Going to the dentist isn’t everyone’s favorite errand, but as we all know, a good experience can make all the difference. For dentists like Dr. Amanda Rafi, a dentist has the power to be a fixer, a friend and even an inspiration — and that’s why she’s our Dental Health Partner of the Month.
Dr. Rafi owns and operates three different practices alongside her husband in Orange County and Riverside, California, as well as in her hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona. She says she owes it all to her own formative experiences with going to the dentist.
After graduating with honors from the University of Arizona and earning her Master of Public Health at A.T. Still University, she obtained her Doctor of Dental Medicine degree at the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health. It was during this time that she met her now-husband and business partner, Dr. Ryan Baker. After graduation, the two set off to his home state to build a successful and flourishing practice out of Tustin, California, where she specializes in cosmetic and family dentistry.
What made you want to become a dentist?
When I was younger, about 12, I wanted to be an orthodontist because I just had gotten braces and I really thought it was so interesting and creative. I got interested in it from there, and then I got into dental school and I realized that I really like all aspects of dentistry. So, I didn’t specialize — I focused on cosmetics and things like that, but I love to do it all! I do crowns, bridges and root canals, and all of it’s really fun to me.
What do you love about being a dentist?
Just helping people. I think the biggest thing is making sure that people feel comfortable. When they come to the dentist, people tend to feel very uncomfortable. I don’t know if a childhood experience or what really contributed to that, but when they get here I try to make them feel as at home as possible and make sure that they leave with a smile at the end of the day.
I think communication is a big part of that, and so is making eye contact. Just talking to them like a normal person and not using big dental terminology is a big thing. I noticed when I shadowed other dentists that they used big words that someone who didn’t go to dental school probably wouldn’t understand. That makes people more uneasy because they don’t know what it is.
I always try to show patients the x-ray or take a picture inside their mouth and put it on the big screen to show them. Being visual myself, I think it’s beneficial for people to see it that way.
What’s the biggest challenge of running your own practice?
It’s really hard making sure that all 10 employees are on the same page and that we’ re a team always. [Employees] can either make the practice or break it. My biggest challenge is just making sure that we’re always moving in the right direction.
How has the pandemic affected your practice?
COVID completely changed our practice. When COVID hit back in March, we had to shut down for two months and that was a big hit on our business. Even when we opened back up again in May, people were scared to come back.
We had to convey to everyone that we’re taking the same precautions as a hospital. We have the same N95 masks, the face shields, the goggles, the gloves and we’re keeping everyone six feet apart and taking their temperatures before they come in. Everyone’s really cautious with gloves and masks and everything — that’s just normal [for dentists].
We’re trying to make people as comfortable as we can with the whole situation, but it was hard to get patients to come back, to tell you the truth. People were scared to go anywhere.
I’m hoping it gets better. More and more people will be getting vaccinated and we’ll still keep working through it to make sure that when patients come in we’re able to meet their needs.
Tell us a little about how you stay connected to the community.
Previous to the pandemic, we could do a lot more volunteer work. We do anything we can and always try to stay involved in the community. There have been golf tournaments and charity work. We also stay involved in our city council and sponsor a baseball team.
I’ve been doing community work since before dental school. Giving back has always interested me, but now we’re fortunate enough to have what we have, so giving back is really important to me. The whole practice is involved. We do everything together.
What have your hobbies been like in this past year?
We got a dog during quarantine! He’s a cute little Maltipoo, and he’s that brown cinnamon color like a little teddy bear. His name is Charlie and he’s just been so much fun this whole time. He really lights things up! He just turned one, so he’s still kind of a puppy.
Also, I’m honestly really into 90 Day Fiancé. It’s a reality show and it’s really good. I’ve been binge watching it. There’s so many different seasons, but I’m almost caught up. It’s nice to be away from our reality for a little bit!
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself when you were first starting your career?
I would say to always try to be confident and just remember to do the right thing. If you always do everything by the book and make sure that you’re doing everything the right way, it will always work out.
In honor of Women’s History Month, can you tell us about a woman in your life who has inspired you?
My mom always showed me how hard she worked supporting our family and keeping us all together. She showed me that family comes first and that you can work hard and play hard. She’s an engineer who worked for Motorola, and she’s built a lot of our homes and some shopping centers. She even built the house that we grew up in! Lots to look up to there.
What are your goals for the future?
Opening more practices! We’re hoping the next one will be in Arizona. My whole family is still out there, and we’re usually there every other week. My family has always been there supporting me and my husband, too. I’m very grateful for everything I have.