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A Michigan dentist worried her career choice might limit her creativity. Instead, she's found a way to embrace creativity and put it to use improving her profession and the health of her community.
Calling someone a blabbermouth isn’t exactly complimentary. But for Susan Maples, DDS, MSBA, a 30-year clinician based in Holt, MI, the expression takes on a whole other meaning.
That’s because this year Maples published BlabberMouth! 77 Secrets Only Your Mouth Can Tell You to Live a Healthier, Happier, Sexier Life. It’s a book whose contents benefit both patients and dental practitioners alike.
“We’ve started to recognize the scientific evidence in the links between oral health and systemic disease—all that we could tell by looking in the mouth,” Maples explains. “So while [the book is] written for to educate the public, it really works well for dentists and dental teams.”
No Wasted Creativity
When Maples was young and began developing thoughts of a career in dentistry, her parents tried to talk her out of the idea. They felt she was more creative than she was analytical, which Maples admits is true, and that dentistry would be a waste of her creativity.
“While most parents would be so proud that their kids are interested in medicine or dentistry, mine were like, it’s just going to be a waste of your talent,” Maples recalls.
They also said her hands were too cold, and her stomach made too many noises—all the characteristics that would not make her a good dentist. And for a while, about seven years into a successful dental practice, she began to think they might have been right.
“I was quite bored,” she admits. “I thought maybe this was not going to work out for me to do every day.”
She returned to school to obtain an MSBA, and was contemplating pursuing a PhD in organizational development when her brother developed a temporomandibular joint and muscle (TMJ) disorder. Wanting to fix the problem for him, Maples took a course at the Peter Dawson Academy and that’s when the light bulb came on.
“When Pete spoke, I felt I went to the mountain and Moses delivered the tablet,” Maples says. “I had a big, huge epiphany that there was so much more, and I had a few more mountains to climb.”
Ascending the Mountain
Maples began applying her organization development leadership knowledge, as well as some innovative business techniques, to her practice. Her book BlabberMouth! was just one result from those efforts.
“Oral disease impacts systemic disease, and systemic disease gives early warning signs manifesting itself in the mouth,” Maples says. “This is the future of dentistry. The problem is, only 1-2% of dentists we estimate are doing anything regarding dental health. And 90% of what’s in the book, dentists don’t know.”
Along the journey Maples also developed the Hands-On Learning Lab Kit for children. This educational tool grew not only from her love for children, but from illnesses she experienced as a child.
“I was born a pretty sick kid,” she recalls. “And one of my parents smoked two packs a day. I spent three months in an oxygen tent, and then was hospitalized seven times under the age of 12 with pneumonia.”
But at age 13, an internist turned her life around. She asked Maples what she would be willing to do to be able to stop taking medications and life a normal, healthy life.
“I would do anything,” Maples recalls answering.
The internist left the room, then returned with a small piece of bubble wrap. She had Maples hold the bubble wrap and told her it was her lungs. That the tiny sacks of air were where the oxygen was kept, and the walls were where the muscles were located that carried oxygen to all of her cells. Then she challenged Maples to exercise for 30 minutes a day.
“There was no way I could do that, but she coached me through it,” Maples says.
She joined her school swim team, which became a high school championship team four consecutive years, and then started running track. She recognized the power children have to heal themselves.
“We see these kids every six months for what we call a preventive relationship, yet we’re not preventing much,” Maples says. “So we’re trying to really affront obesity and diabetes and heart disease in children by using hands-on science experiments in every single visit to help kids learn, just like I did, indelible memories of what they can accomplish.”
Mind Over Matter
Maples says she hasn’t taken all these initiatives for the accolades. Rather, it’s for the bigger picture.
“If every single one of us doesn’t roll up our sleeves and get busy in this healthcare crisis, we’re going to have a country that flops on our own dime,” she says. “And it’s frightening to me, but also uplifting that we can watch people take command of their own lives and start feeling younger and more energized.”
She also walks the walk. She enjoys skiing, both on snow and water, snowboarding, running and weight training, among other activities. She exercises daily, and when asked how she finds the time, she says, “It’s mind over mattress at five in the morning.”
She also hasn’t forgotten the lesson she learned at age 13 from her internist.
“I would not be in position to have the influence I have, not even close, had it not been for that doctor when I was 13 years old,” Maples says. “That was a huge gift she gave me. And this is my turn to give back.”
Today Maples says when she reflects on her career she feels she has hit the jackpot. So much so that her son feels intimidated by how much she loves her job.
“He’s never once heard me complain about work, and he knows that’s not the norm,” Maples says. “The most important thing to me personally is the impact I’ve had on the people I work with; the lives that have been changed as a result of my team members learning and growing, and participating not just with their own families, but the work that they’re doing with patients. Dentistry has truly been my job and my hobby. So I’m very blessed.”