In 2021, I was honored to be the very first person KaVo Kerr interviewed for the KaVo Masters Podcast. I sat down to talk about diagnosing pain, the transformation of my endodontic practice, and the development of E-School, my suite of unique endodontic training courses for dentists.

Listen to the Full Podcast Episode

If you’d rather read the highlights, I’ve pulled together a few parts of the conversation I think you’ll find most interesting and instructive. 

2023 Update: I can’t believe it has been two years since this interview! I wanted to revisit this conversation, and add my current perspective to the conversation. Always keep growing, my friends!

Before we dive in, I also want to thank Benco Dental for highlighting me on the back cover of their Surgical & Endo Quarterly as the first ever KaVo Master. I literally came home from a trip after the podcast recording to find my own face in my mailbox. Thank you, Benco Dental!

Alright, let’s dive into the podcast interview and my 2023 perspective!

Can you tell me about owning your own practice?

2023 Perspective:

I am now in my 15th year as an endodontist, and it’s amazing to think about how much I have grown in that time! I have changed so much as a practice owner, and I have truly created the practice of my dreams. It has an amazing culture with a proactive team I love, and it is so efficient that I make more now working only 1 day a week, than I did working 5 days a week in the beginning.

The truth is, it has taken a long ass time to get this far. So, I am curating my best tips into mentorship opportunities and courses on the business of dentistry, so you can achieve practice bliss much faster than I did! Sign up for the waitlist here. 

2021 Answer: 

I just had my 12th anniversary as an endodontist, but you might not know I first practiced as a general dentist! 

I was a general dentist in New York City after I did my GPR in Brooklyn, and I honestly could not fill my schedule. There were no full-time positions available, so I worked at a bunch of different practices to fill my week. In two years, I had nine different jobs. When I did finally find a full-time job, there was no opportunity for growth there — which went directly against one of my core values of growth. 

I knew, as an associate, this kind of life wasn’t for me. So I returned to school for my endodontic residency and ended up starting my own practice in Charlotte, NC in 2008. 

Now looking back, I kind of wonder how I did it! There have been a ton of ups and downs, but honestly, I wouldn’t change any of it. It has totally grown me personally and professionally, and I needed to go through that to be where I am today.

Remember, they don’t teach you business practices or visioning in dental school. I had to learn both of those skills, become vocal about it, and have invested in my colleagues and teammates along the way. I want work-life balance for myself, for instance, but I also proved to my team that I was really interested in helping them fulfill their own personal dreams, too. Culture is so important — and when you stop believing that you’re the only one who can do everything, and instead empower others to do things even better than you, your whole business thrives and grows.

Tell me about E-School, the first online endodontic training course of its kind.

2023 Perspective: 

E-School is thriving, baby! At this point, we have had thousands of dentists enroll in E-School Independent and E-School with Coaching, my 5-star, award-winning online curriculum. 

Plus, E-School LIVE has been going strong for several years now. In this unique event, a small group of dentists comes to my practice in North Carolina and gets direct mentorship from me as they perform up to 4 root canals on live patients that have been hand-selected for them.

LIVE has been so popular that I have recently opened up E-School One-on-One. It’s similar to LIVE, except that you’re the only dentist in attendance, so you get all of my attention, mentorship, and support. Apply for E-School One-on-One here.

2021 Answer:

This is where I made my passion my job. I became really passionate through dental school about my own tooth story. And once I started practicing as an endodontist, I saw my same tooth story among my patients. This happens when general dentists don’t know how to diagnose endodontic pain. After all, most dental schools only have time to give students a crash course in endo.

I believe endodontics is the basis of dentistry, mainly because patients seek us out when they’re in pain. So we need to learn how to diagnose pain well, and this requires an evolution of our dental education system. 

And I’m a go-getter! So I believe that evolution begins with me.

I took basically everything that I’ve learned in my decade plus of experience so I can fast-forward general dentists through the mistakes that I made. Because — think about it — we’re making these mistakes on people, and we got into this field to help people.

Everything I use in my practice — like templates, forms, tips, and tricks — is now part of E-School. It’s like a mini-residency in endodontics. Even better, I give my students lifetime access to the content so they can continue referring back to it and picking up something new.

I also know that different students like to learn in different ways. So E-School Independent is designed to allow you to DIY the course, with modules from diagnosis to obturation and beyond. But I also know there’s only so much you can put into a video, so that’s why I offer E-School with Coaching. That’s where I’m in the program with you, to help troubleshoot your specific questions.

Best of all, E-School with Coaching students are eligible to attend E-School LIVE, a unique 4-day hands-on endodontic CE course hosted in my own practice in Charlotte. At E-School LIVE, my students get the chance to perform root canals on live patients, with me standing by for in-the-moment mentorship and support. I’d love to encourage you to apply for E-School LIVE, since seats always sell out fast! One of my favorite things about E-School LIVE is the fact that it’s a give-back program. We provide approximately $50,000 of free dental care to the community with each event.

How have you engaged in your own continuing education?

2023 Perspective:

Growth is one of my top personal values, and I haven’t been skimping out. Not only have I been taking care of my own CE and jumping into learning opportunities with excitement, I have been diving into communities.

On the dental side, I absolutely love the Mommy Dentists in Business group, which has been a goldmine of friends, connections, and powerhouses in dentistry. Another great community I’ve gotten involved with is the Women in Endodontics Summit. I co-led the inaugural event in 2022, and I’m co-leading it again this year because it was so transformative.

I’m also a huge believer in the power of personal growth, so I have focused a lot of energy on cultivating these relationships and opportunities, as well. For example, I have been attending MindValley events like A-Fest for a few years now with my husband. I have learned so much and had my eyes opened to possibilities I never imagined before. At the Summit at Sea event in 2023, I got fired up about impact entrepreneurship and what kind of impact I want to create.

2021 Answer:

I am a constant learner, personally and professionally. Once I started investing in myself personally, I grew professionally.

In 2015 and 2016, having just had my third child, I was on the verge of burnout. I wasn’t the best communicator or boss at that time, and I realized I needed to make changes in my own life.

I started listening to podcasts, learned how to be a better leader, read books, and started exploring how to be vulnerable. This really allowed me to grow.

What’s it like becoming a board-certified endodontist?

2023 Perspective: 

Being board-certified is still a big deal! I was actually the first female endodontist to be board-certified in Charlotte, NC. It certainly improves my credibility among my peers, but I’m most grateful for how much it stretched me.

Preparing for board certification made me review everything I learned in my residency, and it taught me the value of repetition in learning. This is why I encourage E-School students to review the curriculum multiple times, and why I give them lifetime access to the program. Sometimes we need to hear something multiple times for it to sink in.

It’s also why I created E-School LIVE—because sometimes you have to do it with your hands, and experience it in-person, to solidify a concept!

2021 Answer: 

It’s kind of a big deal! I got boarded in 2014. There aren’t that many of us; perhaps about 15 percent of endodontists. You take a written exam, an oral exam — which was probably one of the scariest days of my life — and create a portfolio of cases. 

These aren’t just your everyday root canal cases, but there are some specific criteria you have to meet for it to be an accepted case. And the kicker is, you have to have a one-year recall after the case, so you need to get the patient to come back for that visit. 

It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. There’s something beautiful that comes out of re-learning everything, and it gave me a new layer of confidence to build E-School and to talk to my patients.

Tell me about A Night for Smiles.

2023 Perspective: 

I remain so proud of A Night for Smiles, the gala I co-founded to help address dental needs in the Charlotte community. The event is on hiatus right now, and we aren’t sure when we will bring it back. However, we raised more than $215,000 to benefit dental nonprofits that are local to me.

I also give back through every E-School LIVE session. The low-cost root canals we provide to members of the Charlotte community total over $150,000 in free dental care each year.

2021 Answer: 

This is my pride and joy! Back in the day, I used to watch The Real Housewives, and one of the housewives would throw a huge gala charity event. I thought to myself, “We don’t have anything like that in dentistry in Charlotte.”

One night, I went to dinner with my colleague, Dr. John Nale, an oral surgeon in Charlotte. I told him about my idea of a party with a purpose over our meals. He loved the idea, and within a week he’d booked the venue. Today, A Night for Smiles is a fundraising gala with a silent auction and a live auction benefiting local dental needs.

In our first year, we built a mean, lean committee that raised enough money to donate $75,000 — and in our second year, we raised $140,000 — all for the Charlotte community’s dental nonprofits.

Let’s talk about money. How has it played out during your career?

2023 Perspective: 

Money is energy, and it allows me to invest in talented people, modern endodontic technology, and my own personal growth to become a more compassionate leader.  In addition, it empowers me to take risks, like creating more E-School programming, my new business mentorship programming, and patient resources. I am grateful to money for providing for my family and me, and I exist in a relationship of flow and abundance with it. 

I still believe that, if you keep the vision front and center, the money will come as a natural byproduct. My end goal in being an endodontist, instructor, and speaker is not to make bank. Instead, my goal is to save more teeth, and share the importance of giving teeth a chance with people around the world.

Now, it’s not all about meditation and mindset. I am a data nut, and I believe in the power of systems, workflows, and processes. By becoming efficient and optimized in both of my businesses, I am able to have a larger impact. This is a lot of what I am teaching in my new business educational offerings.

2021 Answer: 

I don’t really think about money so much as my time and my impact.

My currency is root canals. So I think, “Okay, I could do that root canal quicker and easier than that other task, like clean my house. I’d rather spend eight hours doing eight root canals. If I do just one extra root canal, I can pay for someone to help me with my house cleaning!”

But let’s go back to year one. I know that it’s often harder at the beginning. And my experience was no exception. I didn’t take a salary my first year. And then, my goal was to keep growing, with higher numbers each year than the year before. 

It’s easy to get caught in the production and collection, but that’s not where all your numbers are. The moment you start to understand you need to create goals and stretch goals, you’re setting yourself up for growth potential you didn’t even know you had! And that leads to you hitting goals you never thought you could.

If there’s anything I would have done differently, I would have actually built my practice bigger. People don’t realize how big they can get, and they think small in the beginning. I did, and now I wish my practice was twice its current size!

How did you set up your practice? What have you invested in?

2023 Perspective: 

Everything I answered in 2021 is still true. And also, I have invested in myself and my own growth and leadership skills. 

In the early days, most of my team members were unengaged and I had high turnover. I thought they were the problem. The truth is that I had to serve myself a slice of humble pie and really examine my own leadership and communication styles.

I learned that I was leaning hard into my masculine energy, which is the energy of doing, pushing, achieving, and competing. In the last few years, I have discovered how to lead from a place of flow, trust, cultivation, vulnerability, and release. 

All of us can tap into masculine and feminine energy, regardless of our gender. A healthy balance of the two is crucial for success.

It has made all the difference. Not only is my team (both at my practice and within my educational business) a dream to work with, I like myself even more and feel like I’m absolutely on the right path for me.

2021 Answer:

In the beginning, I knew that I simply had to be available to make my practice work. I took any and every case I could, and I really hustled. I went to every dental meeting there was, and I got my name out there. That helped catapult my growth, from one patient a day to seven or eight.

Patient feedback was really key to me growing my practice. I always wanted to make sure my patients felt loved, cared for, and like they were being treated with excellence. And then they’d pass along that feedback to their dentist, and that allowed the referrals to keep coming in.

My growth was fast, as a result. In fact, I needed an associate after two years.

But it wasn’t just about how to fit more patients in, but how to become more efficient. One of the main ways I did that was to invest in technology, like my cone beam. It’s one of those secret ROIs that aren’t obvious, because it really changed my life. (Honestly, I can say the same thing about the GentleWave!)

I also believe in quality, and that’s why every handpiece I’ve ever touched since my endodontic residency has been from Kavo Kerr. They have been flawless and reliable from the get-go. I use the ELECTROmatic, and here’s a quick tooth story about that. I had to disassemble a tooth with a cast post and core. So I had to cut off the crown and then literally drill the cast post down enough to where I could vibrate the post out. Usually, that eats up 15 burs. But with my trusty ELECTROmatic, it was like butter. What normally would have taken me a full hour to get out instead took me only 15 minutes.

Any time I can rely on my equipment to get me through, and keep me from being down an operatory, I’m preventing loss of production. So investing in technology really makes a difference!

Let’s wrap it up.

2023 Perspective:

It blows my mind that I wrote back in 2021: “Everything comes down to your beliefs. When you have limiting beliefs, that will limit you. And when you change those beliefs, everything will open up for you.”

This year, I was honored to be the cover feature for Dentistry Today with an article titled, “The Technology of Belief: You Are Capable of Saving ‘Unsavable’ Teeth.” That entire article is about our beliefs, and how we need to believe that we can save natural teeth through endodontics in order to actually follow through and give teeth a chance. It’s wild that I was on the exact same wavelength two years ago.

But belief goes beyond endodontics. It affects the boldness of the risks we take, our willingness to admit that we don’t know everything and learn more, and the impact-driven people we are able to become.

Who are you becoming, my friend?

2021 Answer: 

I want to leave you with this thought: everything comes down to your beliefs. When you have limiting beliefs, that will limit you. And when you change those beliefs, everything will open up for you. I’ve experienced this over and over again in my career, and I know it’s true for you, too.

I hope you’ve had some other great takeaways, like…

  • The importance of investing in yourself, your technology, your team, and your vision.
  • Giving back is something you can do, especially if you have a great team.
  • Endodontic training courses are one of the most important investments any dentist can make in their career, and for their patients.
  • Think big and strive for excellence, and you’ll go far.

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– Sonia