Home Pediatric Dentistry Not the Gifts of Perfection

Not the Gifts of Perfection

by adminjay

In the meticulous craft and discipline of dentistry, not well known to the rest of the world but all too familiar to us, we find ourselves unforgivingly engrossed in a relentless pursuit of perfection. It’s almost as if our sole purpose is to mirror the flawless depictions found in textbooks and presented in lectures. We grow restless in our labor within the confines of a demanding operation room, which is the human mouth. We strive to sculpt uniform, balanced, somewhat parallel, slightly converging, anatomically ideal crown preps. We do this amidst the unpredictability of the patient’s tongue, saliva, and bleeding; we do this within the confines of our patient, battling fear, dreading potential discomfort, and financial constraints.

We do this all, sometimes, within a fleeting hour. And every crown we fashion brings us face to face with our most formidable critic: ourselves. This unyielding quest for perfection, cultivated through our academic and professional journeys, often leads to an overlooked truth: imperfection is an inherent aspect of our human condition. The relentless drive for an unattainable ideal not only takes a toll on us physically, as we hunch over in painstaking diligence but also emotionally, marred by self-criticism and a lack of self-acceptance. As busy as we are chasing the perfection that will never come, we might have overlooked the fact that amidst this struggle lies a profound opportunity for redefinition and growth.

By acknowledging our own human nature, the sense that we are perfectly imperfect, we could be liberating ourselves from the shackles of faulty expectations. Accepting this could lead us to cultivating a healthier relationship with our craft—one that embraces improvement over the illusory goal of perfection. This realization could mark the beginning of a more fulfilling professional journey settled with peace and satisfaction; a new journey stemming from a clarity that striving for excellence and striving for perfection are two very distinct paths.


The initial chapters of this unfolding narrative often begin in the youthful corridors of academia, where, driven to attain the most opportunities, we compete with our contemporaries. We find allure in high scores and esteem ourselves in the percentiles of students below us. These numbers and accolades ignite a competitive streak in us, attaching our intrinsic self-worth to grades and rankings. This early calibration of self-esteem to external validation becomes a deeply anchored blueprint for us. It dangerously develops toward an addiction of sorts, driving us to chase at full speed, at whatever cost, toward academic and professional triumphs.

Far too much is stacked on our plates; rest and sleep take a backseat. Aimless wandering and even a faint air of boredom, which has been proven to ignite creativity, endanger our future. And we feel as if our perseverance, one that leads to sleep deprivation and exhaustion, has been all worth it when we open the letter of acceptance into our chosen dental school. Here, though varying distinctly today, with the comparison of decades prior, the harsh tones of our attending dentists make self-doubt the soundtrack of our lives. As we further develop into clinical practice past graduation, we come across experts whose work leaves us in awe. We are in awe of what others create but crumble at our lack of replication within our operatories.

We imagine, uncorrected, that since one photo is displayed as the conclusion, the work of art must have been concluded in a single sitting, a single appointment. And many educators do not over-disclose to correct that. The glamour it carries sustains them as experts, and it is much of what they have worked for. The draw of the audience is the return on their hard work. We return to our clinical practice, expecting the very same results on the very next day. And that furthers the soundtrack of our self-doubt. I had lived much of my two-decade career in this falsehood. Until one kind, one brave educator, who had displayed his cherished case, shattered that notion.

The lecturer disclosed that the case he’d just put up on screen for us to admire did not take a single appointment to complete, nor a single appointment with the laboratory in matching the shade. To gain his ideal, uniform and balanced, barely distinguishable single tooth anterior restoration, it took seven tries. Seven. The audience gasped, myself among them. The lecturer may have shattered the intrigue with which he may have initially presented but gave us all a gift in the end. A gift of self-acceptance and a hope that our clinical work may not be so far behind his. It is with the help of the mentioned educator that we can finally venture into practice and toward life, full life, with a beautifully stark realization drawing upon us: perfection is unattainable, but excellence is. Excellence is not the sum of perfect outcomes but rather a state.

Excellence is a presence filled with perseverance, learning, and an unwavering commitment to our patients’ well-being. The experience with said educator is something we might call a sliding door experience, one where our life and knowledge are in stark display of the before and after. I wish both you and myself many of these experiences in our dental careers, understanding fully that the changes these experiences bring about are heavy and take quite an effort to unpack.


To navigate this profound transition, we must extend towards us the grace of forgiveness for our imperfections, recognizing that they do not diminish our capabilities but rather illuminate the path for continual growth and learning. It is also of utmost importance to realize that our lack of pursuing perfection does not equal sloppy, substandard, cheap, fast, and clinically unacceptable outcomes. Life will be a future full of sliding door experiences and endless possibilities, especially as we come to recognize that the incessant pursuit of perfection we so often chase is not just daunting and exhausting; it doesn’t exist. There is no place in this world, in the real world for perfection.

Accepting excellence on its very own behalf is the best way that we can find alignment with our authentic selves. And then, pursuing excellence is our opportunity to leave behind the soundtrack of self-doubt. Pursuing excellence is what will allow us to foster humanity, shared humanity. This humanity will transcend the confines of the dental chair and will connect us deeper to the people we serve. Our gift to them will not be a perfect restoration at the expense of our own self-worth. It will be an homage to honoring them as patients in need of healing and ourselves as a multidimensional human. Perfection, the notion that we must walk away from, has very little to do with the procedure, with the patient or with their healing.

Perfection is simply a way we have of judging ourselves. Perfection is about us, not about them. But when we chose to become healers of people, when we chose to become the physicians of the masticatory system, we chose to do it for them, and we chose to do it ‘to help people.’ Excellence is far more about how the outcome affects the patient and less about how it strips us of esteem or self-worth. This narrative of transformation, though rooted in the specificity of dentistry, echoes a universal chorus of self-discovery and resilience—reminding us that in the delicate dance of imperfection lies the beauty of all that humanity represents.


It is not easy to blazingly attack a concept of attaining perfection, or the source of our self-worth, without a roadmap of how to detour it. Though I wish I were a master at this, I am still in my very early years of evolution. After all, even as I near my 50s, I’d spent far more time chasing unattainable perfectionism, than I have growing past it. With each day and each experience, however, I create new neuropathways to replace the magnetic hold perfectionism holds over me. My journey has involved a significant amount of reflection, yes, understanding, also…but what’s helped the most is recognizing how often I’d attached my self-worth to perfectionism. Having recognized and named those instances, I would be given an opportunity to reframe my point of reference. For example, as a general dentist, I have always loved endodontics. Currently, at least half of my day is spent diagnosing pulp disease, interpreting CBCTs, and performing root canal therapy. I have spent a significant amount of my continuing education hours dedicated to endodontics. There are days that, despite my best efforts, utilizing the proper disinfection and sealing techniques, my endodontic fill might not look ideal enough to grace the pages of a textbook. Not every fill has a puff of sealant past the apex.

Take a look at this case. After gathering diagnostic data, I was able to find that the lower bicuspid had two canals. Under magnification, I was able to locate the additional canal. The working length x-ray looked like the files were dancing, which made me ‘oh so happy’—yes, I attached self-worth here. I was able to clean and shape under a rubber dam and was able to fill the canals. But as the final x-ray appeared on the screen, so did a frown on my face. I didn’t see a puff of sealant at the apex, and I saw an air bubble where the GP could have been condensed more ideally. But I caught myself here. When my knee-jerk reflex was to reduce my self-worth on account of this, I recognized it; I slowed down and told myself: “You are attempting to gain self-worth from the way the fill presents radiographically. You have performed the procedure to the highest standard of care. You have taken care of your patient. You have healed an infection. You have attained excellence.” And yes, the self-talk is kind of silly; you don’t have to speak those words out loud. But doing this exercise day in and day out really does change the narrative; it changes perspective, and in time it leads to a lighter, more joyful existence.

I cannot tell you how difficult it is for me to disclose this case and show my results. This is NOT my best work. I fear being judged as an unworthy practitioner. Unworthy of the platform within which I am presenting. Maybe these were also the fears that our colleague and educator mentioned above felt when he first disclosed his seven tries to excellence. I am showing you my imperfect work, knowing there will be sharp comments sent my way, which will be inevitable considering our current societal currents. Vulnerable, anxious, and nervous, I am showing you my imperfect work so that you can gain acceptance for yours: imperfect but excellent.


Wherever you are on your journey as a dental professional, I encourage you to take a deep breath and release the weight of your pre-programmed, decades-reinforced, carried perfection. Embrace your imperfections with self-compassion, humility, and understanding. Leave behind the endless journey that began in the youthful corridors of academia. Remember that your work, even with our craft’s technical nature, is a reflection of your humanity, not a measure of your worth. Embrace yourself and your work as perfectly imperfect, with steadfast dedication, and not as the unachievable absolutes we have been conditioned to chase. Unveil a reality where you gain ground, moving from self-criticism to grace and self-compassion. A reality with more fulfillment, more purpose, passion, and more gift to those in your care.


Dr. Maggie Augustyn is a practicing general dentist, the owner of Happy Tooth, a faculty member at Productive Dentist Academy, an author, and an inspirational speaker. She obtained her Doctorate of Dental Surgery from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Augustyn is passionate about reading, researching, writing, and speaking on topics that encompass the human experience, including our struggles, pain, and moments of vitality.

Maggie Augustyn, DDS, FAAIP, FICOI

Her personal mission is to inspire individuals to embark on a journey toward a more authentic self-actualization. She has a notable presence in the media and is a frequent contributor to Dental Entrepreneur Woman. Dr. Augustyn takes great pride in her role as a contributing author to Dentistry Today, where she publishes a column titled “Mindful Moments.”

She has also been featured on various podcasts and is a sought-after national speaker, emphasizing the significance of authenticity and self-discovery.

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