The Invisible Wall

I’ve been thinking about average lately. In my over four decades of dental laboratory “experience” I’ve seen lots of average; average dentists, average patients, average dental techs, and average dental work.

I can find no clearly defined borders to average. Is it the middle 50%, the middle 25%, the middle 80%? In 1977, in a forward to Dr. Peter Dawson’s book Evaluation diagnosis and Treatment of Occlusal Problems, Dr. L.D. Pankey said about dentists, “It has been said, and I think with generosity, that the general practitioner’s index of competency is as follows: 2% are masters, 8% are adept, 36% are students, and 54% are indifferent.”

I don’t think Dr. Pankey’s estimation is exclusive to dentists. I suspect that those percentages apply to many professions, including ours.

The Invisible Wall of Mediocrity

I have been training dental technicians in PTC technology for the last ten years. During that time I have been observing the phenomenon of “hitting the invisible wall”. This invisible wall is the point where no matter how many seminars we attend, how many books we read, no matter how many gurus we watch, we just don’t get much better. It is not something we talk about much, but it comes up in training.

Some don’t realize they have hit the wall. They equate increased information with increased ability. That is not always the case. Have you ever attended a seminar, and learned lots of new information and new techniques? Then you went back to your lab, applied them to a few cases, and eventually went back to the way you always did it? I believe most of us have.

The wall is not obvious. It is something that over time you begin to feel.

Tearing Down the Wall

If experience or education was the answer to breaking through, many of us would have already done it, but it isn’t. If the solution to breaking through was widely known there would be no excuse for average, but it isn’t. As it turns out, this wall is held in place by something that is so obvious that it itself has been rendered invisible. When spoken about, it is mostly dismissed.

We at PTC know why the wall is there, and more importantly, how break through. The answer lies in gaining the ability to recognize and perfect FUNDAMENTALS. This word, fundamentals, is used and discussed as though it is really understood. But when asked what fundamental means, most people will say “basic”. When asked what basic means, you hear, “well… fundamental.”

Let’s take a closer look.


Definition: Fundamental
An essential or necessary part of a system or object. Serves as an original or generating force; being the one thing from which others are derived. Webster’s Collegiate

This definition applies to a person, a department,or an entire lab. Look at the words in the definition…essential part, original, meaning the source or beginning, generating force, the one thing from which others are derived, meaning where everything starts from and what drives the creation of.

When one is missing or doesn’t understand the fundamentals of a subject, project, or job, they will at some point have difficulty no matter what their experience level.

Copying and Creating
The Difference Between Mediocrity and Excellence

You might ask, if we all have missing fundamentals, how are we able to do our jobs so well? The answer is simple. Have you ever traced a picture? Pretty easy, right? It’s easy to make a duplicate of something when you copy the original and it isn’t necessary that you know how to draw.

In the absence of fundamentals, we copy. Over the shoulder training is mostly watching and copying. If you are good at duplicating what you see, in time you will able to make a coping, a crown, or a six unit bridge, from memory. But the moment you come across a case that requires something you haven’t seen before, you’re stuck; you have nothing to copy from. The only thing wrong with the technician who keeps asking what to do next is that he doesn’t have anything, in memory, to copy from. They get to a certain point based on the memory of past cases, and then run out of pictures to trace.

Lack of fundamentals is the source of mediocrity. That is a powerful statement but I believe it to be true. Let’s take a look at the reverse; when the fundamentals are known, and are understood.

With the fundamentals of a subject known, the result is no longer copying, but creating. When you have a case in front of you, you already know what it will look like when it is completed. Furthermore, you know exactly what steps you need to take and in what order, to create it. You don’t need to ponder and wonder how you are going to do something.

If you know the fundamentals of posterior anatomy, you can envision the final anatomy before you start the case. When you know the fundamentals of waxing. You know the exact steps to wax a crown, including the proper wax, proper waxer temperature, you can predictably and quickly wax the highest quality restoration.

When you know the fundamentals of anterior anatomy, you know exactly each labial feature and where they are placed to achieve the final esthetic result.

Unknown Ceramic Fundamentals

In training we have observed unknown fundamentals in most students concerning porcelain application.

Long standing techniques used and promoted by senior technicians and even schools and manufacturers as “the way to do it” often obscure or prevent closer inspection.  We have found in teaching our advanced layering course that many if not all our students have unknown fundamentals in Porcelain Mixing, Brush Selection, Moisture Control, Shinkage, Application, and Procedures.

To summarize, truly knowing and understanding the source of a procedure or technique and how it effects every action that follows it is understanding the fundamental.  As I said before, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.  What I’m sure of though, is once you are able to recognize the source of your knowledge doors open up and increased creativity and quality become effortless.

Master the Fundamentals with PTC Training

If you feel you are stalled in your career, if you have a need to produce higher quality, if you need to improve your productivity, or have anyone in your laboratory who you know would benefit from PTC’s bottom to top training, give us a call.

Whether you are a beginner or seasoned technician, PTC provides affordable training opportunities in Crown and Bridge, Porcelain and Dentures for everyone.

See you on the other side.

Jim Mahan, CDT


About the Author

Add a Comment