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How do I build confidence to be able to tackle more difficult cases?

How do you build confidence in treating more difficult cases? This question comes up many times during our curriculum, and in many occasions during our teachings, we talk about the process of going from consciously competent to the process of becoming unconsciously competent.

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That process requires several steps. And when you go through that process, when you reach the steps of being unconsciously competent, that's when you have the confidence to handle any particular case in general. One of the things that I'd like to recommend for you is to start with simple cases. Don't skip any steps. But when you get through that process, what's important is discipline, and discipline comes in many ways.

Step 1: The Complete Examination

The first stage is to do a complete thorough examination. Don’t skip steps. Make sure you examine the TMJ. Make sure you examine the muscles. Make sure you understand what type of occlusal scheme you're dealing with. And the idea of completing the examination correctly is to really determine whether your patient is stable or unstable. We know from our teachings from Dr. Dawson that if the patient is unstable, that is a requirement to pursue further records by taking photographs, facebow, a centric bite, and also proper impressions.

Step 2: Treatment Planning

The next step in developing confidence is to go through the treatment planning process. That requires you to go through the 2D checklist, as well as the 3D checklist. Sometimes students are tempted to skip steps, and when you get to the end of the 3D process, things start to change, and you only realize that until you get into the clinical situation. And that's really the wrong time to start facing fears.

My suggestion would be to not skip any steps regardless of how simple the case is or how difficult a case may be. The idea of building confidence is to be consistent, and that's another part of being disciplined. 

I have a phrase to share with you is that familiarity breeds content. And what that simple means to me is that once you start this process, you will start to see similar cases, and those cases become very easy to diagnose and very easy to comprehend.

That is the beginning stages of confidence. You will experience this throughout your career. And the best part is when you reach that level of being unconsciously competent, you won’t look at a case that's difficult . You'll just look at it as a case that you can take care of.

Step 3: Improve your techniques

The last thing that I would recommend in building confidence is to simply take good digital photographs, especially earlier on. And the most important part about taking photos is consistency, but even more so important is to critique your own photos.

I would recommend maybe looking back from a year ago or even two years ago. Look at your photographs. Look what you could have done better and continue to improve. As you improve your photograph techniques, you will start to realize that things become a little bit more well understood, especially when you go through the 2D and 3D checklist.

So I hope these suggestions help you to build confidence. Remember, discipline, start with easy cases, and don’t forget to take great photos.

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Picture of Dr. Neeraj Khanna

Neeraj Khanna, D.D.S. is a senior faculty member and study club leader at The Dawson Academy. Dr. Khanna also owns his own practice, Khanna Dentistry, in Geneva, Illinois, which provides comprehensive dental services, including cosmetic and restorative dentistry.