER I couldn’t be choosey about what procedures I performed or the age of my patients. As I gained experience and financial security, I had opportunity to shape the practice I wanted. I must confess that for a while I struggled with a plan to do more of the things that I enjoy and less of the things that I don’t, but I did get it underway once I firmed up my vision. As this continues to develop, I see more names and procedures on the schedule that make me smile each day.


IT HAS BECOME POPULAR for practitioners of my generation to strive to develop what I will call a limited practice. Of course, there are the established specialties that we all recognize: Endo, Perio, Oral Surgery, Prosth, Pediatrics, Ortho, and Pathology. But, within the world of general practice, we are seeing more practices labeling themselves as Cosmetic, Adult Restorative, Aesthetic and Reconstructive…even pronouncing specific technology in their tags such as Laser and Cerec.


I LIKE TO THINK OF MYSELF AS UNLIMITED. I have worked diligently over the years to attain a level of education and proficiency in many phases of dentistry. I enjoy treating TMD patients, and am competent and successful in treating esthetic makeovers and full mouth rehabilitation cases. I can also do a great occlusal composite on a ten-year-old!


I am proud of the fact that my practice consists of patients from 16 months to 102 years old. Young, old, rich, poor, rehabilitated, edentulous—all are welcome here. I get as much joy from the hug of a grandmother whose denture fits better, as I do from seating eight veneers or restoring missing teeth with implants.


My practice is full of children, many of whom I have coached. They are my kid’s friends, and their parents are my friends and patients. It makes me smile to attend the end-of-the-school-year banquets or to go to the park and coach my son’s team and look around and see that these are “my people.”


A while back, many of my friends were eliminating children from their practices to concentrate on adult restorative and esthetic cases. I felt the need to examine whether I was somehow accepting a lesser calling by maintaining a true general practice and continuing to treat all people. Upon examination, I realized that, though I admire and congratulate my colleagues who have devoted their careers to more limited practice, I have come to be very proud of my career of dentistry for all the people, whatever their needs.


PATIENTS EXPECT US to be the best at whatever we do, and they deserve a dentist who lives up to this expectation.


A GENERAL DENTIST TODAY has a variety of tools in the toolbox to solve any patient problem. And, a broad base of educational training allows general dentists to confidently recommend the full scope of available dental options for each patient’s treatment plan.


I STILL REMEMBER how a few years back I completed the first phase of a case for a mother of eight children. After a long time seeing to the rest of the family, it was her turn to take care of herself. For financial reasons, we had to go slowly, and it took over a year to complete the first phase. The final seating of five crowns with some composites gave her the front of her smile back on the maxillary arch. It certainly wasn’t an extreme makeover, but what I came to realize was that I had given her dignity and self-confidence. I placed the crowns, gave her a mirror, and she cried. Then we all cried. She has not stopped smiling since, and neither have I.


This case has become one of an ever-increasing number that I keep in my memory bank, to open up and savor when I need a smile, or a little lift to keep going in a tough day. As these are my people, I have reminders of the smiles around me all the time and wherever I go out into my community of Fairview, Ohio.


EACH YEAR there is a local town fair, called the Fairview Fun Fest. As I walk in the parade or down the midway, people wave and say “Hi, Doc!” When he was young, my son, Mike, would ask, “Why do they call you Doc?” Jokingly, I used to tell him that it was because they forgot my first name! Now I know that it is because they are my people, and I am their dentist.




Dr. Matt Messina balances life with many pursuits. One of these is writing novels. He has completed two mysteries that are about to be in their second printing, The Curse of Sekhem Ka and The Black Swan Event. Both feature “Murph” an adventurous dentist, who leads anything but a boring life.