Tragedy into Triumph

As dentists return to their offices, they can arise stronger after the COVID-19 crisis by focusing on improving the lives of their sleep-disordered patients.

Jason Tierney

So, um, yeah, a lot has happened since the last issue of Dental Sleep Practice. As I write this, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the world bringing unprecedented illness, death, and economic hardship. Our cities, our communities, our nation, our lives, are in a state of unrest and upheaval. It has thrust a level of volatility upon the dental field that most of us have never experienced. The world is hurting. It can feel like our lives have become a dystopian sci-fi film – and we can’t find the remote to change channels.

The pandemic has also opened the valves of innovation and generated an outpouring of generosity that are both inherent to the Dental Sleep Medicine community. We’ve witnessed numerous organizations adapt by shifting their top-notch continuing education to online platforms. We’ve seen several companies provide free oral appliances to essential workers. Others have pivoted to leverage their manufacturing capacities for the fabrication of protective gear for those on the front lines of this battle. We’ve also experienced increasingly widespread adoption of telemedicine which empowers DSM providers to help people sleep and breathe, and we’ve watched dental practices heroically manage emergency patients to mitigate strain on the healthcare system.

What will the future of Dental Sleep Medicine look like? I don’t think any of us can say with a high degree of certainty. In many ways, our entire world is in a state of flux. The landscape will undoubtedly change between the time I write this and the time you read it. However, we each possess agency and we can control what we can control.

During these days of trepidation, I’m reminded of the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus’s timeless maxim in which he stated, “In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices.”

Each of us can focus on what is in our locus of control. What skills do you need to further hone but couldn’t previously carve out the required time? This could be an opportune time to improve those skills through reading or online education. Are there systems or workflow that need improvement in your practice? Now is the prime time to map the strategies for future success. A time will come when you’ll be busy again and you won’t get this time back. We possess the power to arise from this tragedy stronger – as individuals, as caregivers, as a profession, and as a nation.

Despite all the uncertainty, there are some axioms: People must sleep to live. Quality of sleep directly impacts quality of life. You have helped save lives through improved sleep in the past. You will help with this in the future. While we don’t know precisely what changes are beyond the horizon or what “OK” will look like – we can each be 100% assured that everything will be OK. And to quote Bill Murray in Stripes, “That’s a fact, Jack!”

Take care of yourselves and each other. Make it happen…

Jason Tierney explores the essence of a dental sleep practice. Defining roles in this niche will help them to arise stronger after the COVID-19 crisis.

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