You know, if I had the ear of every single general dentist in the world, there’s so much I’d want to tell them.
Well, I might not be able to reach every dentist, but I can reach you, because you’re right here reading this!
So there are a few super-important things I want you to know:
- You can have more free time and more profit in your practice.
- There are some things you need to teach your patients to empower them.
- Your root canal game might need some work. (Sorry not sorry.)
I recently had a chance to talk with Dr. Kristen Donnelly of Abbey Research about all of this and more as we dive into my FAVORITE topic, saving teeth.
This is a great interview for anyone to listen to — patient or dentist — but I’ve written out some highlights below with YOU in mind!
Dr. Kristen: Why is saving teeth so essential?
Dr. Sonia: There’s a reason why we are born with teeth. We shouldn’t just take them out.
For me, it ties back to my own personal tooth story. I had a toothache when I graduated high school, and nobody could tell me where the pain was coming from. They played eenie meenie minie moe and pulled out a tooth… and it was the wrong tooth. I was born without 8 permanent teeth, so I didn’t have an abundance to go around. It really had an effect on my body. It honestly limited my ability to function.
Our mouth is the gateway to our body, and our teeth are what bring in our nourishment and our hydration and allow us to lead a long and healthy life. And since *most* of us have 32 teeth (looking at myself here as an exception!), we all have 32 chances to need a root canal, or to be put in a situation where we may need to save our teeth. Once it’s extracted, it’s gone, baby. I want people to be better advocates for themselves, their bodies, and their oral health. It’s important that people know how to navigate their dental options.
Dr. Kristen: I think your specialty is a little mystifying to those of us who aren’t a part of it. A lot of patients don’t feel comfortable asking dentists questions or advocating for themselves.
Dr. Sonia: When a general dentist recommends a patient’s tooth is extracted, I’d honestly encourage that patient to push back and ask, “Why? Why does this tooth need to come out?”
PSA for dentists: I’ve learned over time that some teeth are taken out that really could be saved. I want to challenge you to think about your own beliefs about which teeth can be saved and which can’t.
I really believe that encouraging an awareness of my speciality is often step number one for education, both for general dentists and their patients.
Dr. Kristen: Okay, so what is an endodontist?
Dr. Sonia: We are root canal specialists, aka tooth savers. Once your tooth gets infected or diseased, we remove that infection or disease and save your tooth. Cuz there’s nothing better than your own tooth! There’s so much our teeth do for us, and I really think they’re undervalued.
Dr. Kristen: I totally agree. I want to bring up something you mentioned in a talk I heard you give earlier, which is the best protocol for a tooth that has fallen out.
Dr. Sonia: General dentists, how often are you having this discussion with your patients? I really, really, REALLY encourage you to share these tips with them, because no one teaches anyone, especially parents of kids, what to do in the event of tooth trauma. (By the way, you can download my free tooth trauma infographic here, print it out, and give it to your patients!)
First, I encourage you to paint the picture for your patients.
It’s a beautiful spring day. You and your kid are in your backyard jumping on the trampoline. You’re having a good time, everything’s normal, and then all of a sudden, you land wrong. You tumble to the trampoline, and your child takes your knee to their face. Their front tooth gets knocked out.
Reassure your patient that this can happen to anyone. It’s not because they didn’t take care of their tooth, so it just fell out. It can be because they can hit the pavement or took a baseball to the face, or any number of unexpected things.
Let’s get back to our story.
First, you might want to panic. And then you might have heard to find the tooth, put it in a bag (or some milk) and go to the ER.
The milk will buy you some time, but the science tells us that if you can get the tooth back into the socket within 30-60 minutes, you have the best prognosis of saving that tooth. Don’t rinse it with water (though you can dunk it in milk). Don’t scrape off the junk, just handle the crown (not the root!) delicately, put it back in, then go straight to your dentist or endodontist. They’ll help you save your tooth and save your smile!
Seriously, download that tooth trauma infographic and share it with everyone! Please help me spread the word.
Dr. Kristen: Did you always know you wanted to be an endodontist?
Dr. Sonia: As an Indian-American, I was told that I had to be some form of doctor. My mom was a physician, and I saw their lifestyle, and I didn’t want it for myself. And I knew I wanted to give my children a different experience of childhood.
So I picked dentistry! That way, I could be my own boss, I could make my own hours, and I could have more control over my life. Plus I was always in the dental chair, so I knew what it was like to be a patient. So I married the two and picked dentistry.
My own tooth story really impacted me. I could never forget it. It kept coming up throughout dental school. That’s what ultimately pushed me into my specific specialty.
I started my own practice, though not out of choice. I couldn’t find a job fresh out of my residency, so I chose starting my own practice over being unemployed! But you know what? No regrets.
Dr. Kristen: Tell me how you’re trying to fill the void in people’s knowledge about endodontics.
Dr. Sonia: For me, it’s education. There’s a lack of education. It’s not malicious or intentional, but there’s a lot to learn in dentistry. Dentists get a two-week crash course in endo in dental school, and our requirements to graduate are two to five root canals. And that’s it, and we’re allowed to do it. And it’s a very technique-sensitive procedure.
General dentists, this is some tough love right here, but you need to know it. Fifty percent of what I do in my practice is fixing root canals that were already done. And that has led to root canals getting a horrible reputation.
So here’s what I want to encourage you to think about: How can we make better decisions? How can we make better diagnoses? How can we help our patients love and trust us as dentists? How can you as a general dentist understand your boundaries, and how can you expand them?
My BHAG — Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal — is to decrease global healthcare costs for everybody, and that’s related to this. Because by the time a patient has come to my practice, they’re investing five grand on a tooth! What if, instead, the general dentist was able to perform the root canal properly the first time, or they knew their limits and referred to me straight away?
Dr. Kristen: It’s been an absolute delight to have you on the program! How can dentists follow you for more tooth stories and endo tips?
Dr. Sonia: You can find me in all the following places:
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me!
Where will you go from here?
Dear reader, are you still there? I hope you’ve learned something and gained some new perspective. Sometimes it’s helpful to see what’s going on on the other side of the referral slip.
I hope you are starting to see a few things:
First, that dentistry is a gift, and you can mold your career to fit your life, not the other way around.
Second, that your patients really could use your expertise and help. They may be intimidated about asking questions, so please encourage and empower them. And teach them — like what to do when their tooth falls out!
And third, even if you think you’re a root canal pro, you might benefit from some continuing education. It’s not your fault, it’s just the way the dental education system is. But if you want to up your root canal game, if you want to learn where your limits are, or you just want to get better at diagnosis, I want to be your mentor. Click here to learn more about E-School.
I want to leave the last word with you! Let me know in the comments what you learned, or any new ways you’re thinking about dentistry because of this interview. I want to hear from you!