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What Would I Tell My Younger Self?

AAE President Dr. Alan H. Gluskin

Like everyone who wishes to be called a member of the human species, we are often driven naturally, to try to transcend our limits. On that journey as we live our lives, there are decidedly things that we wish we could go back in time and redo or undo, however you might choose to look back on any issue from your past. Like all of you, I have my own collection of “redos” I would choose to change, if I could. Aside from those very personal reflections we all have in our private lives, one of the most meaningful things I would choose to do over in my public life is involved in the way I sign my name and professional title, in my letters to colleagues and associates. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I am very proud that I can sign, Professor of Endodontics. That was a significant achievement in my professional career and I will never minimize it. Nor were the distinctive honors I have received in Fellowship of the American College of Dentists and the International College of Dentists, whose letters I will occasionally place behind my DDS degree, in my signature. No, my desire to go back in time involves something much more meaningful to me as I have attained this honored leadership position within the AAE, as your President.


The reality of those words has real meaning for me and I can only offer you advice from my own experiences to help you make your own choices in your own lives. When I sign my name, there is a huge void for me in not being able to add Diplomate of the American Board of Endodontics. It’s real ….and I can’t ignore it. Achieving Diplomate status is significant and very meaningful…..and I don’t have it.

Because of my current leadership position within the AAE, I feel it is my obligation to share this with our younger membership. Let me give you a brief synopsis of how I got here and a story I have shared with very few individuals in the last three decades. In no way is my story any kind of excuse for not enjoying Diplomate status. There are no excuses.

Having graduated from my endodontic residency at Temple University in Philadelphia, I returned to San Francisco and after a short association I settled in the East Bay Area of Northern California where I practiced with three partners in office locations including Berkeley and Oakland California. It was the “golden-age” of endodontics in the United States back in 1977,  and I am not exaggerating when I say that about a third of my very successful and busy practice were anterior teeth. We all know those days have long been gone. In that first year out of residency, I took part one of the board exam and passed the written exam. In the following year, as my income grew and my need to get into the overpriced California housing market became an imperative, a home was purchased and school loans were paid. Very normal right? Nothing going on here that doesn’t sound like your average endodontist- USA. The problem is, I am not thinking about my need to assemble and collect cases for the ABE. I am collecting cases, but for the lecturing and teaching I found myself loving to do, one day a week at the University of the Pacific.

Fast forward, 10 years. Upwardly mobile, I’m now in my third home and my partners and I now have three offices. I practice most of the time in Berkeley, Calif.; and we are very close to a major hospital center as well as the University of California. Our patients were the educated and affluent of Berkeley and we were very busy. At that time, because I had partners and associates, when we vacationed, it would always be several weeks to a month. After returning from a month in Asia in January 1988, I started to limp. At first I felt it might have been the prolonged plane trips and sitting for so long or crossing my legs had produced a pinched nerve or dysfunction in my spine. However all my tests looking at my spine came back negative. I put up with that limp for the next six months and at an ADA meeting in Washington D.C. in the fall of that year, while receiving my certificate for being inducted into the American College of Dentists, I dropped my plaque on the stage. At that very moment that I dropped that award onstage, I thought to myself… “maybe we should look a little higher than my spine.”

A week later I was in a neurologist’s office explaining my symptoms and he immediately suggested a brain scan. The brain scan revealed a benign parietal meningioma the size of a small “grapefruit”. My eventual surgeon was a former patient of mine and when he looked at my scan, he laughed! “You did three root canals on me with that in your head!” was his reaction.

So let’s fast forward again, after a year of rehabilitation to gain back most of the motor loss I suffered on my dominant side, I had to contemplate the rest of my life. Private practice was not in the cards because my fine motor loss would not allow me to manipulate an endodontic file, and this was years before rotary instrumentation. I could compensate for 90% of the loss with my alternate hand but my speed and agility suffered. The blessing in this curse was that I had bought, early and often in my career, increasing amounts of disability insurance that covered me for anything else I chose to do with my life except the clinical practice of endodontics. I chose teaching because I could still do endodontics albeit much more slowly which was perfectly normal in the eyes of a novice dental student.

You have hopefully noticed in this rant, that I have not once thought about getting my cases organized and catalogued with all this rehabilitation time on my hands and no worries about income….big mistake.

Well, after teaching part time at the dental school for so many prior years, I was asked to apply for the Department Chair and was accepted in June of 1990. My twins were born six months later. Now my reality was two newborns and a contract that defined tenure and promotion as an “up or out” proposition if not attained in seven years. Again, guess what got put on hold.

I am not telling you this story to make any excuses for not having attained Diplomate status in my career. As I stated earlier, there are no excuses. And for every single one of us….LIFE ALWAYS INTERVENES. But the theme of this President’s message is to communicate something important to our young readership and I could think of nothing more important than allowing you to understand that we all share lives that can get very complicated or even put at risk on occasion. Our own balance in life is always a pursuit of aligning all the various dimensions of one’s own life. Nothing has put us more at risk than this pandemic we are all experiencing now and that will hang over us for the foreseeable future. It is really important to focus on your priorities and while family and security are primary considerations, so is career and demonstrating that you are committed to the highest aspirations within your calling. For those of you reading this message who have attained Diplomate status…I applaud you. For those of you who are still without, I encourage you. We belong to our own special mastery of knowledge and science, and if you choose to demonstrate that mastery to your peers, you will never regret it.

So if truly, our life experience is the best teacher, I feel a responsibility to share mine with you. I am truly blessed by choosing endodontics as my life’s work and career. Not attaining diplomate status, is a hard-learned lesson.

Please stay well and healthy, everyone. Thank you for reading my story.