Are you living the dental dream?

David Keir

Male Dental Practitioner with brown hair, a mask and clear visor is looking at a female patient who is sitting in a white dental chair.

At Dental Practitioner Support we are passionate about supporting dental practitioners’ health and wellbeing at all stages of their life and career. We’ve collaborated with David Keir from the Dental Head Start Podcast to explore a range of topics that affect you. In this first instalment, David explores why dental practitioners may feel unfulfilled in their careers and things they can do to get back on track.

Why is it that people at the top of their game feel unfulfilled, lost and ready to throw years of study or even decades of their career away? I know we have all spoken to a colleague who is immensely skilled but surprisingly seems to be thinking about a career change. Why is this? What can we do to keep ourselves happy in our professions?

The lightbulb moment

When I first see a patient, I like to try and find things in common or topics they like to talk about. It helps them feel at ease and makes the day so much more interesting. 

During a recent check up I was talking to a patient who had been living overseas. I asked how long they been away from home. Turns out my patient had been 15 years in the United States. Obviously, this piqued my interest and we got chatting. 

My 39-year-old patient was a software engineer for Apple living in both San Francisco and New York. To many in the development community, this would have been the dream job. Yet for him, he was planning to leave it all behind. This patient left an impression on me. 

It’s not uncommon to hear that story about people at the top at the top of their game. Someone who has worked hard and achieved their goals, but at some point, their goals change. Although they have indeed achieved what they set out to do, it hasn’t brought them the happiness they expected. Like chasing a rainbow. 

I couldn’t help but think – when your dream becomes your reality, is it no longer your dream? Without goals and a dream to pursue, does our work satisfaction slip away? If this resonates, it might be time to explore the three Ps.

The Three P's

In my opinion, having a positive and enjoyable career is about three key things. 

  1. Purpose: Setting goals and defining the ‘why’ behind these. 
  2. Progress: Achieving these goals gives deep work satisfaction. Leading to a sense of achievement and fulfilment.
  3. Perspective: It will not always be a straight road to success. Take time to reflect. 

Have you taken some time recently to really think about why you do what you do? 

Perhaps you are trying to:

  • Achieve a level of excellence? 
  • Help as many as you can? 
  • Achieve financial security or business success? 

Perhaps you have lost sight of why you are following this career path at all. You wouldn’t be alone. 

Without a genuine purpose, it's easy to feel lost. We may struggle to feel like we’re progressing. Perhaps there is a reason they ask, ’Why do you want to do dentistry?’ in interviews. Our purpose is a guiding light throughout our career.

In my experience as a private practice dentist, we are goal-orientated, driven individuals who are suddenly cast out into small workplaces, siloed and without clear goals. For some, the dream is quickly shattered by a less than ideal reality. Yet most of us got into dentistry to help our patients achieve better health outcomes. If that is part of your purpose, then take some time to focus on that. You could even have a strategically placed sticky note somewhere to remind you. It might even help you get through a difficult day of anxious patients.


I recently read a great article in the New York Times about how people often fixate on the negative aspects of their lives, while glossing over the positives and the progress they’ve made. It turns out having clear, definable outcomes at work can make us all happier.

In the article, Professor Teresa M. Amible said:
‘We found that of all the events that could make for a great day at work, the most important was making progress on meaningful work — even a small step forward.’

I love this idea. I think we can all get lost in the negative parts of our day, or only think about big picture progress without checking off and enjoying some of the smaller steps along the way. If you feel this way, writing a list and checking things off as you go might be a great way to motivate your team and yourself.

Some of us might actually be so focused on the small things that we have stopped setting ourselves bigger goals and that’s why we lack fulfilment. We progressed from DMD1 to 2 and from simulation to real patients. But has the progression continued?

Often the feelings of being unfulfilled arise a few years after graduation. It's a stage where we start to get comfortable and confident in the range of procedures we do, but depending on our goals, sometimes we're actually becoming clinically stagnant. Without the feeling of progress and achievement it is easy to become bored – and then disinterested.

Progress in the form of expansion of clinical scope or standards, practice ownership or efficiency all help improve work satisfaction. Perhaps progress for you is that you now have the time to give back and provide charitable dentistry. 

Also, don’t neglect personal progression and personal goals. Life is a balance of many things. Don't focus solely on work. Achievements in fitness or hobbies can give you the happiness you're after too.


When we're always pushing hard to get where we want to be, it's too easy to forget where we've come from. Just to get into dentistry, let alone survive through it, is an immense achievement. 

Most get into dentistry with a goal to help others and it is an honour to be able to provide the healthcare patients need. Recognise the service you offer your patients and allow yourself to feel fulfilled by it.

When the path takes a turn for better or worse, it is important to reflect on where you came from. When was the last time you gave yourself a pat on the back?

Having spoken with hundreds of incredible dentists, as well as guests on the Dental Head Start Podcast, I can say that we all have ups and downs in our career satisfaction and happiness. Sometimes, the lull in motivation opens a door down a path you would not have expected, but from my own experience, the door doesn't open unless you push on it. 

If you’re the dental practitioner equivalent of the Apple Engineer in the dream job, but are thinking of letting it all go, don't do so before you check in with your purpose, progress and perspective. If the dream has simply melted into a less than satisfying reality, perhaps it's time to move the goalposts?

Get some support

If you have read this article but still feel a bit stuck, it might be a good time to call Dental Practitioner Support. The team is happy to chat and can provide support on a wide range of topics including when you are considering making changes to your life and career. Give them a call now on 1800 377 700.

About Dr David Keir:

David KeirDr David Keir is a general dentist based on the Mid North Coast of NSW. David graduated in 2016 but had already spent over a decade as a dental assistant in different practices. This gave him some insights that he felt gave him a head start. In 2018 Dental Head Start was formed as a blog and podcast to help dental students and graduates transition to private practice smoothly. Anxiety and stress are common in the dental setting and David is passionate about helping both his patients, and colleagues in their early years through these stressful situations.