A few moments with DOCS Education member Dr. Phil Openshaw

Phil Openshaw, DDS, was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, and grew up in Modesto, California, where he’s been practicing general dentistry for over 20 years. A graduate of the Baylor College of Dentistry, Dr. Openshaw has made several humanitarian trips to Africa and recently shared some thoughts about the profession with the Incisor.

How did you choose dentistry?

Many of my relatives are engineers, but I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Science and biology were two of my favorite subjects, though. When I was quite young, I had a sporting accident that resulted in several of my teeth being broken. I had to spend a lot of time with my dentist after that. The experience sparked an interest in caring for people, particularly in the kindly and compassionate way my dentist looked after me.

What do you like the most about dentistry?

The technology permits us to accomplish so much more than when I started. It has affected virtually every method I first learned in dental school. I very much enjoy the tools available today. In particular, sedation has changed my practice and allowed me to treat people who need a lot of work with greater efficiency—that’s beneficial to both patient and doctor. None of this would be possible without today’s technology. Dentistry contains so much valuable education. Every CE class you take gives you the opportunity to help more and more people. I love the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. We’re not just providing dentures but improving smiles and spirits.

What do you least like about dentistry?

The financial and insurance aspects are difficult. Dentistry is expensive to do, and not many people appreciate how much it really costs to treat someone. I was privileged to work at dental schools in the countries of Rwanda and Uganda, where they lack the money to acquire even basic technology. People simply cannot afford the care they need in those countries. It’s hard for us to imagine, but in other parts of the world there just aren’t sufficient numbers of dental professionals available. Despite its population of millions, for example, Uganda has very few doctors with the DDS degree.

What are the biggest challenges facing dentistry today?

The insurance industry is changing so rapidly and patients are relying so much on insurance that they believe someone else is responsible for their health. Insurance companies don’t care about quality, they care about costs. This causes patients to become angry with dentists, but really it’s an insurance issue. Government involvement makes it harder. While I don’t mind government guidelines in general I think too much involvement interferes with our ability to carry out good work. Dentistry is a caring industry, and we need to continue to perform humanitarian work as a demonstration of that.

Who are your mentors in the dental world?

I admire Dr. Gordon J. Christensen’s Clinicians Reports and appreciate the independent, unbiased evaluation of products they provide. Also, the endodontist Dr. Cliff Ruddle is an outstanding educator. And I value the knowledgeable assistance I receive from reps at some dental companies. They are patient and current in their expertise, and I couldn’t stay on top of things without them.

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