There is a bear in the woods.  For some people the bear is easy to see.  Others can’t see it at all.  Some people say the bear is tame.  Others say it is vicious and dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who is right, isn’t it smart to be as strong as the bear. If there is a bear.

The chance of becoming disabled during your dental career is high. That doesn’t mean you have to be afraid. It does mean you must have proper respect. The analogy of the unseen bear is accurate. Your strength in confronting a disabling illness or accident comes from knowing the risk is real and being prepared.

It is way too easy to dismiss the chance you will be come disabled at some point. Face the facts. Disability in the dental community is at epidemic proportions. This parallels the general population and has catastrophic effects on numerous families everyday.  No one wants to talk about it, but the facts speak for themselves. There are over 200,000 dentists practicing in the United States alone.  With a well documented risk of 20-30%, this means that over 50,000 dentists will be involved in a short or long-term disability over the next 25 years.  These disabilities ranges from months due to a car accident or years due to cancer or heart attacks.

It’s time for the dental community to wake up. We can’t decrease the number involved, but we can help those currently disabled and those who will become disabled in the future.  If you are doing fine now, think about preparation.  Do you have a practice continuity plan in place draw up by your attorney?  Do you have a disability insurance policy?  20% of all dentists don’t!!!!      Do you have a mutual aid agreement in place to protect your practices value in case you are disabled?  Have you prepared financially for loosing your income at short notice?  Have you discussed the risks of disability with your family/staff and have you told them what to do if you are incapacitated?

If you know a disabled dentist, it is your obligation to help.This may entail only a phone call with encouragement or it may lead to real involvement with your friend’s recovery. Realized that peer support is critical in survival of a dentist facing sudden disability. Become involved, you may be next.  Work with your state or local dental society to establish aid agreements and peer support groups.  The ADA is very early in these efforts and we are working hard to establish a nationwide program to help disabled dentists.

Like an iceberg where you only see a small portion of the entire entity, disability is already known to all of us.  We all know someone who has been ill or hurt in an accident. Dentists often function independently and may not even know the dentist cross the street from them who has been in practice for 20 years.  The compartmentalization of dentists often insulates us from the outside world.  If you start recognizing the scope of the problem by adding together all the individual dentists facing illness or accidents, you will come to the same conclusion that we have.  This is a huge problem. It has not been ignored, the scope has not been recognized.

Protect yourself first. Take the steps in preparation for disability. The likelihood of you personally suffering disability at its worse is only one in three. RIGHT.  If you like those odds you can do nothing. ARE YOU PREPARED TO GAMBLE WITH YOUR FAMILY’S FUTURE?

At the very least, recognize your obligation as a professional to be compassionate and helpful to your dental peers. You may end up being the reason another dentists survives disability.  That simple phone call or lunch date may have a profound impact on that person’s survival.  We are talking survival here.  These are life and death moments in those whose lives have been disrupted by disability. Step up for our profession and become better than you are.   THERE IS A BEAR IN THE WOODS, WE SEE HIM NOW.

grizzly