On Being a Life-Long Learner

A lot of people seem to think that once you’re done with school, you’re done learning. But in truth, as Jiddu Krishnamurti taught, “there is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.” Sometimes that learning comes from books and lectures. Sometimes it comes through community with coworkers and colleagues, family and friends. Sometimes it comes from just being.

Yes, as a practicing dentist, I’m required to do continuing coursework to keep my license valid. But even so, it seems a common sense thing to do – in dentistry or any other profession. How else could you stay up-to-date in your field?

Consequently, not a month goes by that I don’t participate in a seminar or take a class of some kind. I find it exciting and fulfilling – personally and professionally, intellectually and spiritually. Even after more than 40 years of practicing dentistry, I’m still eager to deepen my understanding of oral-systemic health dynamics. Likewise, I both want and need to stay current with the latest treatments, techniques and technologies so I can continue to provide top-notch care for my patients, helping them heal or just sustain or improve their oral and physical health.

A partial list of courses I’ve taken over the past decade-plus is available here.

Just this month, I completed an 8 month course in periodontics – the dental specialty concerned with the gums and other supporting structures of the teeth. On the one hand, what I learned will help me provide an even higher level of care for patients with gum disease – a problem which affects 3 of every 4 adult Americans. (We looked at some of the reasons for this in a previous post.) But more than that – in the words of the course syllabus – it’s just

no longer…possible to practice restorative dentistry without having an in depth knowledge of how to maintain and modify periodontal tissues. Optimal oral esthetics demands optimal periodontal form. Optimal systemic health demands optimal periodontal health.

In other words, you can’t practice good dentistry by focusing just on the teeth. And you certainly can’t provide the kind of dental care needed to support overall health. As we understand more profoundly how periodontal disease is linked with diabetes, heart disease and other inflammatory conditions, the more crucial it is that dentists take a whole-body approach to their profession.

Although far too many dentists continue to practice mechanistic “toxic dentistry” – treating the teeth in isolation from the rest of the body and relying on substances such as mercury, fluoride and formocresol, believing them harmless – change is happening. The profession – like any – continues to evolve in response to new research and technology, as well as the efforts of holistic health professionals, grassroots activists and patients. Such efforts are one of the reasons why I belong to organizations such as the HDA, IAOMT and IABDM in addition to the dominant ADA and its state and local offshoots. These organizations exist to educate dental and medical professionals, as well as the general public, about safer alternatives to toxic dentistry and the intricate relationships between oral and systemic health.

“Education,” wrote Ralph Ellison, “is all a matter of building bridges” – between ideas, facts, theories, bodies of knowledge and people.

Thus, a new organization was recently founded, of which I’m pleased to count myself a founding member: The American Academy for Oral Systemic Health.

The American Academy for Oral Systemic Health is an organization of health care leaders and health professionals dedicated to the relationship of oral health and whole body health. AAOSH membership includes and is open to health professionals from many allied health disciplines, corporate supporters and sponsors, health educators, and healthcare leaders.

Membership and Academy activities, meetings, research and communications are all supportive of helping members of the healthcare community to work closer together and helping to improve the oral and general health of our patients and our communities.

Understanding the emerging science-driven relationships between the mouth and the body, AAOSH promotes building closer ties between allied health professionals and improving interdisciplinary communication and professional referral relationships.

You can read a more detailed discussion of their mission here. While their website is new enough to not yet have extensive educational resources, no doubt it will grow right along with the organization.

Of course, there’s one other benefit to making active learning a life-long habit: it keeps you young. As said, I’ve been practicing dentistry for over 40 years now – since 1967 – and I still find it exciting and fresh, challenging and new as the day I greeted my very first patient. And the rapid advances in dental-medical tech and knowledge ensure there will always be more to learn; likewise with our expanding knowledge of the mind, spirit and energy that inform both my approach to healing and life in general.

As Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

Want to resume learning? Here are 15 tips to get you started.

Already a devoted life-long learner? Share your story in the comments – or advice for others who’d like to follow your lead.

Learning is the beginning of wealth. Learning is the beginning of health. Learning is the beginning of spirituality. Searching and learning is where the miracle process all begins. – Jim Rohn

 

Image by jmtimages, via Flickr

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1 Comment

Filed under Biological Dentistry, Wellness

One response to “On Being a Life-Long Learner

  1. As a dentist, I find one of the hardest things to do is to educate people about the importance of practicing good oral hygiene. Many people don’t know that by maintaining healthy teeth and gums, it could decrease your chances of getting heart disease