Dentists are Tooth Carpenters, Dental Hygienists are Gum Gardeners

by Dr. Joe :) · 64 comments

Tooth Carpenters and Gum Gardeners

Do dentists belong on a pedestal? Be prepared for some Dental Philosophy today.

Putting Dentists Up on a Pedestal

Do dentists belong on a pedestal?

I’m going to be totally frank with you. Strip away any pretense – the doctor-prestige and professional posturing – and you’ll discover Dentists are basically tooth carpenters and Dental Hygienists are gum gardeners.

Some Dentists will HATE me for saying that. They’re caught up in the whole white-coat-doctor thing and enjoy their lofty position up on that pedestal.

I call that Dental Elitism. That’s where a Dentist begins thinking they’re pretty darned special. They’ve forgotten that they’re just a fellow human beings with a specific set of skills to help you.

Here I come along to pull back the curtain and reveal that the Great Oz is just an old man with a microphone… That us dental folk are just tooth carpenters and gum gardeners.

Revealing the Secret Behind The Great Oz

Secrets of the Great Oz revealed... from The Wizard of Oz (1939)

By the way, dentists can be Smile Artists as well as tooth carpenters if they have that certain knack for Smile Artistry. That’s a story for another day.

Now I promote my office as prestige, because it’s a beautiful place. But really I’m just a regular guy with some dental skills. The only thing that really matters is whether I can help you or not.

In my last post on Dental Sins, I talked about the sin of doing too little. Today I’ll be revealing how lack of emphasis on prevention can be devastating for you.

Old-Style Dentists – Emphasizing Carpentry

With old-style dentistry all the focus was on carpentry and the gardening was neglected.

dentists working like mini-carpenters

Dentistry is carpentry in miniature Art by Dr. Ian Davis of London England

By gardening I’m referring to Hygiene Services. I like this analogy because it comes down to removing the noxious weeds before they can take over the garden.

With the old-style approach, dental care was reduced to reacting to Dental Emergencies and outbreaks of disease.

Way back in 1985 I took over the practice of Dr. Don Anderson. He had started up from scratch back in 1950.

Like most dentists back then, Don was a tooth carpenter. He didn’t haveΒ  a hygienist so he would clean everyone’s teeth himself. He saw patients every 30 minutes for a checkup and would often squeeze in a filling as well in that time.

Don was a good man, he provided decent dentistry, charged ridiculously low fees, and never did anything unnecessary. Don’s only Dental Sin was doing too little. In this case, neglecting the preventive aspects of dentistry. How good of a job could he squeeze in during 30 minutes?

He wasn’t alone. Most dentists of that era took a similar approach. Also, back in those days people weren’t very good at home care. Dental Caries (cavities) ran rampant and severe Gum Disease amongst adults was the norm.

People were losing their teeth left right and center. You would be considered lucky if you kept your teeth long enough to lose them all to Gum Disease.

The lesson from that? When prevention is neglected, dentistry becomes a game of chasing the inevitable onslaught of disease. A game where you the patient are the inevitable loser.

Pay attention to the gardening so you can AVOID more of the carpentry.

Here’s the thing. Old-style reactionary dentistry is STILL the default path today. If all you take is a reactionary approach, losing teeth can be expected in the future.

A key part of a Dentist’s role is to raise the bar on level of care.

Leave the Standard of Care up to a patient and most will set the bar far too low. They’ll sink to the old style where they neglect the gum gardening and end up struggling along the Path of Pain as disease gains the upper hand.

With the Dental Sin of doing too little, a dentist can sit back idly and allow patients to self-destruct. That way they can step in and profit from the tooth carpentry work to be done. I talked about that in Dental Pain Exploiters – dentists who take advantage of pain.

The emphasis should be reversed. Pay attention to the gum gardening so you can AVOID more of the tooth carpentry. The less dentistry you have, the better off you are.

New-Style – Dental Hygienists Rule

The focus of new-style dentistry is on optimal health and care.

It means we spend a lot of time and effort helping people stay healthy, and it’s working.

To achieve that, dentists need to break out of tooth-carpentry-mode. They need to set the bar higher on Standard of Care and change the emphasis over to Prevention Services.

None of that happens on its own. Dentists and hygienists have to become LEADERS to make good things happen.

dental hygienists can be called gum gardeners

Gum Gardening - hug your dental hygienist!

Believe it or not, the total production from our hygienists exceeds that of our doctors almost every day.

That’s unheard of.

What’s the big deal? It means our hygienists are doing a great job.

We spend a lot of time and effort helping people stay healthy, and it’s working. We pay attention to the gum gardening so you can avoid the tooth carpentry.

Every day I get to tell people, “Everything looks great. Keep up the good work!”

Wouldn’t you rather be hearing good news like that?

What dental news are you getting lately?

Stay healthy and keep smiling!
Signature for a Toronto Cosmetic Dentist.

Dr. Joe πŸ™‚

Dr. Joe Bulger

About the Author: is a West Toronto dentist. He’s also the founder of Royal York Dental – a respected dental clinic serving Etobicoke since 1950.

Leave a Comment

{ 61 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Paul Novak June 28, 2010 at 10:54 am


Good piece Doc. I think a part of the problem with preventitive services is the cost. People associate dental work with expensive procedures and completely forget how much money they stand to save by keeping up with regular care. What costs more, a cleaning and checkup ever few months, or a root canal and several fillings?

I live in Fla so my chances of visiting your office are pretty slim, so I can go ahead and praise my own dentist. Aside from being very skilled at dealing with nervous nellies, he’s more than fair. I had worried that a filling was coming loose, so scheduled a visit. He gave me a checkup and found everything ok, had his hygienist do a quick cleaning, and sent me out the door without a bill. In and out in 20 minutes.

2 Dr. Joe :) June 28, 2010 at 12:10 pm


Great comments Paul. What you said about prevention is so true. Your best defense against big dental bills is solid prevention. Cures can cost big bucks.

Regarding your dentist, he sounds like a great guy and that was very generous of him. My only concern is he’s diminishing the value of hygiene services. Give something away for free and people start thinking that’s all it’s worth.

Anyways, he deserves a link so go ahead and plug his name if you like.

3 Roxy June 29, 2010 at 12:38 pm


I like this article. It got me thinking about my past visits as a child. I always had a hygienist, but back then, I still always thought of the actual Dentist as being my leader in keeping my teeth & gums healthy.. In more recent years, I’ve come to value the information sharing that my hygienists have been providing me with. I look to them as “Dental Gods”, in keeping my hygiene up to par!

4 docDMD June 30, 2010 at 9:15 am


Oh so the gums are important? lol πŸ™‚

It is amazing how we forget, that we can’t build on a faulty foundation, I guess basic priciples are often forgotten. Healthy gums equals healthy mouth and the rest will follow.

5 Dr. Joe :) June 30, 2010 at 10:35 am


Thanks for your comments πŸ™‚

“Healthy gums equals healthy mouth and the rest will follow.”

You’ve summed it up nicely!

Faulty foundations? I’m not so sure. Dentists are a pretty conscientious bunch of people and most of us build our practices on solid ideals and good intentions.

Of course good intentions don’t always amount to great results. The problem is we take pressure from all directions, making it hard to uphold quality and integrity.

Consider all the financial pressures of paying off loans and running a dental office. There’s also the constant allure of doing dental tricks for money. That can make us drift off course… Patients are often resistant to treatment, especially preventive care. Many are in financial stress and less accepting of a doctor’s guidance… Insurance coverage is has diminished… Building a great support team is a never-ending challenge, including top-notch hygienists.

With so much pressure, it’s easy to give in and let services drop down to a reactionary level.

6 The Duties of a Certified Nursing Assistant July 21, 2010 at 12:38 pm


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7 Vic July 30, 2010 at 2:10 pm


Interesting Article, good post! Very detailed and informative, great work!

8 Felicia @ No deposit poker August 12, 2010 at 3:38 am


I like this article, wish I could visit your clinic. Here in Asia, many people do not make it a habit to go to their dental hygienists (if ever there was one) or their family dentists. The major reason is the expenses. Most do only visit when there is severe tooth pain or any major problem with the teeth and gums. I know many people who advised me to gargle water with salt when I had bleeding gums, and thankfully it worked, but I still had to visit my dentist when it reoccurred.

9 Dr. Joe :) August 12, 2010 at 7:43 am


Hi Felicia. That reactive approach to dental care that you describe happens everywhere. And like you said, money and culture are big factors. Ultimately, dentists must LEAD people to a higher standard of care because people by nature are passive about dental services. EXCEPT when they’re in pain.

Joe πŸ˜€

10 Dentist Waterloo August 17, 2010 at 11:55 am


This is good article. We all know the fact that dentist are the carpenters of our teeth or our oral health. Thanks for this article for giving us the knowledge or reminding us that the sole protector and carpenter of our teeth are dentist.

11 Dr. Joe :) August 17, 2010 at 8:42 pm


Hi Waterloo. As dentists we easily see the analogy of carpenters and gardeners. On the other hand, our patients never really pay much attention to our little universe. They just see us as bad guys slinging dental drills instead of 6-shooters.

OK, maybe not as bad as that.

Whenever I tell patients “Dentists are carpenters and hygienists are gardeners” they chuckle, because they immediately get the connection.

Joe πŸ˜€

12 Rohit@Ask experts August 24, 2010 at 5:46 am


Its amazing that the new way in which the Dental Care experts handle the problems is so different than the old age one’s. Also, the point that Prevention is better than Cure is noted and proper hygiene of the gums is maintained beforehand!!

13 Dr. Joe :) August 24, 2010 at 7:27 am


Hi Rohit. New ways of dental care? Actually, I think of it as a return to the old ways. People taking care of people. Integrity, respect, contribution – those sort of values. It’s leadership.

We all get dazzled by whiz-bang technology. What really counts is doing the right thing and doing it well.

Joe πŸ˜€

14 Online Stock Brokers India August 25, 2010 at 2:17 am


Its amazing that the new way in which the Dental Care experts handle the problems is so different than the old age one’s.I like this article. It got me thinking about my past visits as a child. I always had a hygienist, but back then, I still always thought of the actual Dentist as being my leader in keeping my teeth & gums healthy.. In more recent years, I’ve come to value the information sharing that my hygienists have been providing me with.

15 Emergency Dentists Grants Pass August 28, 2010 at 3:24 am


I like the comparison or the equation dentist=carpenter and dental hygienist=gardener. And your reference to dental elitism couldn’t be more true.

16 Austin Dentist Guy August 28, 2010 at 11:20 pm


You are nice in information with good pictures.I have never thought that surfing online can be so much beneficial and having found your blog, I feel really happy and grateful for providing me with such priceless information.

17 Porfolio Mangement India September 9, 2010 at 8:36 am


Its amazing that the new way in which the Dental Care experts handle the problems is so different than the old age one’s.I like this article. It got me thinking about my past visits as a child.You are nice in information with good pictures.I have never thought that surfing online can be so much beneficial and having found your blog, I feel really happy and grateful for providing me with such priceless information.

18 Dr Joe :) September 9, 2010 at 8:01 pm


Thanks for your message. Good dentistry has always been about good prevention. Find a dentist that helps you stay healthy and avoid the dental chair.

Joe πŸ˜€

19 designer knockoffs September 13, 2010 at 12:33 am


thanks !! very helpful post!

20 Los Angeles dentist September 13, 2010 at 1:53 pm


There are a few cases when dental elitism is a positive such as a few patients who want to feel like the dentist is definitely in charge and knows what he is doing. But, for most people, they don’t respond well to being talked down to verbally or non-verbally, so thanks for pointing this out.

21 Dr Joe :) September 15, 2010 at 7:32 am


Thanks for your comments. I’ve learned to approach things as cards to play. The confidence card, the caring card, the smart card, etc.

When I was young, I tended to overplay my strength – the smart card. It’s a big turn-off. Now I hold that in reserve (except when blogging) because people already assume I’m smart as a dentist.

What most first want to see is caring. Is this guy a jerk or a decent guy? That’s called the beer test, as in “Would I sit down for a beer with this person?”

Other important cards to play early are authority and social proof… Is this person an expert in their field? Have other people had positive experiences dealing with this person? It all goes towards building credibility, confidence and trust.

Joe πŸ˜€

22 Poker Test September 20, 2010 at 1:08 pm


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23 Lea@Manhattan cosmetic dentist September 22, 2010 at 7:38 am


Great post with interesting content. Keep up the good work πŸ™‚

24 Dental Marketing, Dental SEO September 26, 2010 at 3:29 pm


Hi Joe,

I have spoken to many dentists and marketed their blogs and websites, but this is the first time, i am seeing such self depreciating views from a dentist!

Maybe, some of the dentists who place themselves on a pedestal should learn from you!


25 Dr. Joe :) September 26, 2010 at 4:48 pm


Thanks for your comments Abhishek. I really don’t see it as self-depreciating. I just see pretentious posturing as counter-productive.

I write to be helpful and contribute to those looking for insights to the dental world. Others remain stuck on self-promotion and that’s to my advantage. He (or she) who contributes most wins.

Joe πŸ˜€

26 Cna training September 29, 2010 at 10:55 am


I have always had a morbid fear of getting to the dentists, but i have a big hole in one of my molars. pls what are my options. thank you

27 Dr. Joe :) October 1, 2010 at 6:03 pm


You always have these options
1. do nothing
2. find someone to fix the situation
3. find someone to pull the tooth out

Taking action involves finding someone to take care of you and then deciding upon a suitable treatment plan. Fixing a hole in a tooth might be a simple thing. Might be complicated. You could be into a variety of scenarios, all depending on how bad the situation is.

My suggestion is to get it looked after sooner rather than later.

Joe πŸ˜€

28 best rated web hosting October 3, 2010 at 6:28 am


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29 cherryll May 13, 2011 at 11:38 pm


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30 Dental Magazine July 19, 2011 at 10:19 am


I love your great analogy of carpentry and hygienists. I agree with you that dentists are smile artists and we are their masterpiece; complementing each other is a nice idea to remember and to enjoy life with a smile.

Anyway, I think it’s time for a website πŸ™‚

31 loan help August 26, 2011 at 1:59 am


Hello There. I found your blog the use of msn. That is a very smartly written article. I?ll be sure to bookmark it and come back to learn more of your helpful info. Thanks for the post. I will definitely return.

32 Kate@Dental Implant Cost September 12, 2011 at 5:16 am


Very well documented post also the pictures you used is nice one. I don’t think after reading your blog no one will avoid dentist or hate dentists.

33 K Radtke October 25, 2011 at 5:18 am


This is a great tip on Prevention Dentistry. Our Hygienist is an important part of our practice.

34 Sarah @ dental hygienist programs November 3, 2011 at 2:53 am


It takes years and years of college and practice to become a dentist. I think they are pretty special people. A lot of them forget why they wanted to become a dentist in the first place which was to help people. They shouldn’t let their prestige get in the way of that.

35 Dental Hygienist Schools December 2, 2011 at 7:16 pm


What I like most about this article is its honesty and objectivity. I have never heard of the analogies used and think it is great. I am going to link to put up a link to this page… thank you!

36 dental care products January 11, 2012 at 9:26 pm


I had a great time reading your blog. I adore all the dentists out there after reading your post. It made me think that caring your home is more likely taking care of your teeth. A good foundation plus a proper care result to healthy teeth.

37 Shine@Door Knock Services February 5, 2012 at 2:58 am


Dentists are a big help when it comes to maintaining our teeth. But dental visits are not only “scary”, they cost a lot too. So preventing tooth decay or gum diseases by practicing dental hygienic practices that are advised by the dentists can minimize our dental visits.

38 Mark@cna certification May 8, 2012 at 3:06 am


yes really Dentists are Tooth Carpenters

39 Mallory@payday loan direct lenders June 21, 2012 at 12:23 pm


I like the valuable information you provide in your articles.

I will bookmark your weblog and check again here frequently.
I am quite sure I will learn plenty of new stuff right here!

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40 Robert Esmund July 3, 2012 at 8:40 am


It is certainly true that prevention is better than cure, but going back 40 years or so much less was known about gum disease and the big problem facing most dentists was repairing the damage from dental decay in the post-war years when sugar intake was high and oral hygiene low. Dentist were well trained in the “carpentry” aspect of repairing teeth because it was necessary, and after all, a carpenter can always throw away a piece of wood and start again if it goes wrong, but a dentist has to get it right first time every time. It is time now though, to turn things around and let dentists spend more time on educating patients how to look after their gums as well as their teeth so that less actual intervention is necessary.

41 Dr. Joe :) July 3, 2012 at 8:54 am


Well said Robert. You’re absolutely right that years ago, the carpentry aspect of dentistry was the main focus. Nowadays, prevention is more emphasized. A prevention-oriented dentist actually needs a larger patient base to stay busy, because all those healthy patients don’t need as much work.

42 Mike@Cavities July 4, 2012 at 6:53 pm


I’ve had a great time reading your post. It is not only informative but it’s also enjoy to read. In our oral care, we need both carpenter for our teeth and gardener for our gums, just like your terms in your post. Our teeth and gums are like domino. When the teeth is damaged, the gum can be damaged too, and vise versa.

43 Dentiste le Havre July 9, 2012 at 2:53 pm


One more good post, full of great informations !!
Found your blog this evening and bookmarked it.

Congrats from France !!

44 Mary July 17, 2012 at 1:17 am


There’s nothing wrong being teeth carpenters and tooth gardeners. Those who engage in Dental Elitism are missing out on their actual roles about dentistry, hence probably causing dental sins.

45 Jessica July 28, 2012 at 2:07 am


thank you for bringing to light the importance of regular hygiene visits! as a hygienist, I typically battle with explaining the importance of hygiene to patients (many of whom believe they don’t need to come in until there’s a problem, and are unwilling to come in for preventative care), and it is both heartwarming and refreshing to hear some support coming from a dentist. thank you!

46 Dentist Rebecca Schmorr August 24, 2012 at 10:46 am


I definitely love the title. I have no problem being called a carpenter of teeth. πŸ™‚

47 Dr. Asha Gurz October 4, 2012 at 6:48 am


I completely agree with you on this, the fact remains that professionalism (i.e. Love for money) is the primary focus now then socialism. Good information!

48 Dr. Joe :) October 4, 2012 at 7:21 am


Dr. Gurz, perhaps you’re thinking of capitalism when you say “love of money”… For the word professionalism, a “love of excellence” comes to mind.

Thanks for your comments.

49 Weight Loss October 30, 2012 at 11:36 pm


Hello! I hope you don’t mind but I decided to publish your web site to my online directory website. I used, “Dentists are Tooth Carpenters

50 Dentist@Raritan Dentist November 3, 2012 at 10:31 pm


I pride myself as a dentist who tries to keep people healthy. I don’t look to take a “carpenter” role and fix problems, but instead fix the problem because it needs fixing…. AND discuss with my patients how to prevent it from happening again. We should all be proactive about dental care and not be reactive to it.

51 monsieur maison November 26, 2012 at 8:03 am


Another problem during that era of dentristry you were talking about with the dentist you succeeded, was that back then (from what I’ve been told by my parents), the fillings were made of metal, which included toxic materials like mercury. My mom has been replacing hers from back then and slowly ridding her body of the toxicity that has been plagueing her for years. Luckily, most dentists no longer are allowed to use those sorts of amalgams. Is it crazy that they were allowed to use them in the first place? It baffles me.

52 Tate December 5, 2012 at 6:44 pm


I love this breakdown between a dentist and a dental hygienists, so true.

53 Mike Pedersen December 14, 2012 at 4:33 pm


I love your realism to this post. You being a dentist yourself, this is a humble post that should resonate with all dentists reading it.

The titles, “smile artists” and “tooth carpenters” is dead on.

This is a quote for all dental practices to use…

“When prevention is neglected, dentistry becomes a game of chasing the inevitable onslaught of disease.”

Well said Joe!


54 Wendy Davis January 21, 2013 at 4:16 pm


Thank you for all for this information, it was very useful. I was wondering if you had any suggestions for a dentist at an affordable price?

55 pole adams February 11, 2013 at 2:45 am


It`s true that dentists are the carpenters of teeth but mostly people are afraid to go to them because they are afraid that if he says to take the teeth out or some thing..

56 Varun February 17, 2013 at 10:55 pm


People are more scared of Dentists because of the age old fear put into the minds of people that dentists are horrible evil doctors who cause just pain.
People are more scared because of the fact that sharp instruments are being used in such close proximity to the face and that they can see n feel what’s happening

57 belmont dental chair April 19, 2013 at 2:20 pm


Its a great expression for dentists. Many people hate dentist , I wonder why…? They are our dental protectors.

58 Jenny H. August 14, 2013 at 11:49 am


Great article. I don’t remember having seen my dentist in years, but every time I go in for a cleaning, the dental hygienist is there. Quick question, though: they always inject an anti-bacterial liquid into my gums every time and they charge me $55 to boot. Are they ripping me off?

59 Lyn August 27, 2013 at 7:30 pm


You sound nice wish you were my dentist,mine has an over rated opinion of himself,and he isn’t polite,how he expects me to keep going back I don’t know you catch more flies with honey.

60 Michelle Isidor January 21, 2014 at 7:17 am


I admit dentist are more recognized than hygienist. But I think both are doing great jobs in helping patients who suffer from oral health problems. I am just hoping that dentists will be more considerate on the prevention for cavities rather than just pulling those decayed tooth, don’t you think? But you can always go to the best Dental laboratory for dental restorations.

61 Dental 3D printers November 15, 2016 at 5:21 pm


Very nice name of an article! I am very happy to read about how important the dentist’s job is because I’m considering to study odontology. Now I’m working in a dental company and it was so interesting that I decided to become an actual dentist! Thank you for showing me the reality which really motivates me to strive for my goals!

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