FYI

Dentist blog from Delta Dental

Category: Community (Page 1 of 4)

See how Delta Dental supports its local communities through the Delta Dental Community Foundation, and discover what network dentists are doing to serve their local communities.

Dentist spotlight: Dr. Dean Salo

Early on, Dr. Dean Salo discovered he had a talent and passion for working with his hands. This has enabled him to improve oral health in distinctive ways as a dentist.

“When I was a kid, it started with model making,” he said. “I used to love buying those kits, putting together different model cars and painting them. I had to have a scalpel and a paintbrush, and that was my passion for many, many years.”

Such skills in analysis and design ran in his family, as both his father and sister were engineers.  “I looked at dentistry as a part of medicine that has a lot of engineering,” Dr. Salo said, “and the kind of dentistry I practice has a lot of reconstruction and engineering. My big passion is building things.”

He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from UCLA and at age 24 earned his DDS from the University of the Pacific. A Los Angeles resident since early childhood, he started practice at the Personal Dental Office in Beverly Hills in 1992.

Fourteen years later, he took over the practice and became a hands-on working owner. He envisioned managing a thriving patient-focused practice.

The vision: A multispecialty practice

Today, Personal Dental Office is a state-of-the-art dental care center. Dr. Salo works with business manager Renata Kruk to manage a practice that delivers personalized services and care to patients.

“With Renata helping me,” Dr. Salo recalled, “we became one of the few multispecialty practices around, where patients could come in and see an orthodontist, or an oral surgeon, or a general dentist, or a hygienist, and they wouldn’t have to go from office to office. Our staff specialists were able to communicate with each other very well, because we had one chart where every specialist could record findings to share with the others.

Ms. Kruk, a full-time staff member since 2004, noted that the well-equipped office has computer screens for patients to view dental work in progress, and it showcases the latest digital and scanning technologies.

“We have a 3-D CAT camera that takes a video that we email to our lab,” Dr. Salo explained. “We’re able to mill restorations for both natural teeth and implants, and we make nightguards out of video-imaging – which is three-dimensional impressions – so we don’t have to take a physical impression.”

The focus: Knowing the patients

Dr. Salo’s Personal Dental Office is set up to give “very individualized, personalized care” to patients, Ms. Kruk described. The dentists and staff take time to get to know their patients, not just as clients but also as people with unique concerns.

“We are a large family practice that basically accommodates everything for the patients,” Dr. Salo said. “And we want to know everything about the patients, because the more we know, the more we can fit into their lives, and the more we know what to provide for them.”

June is Pride Month, and from the start, the Personal Dental Office has offered a safe, compassionate, welcoming environment for all patients, including LGBT community members.

“We’re open and accepting, HMO or PPO, race or gender, sexual orientation, open and welcoming,” Dr. Salo said.

A dental school student in the 1990s, Dr. Salo recalled his experiences working with patients at the University of California, San Francisco Hospital during the AIDS crisis.

“As a young dentist, I watched people suffer from HIV periodontitis and immune diseases, so I was trained and comfortable in treating any kind of immune disease that came along,” he said. “At that time, a lot of people with AIDS didn’t have a lot of places to go to get dental care, and they would come to dental schools, because a lot of private practices were too afraid to treat them.”

Afterwards, when he started his practice, he focused on state-of-the-art sterilization and disinfection procedures, and established comfort levels with patients. “The main thing was authenticity,” he pointed out. “I wanted patients to tell me what was wrong with them, tell me about themselves and their lifestyle and about what’s important to them. With Pride, you get to know the patients and let them feel comfortable with us. We tell them about us and let them tell us about them. In this way, we can serve and keep this relationship going.”

The environment: Calm and stress-free

Sensitive to patients who have “dental-phobia”, Dr. Salo makes sure his team takes steps to alleviate anxiety during treatment.

He has an anesthesia license and, through calm demeanor, he and his staff “build confidence through painless procedures”.

If gentle techniques don’t work, the office accommodates patients with more severe anxiety. For 20 years, a certified anesthesiology group has provided customized treatment. “Our staff is trained to deal with patients who are dental ‘chickens’, like myself,” Ms. Kruk added. “We have fun working with them, and 98 percent of our patients’ nerves are soothed here.”

The art: Perfecting the smile

The challenge of creating beautiful smiles has inspired Dr. Salo in his skillful work as a dental architect.

“It’s part of our first attraction,” he said.  “When you see a beautiful smile, it’s the pleasure of a conversation. You know this person has nothing to hide and is confident, and you’re ready to open up and discuss things with that person. That was always my incentive, to make patients feel confident.”

Although patients may have different ideas about outcomes, whether to look natural for their age or maybe younger, Dr. Salo takes their information and goes to work “to architect the smile to their desires and to their facial structure.” This involves discussions about tooth length, color, angle, brightness and customization to arrive at what the patient wants.

Although he now focuses his efforts on reconstruction and implant cases, he does collaborate on aesthetics cases with his daughter Madelyne, who joined the practice after earning her dental degree during the pandemic.

“We are different than other offices in that we’re trying to give the patient a trial moment,” said Dr. Salo.

Ms. Kruk added, “We design it and let them try it on and see how they feel, before they commit a whole new look. And we give them an opportunity to wear it and see what the experience is like and how life-changing a new smile is.”

The return to normalcy: Lessons from COVID

The Personal Dental Office has stayed busy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My house became a call center,” Ms. Kruk said. “We were working nonstop, and we were getting patients from other clinics, because doctors were not accommodating patients. We became emergency central.”

Dr. Salo noted one pandemic side-effect boosted patient activity. “Everybody wanted a great Zoom smile. That has been the blessing for dentistry for the last year.”

He looks forward to patients getting back to regular appointment scheduling and care without worrying about office safety.

“I want to see them get their oral health back in place, not only beautiful teeth but healthy gums,” he said. “My number one goal is to reinstate them back into our hygiene department. We will make sure they’re comfortable coming back into the office and know how safe it is.”

The business model: Being authentic

With his accomplishments, Dr. Salo finds the most fulfillment in the depth of relationships, with his family, his community, his staff and patients, some of them with 30-year histories.

“I am very transparent in who I am,” Dr. Salo said. “I’d like everybody to be as authentic as my family. I truly have the longest-serving employees in the industry. Employees who leave will come back. Every one of our employees represents us and represents me. They are happy working with us, and it’s same thing with our patients.

“We want to know how we can help them, if they need a ride, if they can’t afford care, how we can better their lives and how we can fit into their lives, looking at a long-term relationship. It’s not just making you beautiful, it’s to keep you healthy.

Dr. Salo’s Personal Dental Office has a business model matched to his personality. “We are authentic, humble people and want people to be comfortable with who they are. It’s all about your kids and your friends, and doing good work, having happy employees and happy patients.”

Dentist spotlight: Dr. Erin Bang-Crooks

Dr. Erin Bang-Crooks, DDS, knew she wanted to work in the dental industry since she was just a teenager. Passionate about creating meaningful relationships, Dr. Bang-Crooks says that it was the promise of getting to know her patients while maintaining a solid work/life balance that sold her on the idea of being a dentist.

After graduating from Columbia University and a residency in New York City, she sought out a balance between the hustle of New York City and her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. She landed in Alpharetta, Georgia and opened a small boutique practice called Ivy Dentistry — a nod to her Ivy League education.

Now with two decades of experience in dentistry, Dr. Bang-Crooks says it’s still those same values of creating and maintaining relationships that keep her going — and that’s why she’s our May Dental Health Partner of the Month!

When did you decide that you wanted to be a dentist and why?

I’ve always liked the idea of the health care field and being able to help patients, but it actually started during high school when a rep from dental school came by and gave us a talk about the shortage of women dentists back then. They talked about the flexibility of hours and balancing your life and career.

What do you love about being a dentist?

I love my patients and the interactions and relationships. I like the fact that I’m helpful in educating them about dentistry and understanding the importance of it. I’m happy being a general dentist because I get to see them more often than I would as a specialist.

Generally, dentistry allows you to have a relationship with patients over a long period of time. There are not many jobs where you have that kind of privilege. I get to see my patients every six months over many years. It’s the best watching young patients grow up right before your eyes. That’s how you really know you’re getting older!

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to yourself when you were first starting out?

It’s helpful if you know early on what you want to do, but if you don’t, just keep exploring different things until you figure that out. Once you’re committed, just go for it and give it 100%. You’ll just sort of become your authentic self. You can figure out who you are through that.

Most importantly, balance your life. I think if you do too much of anything you can lose sight of other priorities, responsibilities or interests, and it sort of takes over. The challenge in life is to have a nice balance with family, career, friends, relationships. In the end, that’s what it’s about: relationships.

How do you do stay balanced?

It’s a constant struggle. Being a working mom, wife, sister, friend. We wear many hats. Dental health is important, but your overall health is really important. If you don’t have your health, everything is harder to manage. I like staying fit and having a healthy attitude towards life.

We all expire. If you think about that, it puts a lot of things in perspective. When we have hard times, we have to remember that we’re all here and we all have an expiration date, so try to make the best of it. If you think about things that way, that problem that you have might not feel so gigantic. Make the best of it every day.

Do you have any funny stories from the dental office?

It’s HIPAA protected, so what happens in Dr. Bang’s office stays here. My lips are sealed. I have plenty of funny stories, but I can’t tell you.

What are the biggest challenges in the industry?

I think the nuanced language in insurance can be confusing to patients. It can be very tricky. I’d like to see it simplified as much as possible so that anyone could understand it.

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’d love to know more about the AAPI figures that you admire. Who are the people who have motivated you in your life and career? How do you use what they taught you?

For me, it’s just family, especially my father who passed away many years ago. He’s always been an inspiration to me. My brothers and I try to emulate his values. I guess that’s how you know what’s important. Even if someone passes away, they still can have influence over you. 

He was a very simple man. He was the strong silent type and didn’t say much. It was always shown through actions. He valued family and friends and wasn’t pretentious. He was a very moral person, and it was a good foundation for our family.

He walked a lot, too. He walked every day, and now I find myself doing that. It’s weird how it just subtly becomes part of you. I find myself doing a lot of the things he used to do. He was a great dad.

What do you do in your free time? Any hobbies?

I’m into fitness and I like being healthy. I actually have a very inspirational personal trainer named James, who I’ve worked with for about two years and want to give a shout out to. In the beginning, I really hated the strength training part, but I’m beginning to embrace it more.

Personal training comes with a lot of life lessons. It’s not that I enjoy the process, but once you do it you feel stronger and you feel proud because you made it through. You kind of just endure. You can apply that towards life, in a lot of ways. It can be intimidating, but the more you practice and do it, the more you see the value in it.

In some ways, I hope that patients feel that way about dentistry. They can be very intimidated about coming in — they don’t want to be here. But once they get to that point where they see the value, the light switch goes off. These days, everything is quick and easy, but I’m trying to preserve those relationships with my patients. I try to treat them like family and help them relax and slow down a bit.

Now that COVID restrictions are beginning to change across the country, what are you looking forward to this year?

It’s been a difficult time, but at the same time I think it helps you self-reflect. I think this true for a lot of people. It makes you prioritize things a little better. It’s really about relationships. That’s what was lacking during COVID. We physically couldn’t be near anybody. When you’re deprived of something, you realize how much you appreciate it.

I really appreciate the simple things in life. I walk more. I take my time sipping my coffee a little longer. I’m looking forward to having a deeper relationship with the people around me and diving in to make them more meaningful. It starts with working with the people who are already around you.

Spotlight: Travis Tramel, RDHAP

Travis Tramel, Ph.D, MA, RDHAP didn’t always know what he wanted to be. What he did know, however, was that whatever he ended up doing would be rooted in service. He’s spent his life serving others, so when he found a career where he could focus on just that, he knew it was his calling.

Becoming a Registered Dental Hygienist in Alternative Practice (RDHAP) requires special training that focuses on prevention. RDHAPs provide services such as cleanings, sealants and screenings to patients in remote locations or limited mobility. Tramel saw this path as an opportunity to educate and enhance health in his community.

As the CEO and founder of GeriSmiles Dental Health Foundation, a mobile dental hygiene practice in Riverside, California, Tramel works with children of all backgrounds to preach the importance of good oral health and ensure that his community is off to the right start. Now 21 years into his career, he says the same things still make him smile: empowering people with the knowledge and tools they need to better their lives.

What made you want to be a Registered Dental Hygienist in Alternative Practice?

My story is different and crazy. Growing up, you don’t know the different levels of health care staff. You just go to the dental office and get your teeth cleaned. It wasn’t until a recruiter came from Loma Linda, California to our undergrad school in Alabama — Oakwood College, at that time. They told us that in dentistry, you could be a dentist or you could be a dental hygienist.

Everybody wanted to be a dentist because they fix root canals and they fix broken teeth. The recruiter got up and said, “I’m a hygienist and I fix the whole body. I’m the bacteria stopper. I stop things in their tracks before they do damage to something else.” That was a different way of looking at things.

I thought that preventive maintenance was neat. I like being at a point where I could keep you from getting into trouble. I realized that if I could help people by being preventive, I can help them in the long run.

How did GeriSmiles Dental Health Foundation come to be?

When you’re a hygienist, you spend a lot of time telling people, “You need to floss more. You’ve got a 4-millimeter pocket over here. Your gums are still bleeding.” You start wondering if you’re being effective.

I was getting to the point where patients were saying, “I don’t want the education on it. Just clean my teeth and let me go.” When you begin to get those answers, you ask yourself if you’re being heard and if your job is still needed. When you hear that day in and day out, you start burning out. 

I talked to a friend of mine about if after 15 years if I should change careers. That’s when she said, “Why don’t we become mobile hygienists?” She had already done the research. We went up to San Francisco to do a program and my eyes were opened to the actual needs of dentistry, especially hygiene, in the public health sector. 

My practice’s name, GeriSmiles, actually came from “geriatric smiles.” When you look at our aging population, no one is there to help them prevent [dental disease]. When they’re in nursing homes and assisted living, they’re usually in that stage where they’re about to lose it all. You’re trying to fix something that’s already broken. So I started looking at how we can prevent issues that can help them going longer. I was going to nursing homes and hospice homes, but you can only see about eight patients a day.

When it comes to being preventive, we realized that we wanted to do more work with kids. Sometimes parents don’t have time to take off of work to take their kids to a 10-minute cleaning. That’s when GeriSmiles went from “geriatric” to “Dr. Geri.”

In 2017, I went into the school system. Now I focus on eight school districts with our mobile dental programs where we work with K-12. Whoever wants a cleaning gets it, because I believe that if we can help the kids and help the parents understand that a five-minute cleaning can save them. We can find issues and still keep kids in school.

What do you love about your career?

I love that I teach the public about oral health care. I get to meet different people every day and it allows me to be community-minded.

As my own boss, I get to educate the public and go to city council and school board meetings. But, I also don’t look at myself like anybody’s boss. We’re equals. I just sign the paychecks. No work is underneath me, from assisting to billing to hygiene work. All my staff will tell you that I’m in the trenches with them. I help them set up, and I help them break down. We are for the public and we’re family.

What does service mean to you?

Service to me is always helping those who need it most. Even though you think you may not need it, take it. If the service is being offered, utilize it. When we give up ourselves to others, we get blessed by just blessing them. My patients are uninsured or on Medi-Cal — those who can’t pay me. To see the smiles on their faces and help them, it means the world to me.

My family volunteered every weekend growing up. My mother ran soup kitchens and would feed anywhere between 200 and 300 people every Sunday morning. If you were hurting, if you needed clothes, she’d take them off her back and give them to you. Service is in my blood.

My mother was in education and my father worked for the State of Georgia. Sometimes you look at your own situation and you know that you don’t have a silver spoon either, but later you realize that you were helping those who really needed help. Give yourself in order to bless someone else. To me, that’s what dentistry is all about. Patients come to you because they need something or are in pain. In my hands, I have the gift of hygiene and the gift of service. I can always use those to help somebody when they’re down low.

How did COVID-19 affect your work?

On March 5, 2020, I got notified that outside providers were no longer needed on school campuses. I got emails saying, “Hey, we don’t know where this is going to go, but at least for the next two months, there will be no dental services on our campus.”

It was like a dagger that just pierced my heart. I’m looking at my staff of 20 and thinking, “What do we do for paychecks? What do we do for bills?” Your head is spinning, as a CEO.

We used our savings and got a loan, because I wanted to make sure my staff’s households were not interrupted. I helped them through the next two months, until unemployment kicked in. We were blessed to not have to suffer, but they’re my family. They’ve been with me since Day One. They never leave me hanging and it wasn’t time for me to leave them hanging — when we needed each other the most.

Luckily, some of the private schools were still meeting, so we were able to serve them. Preschoolers need to be screened within 45 days of starting school, as well. Since they’re virtual, it gave me the idea to use Zoom to do online screenings until the schools reopen and we can return.

Tell us about a time that made you feel especially proud of your work.

I have a special dental cellphone for patients to call and at 9 pm one night, my phone goes off. I don’t normally have it on that late, but I answered it and they said, “Hi, you were at this school today.” I got nervous that something bad had happened, but she said, “I’m calling to thank you. I don’t know what you said to my son today, but when I gave my son his after-school snack, he said, ‘Mom, I no longer want to eat those. The dentist told me they are bad for my teeth and could cause a cavity.’ I gave him a granola bar instead and when we got home, he ran to the bathroom and pulls out the toothbrush packet he got and brushes his teeth. Then he took the toothbrush and ran to his room. When I asked him why, he said, ‘This is my special toothbrush, and I don’t have to share it!’”

For her son to make those changes immediately made her say, “I am impressed with your program. Please keep doing what you’re doing.”

Now when I’m at the schools, I ask if the kids have brothers or sisters and I give them kits for their family members, as well. You never know who’s sharing or who’s suffering. We are 100% self-funded. If they have insurance, we bill. If they don’t, we still treat them. We treat all kids equal.

What do you do in your free time?

I love to travel and see the world. I want my kids, who are 17 and 13, to see things that I didn’t see growing up… We like international travel and seeing different cultures and how they live. We don’t do touristy things. We like to go into the deep country and really learn about the culture.

We love hiking, cycling, scuba diving, touring and educating. It’s all fun to me!

What’s the best thing you watched in recent memory?

The best thing I watched? Well, you can look at COVID two ways: a downfall or a blessing, because it made you cherish life more. Especially your loved ones. It caused us to sit down and talk to our family members, love them and respect the time we have together. It made us cherish the moment we have now. It’s an opportunity to grow and to change. I think that’s the best thing I watched.

Congratulations to Travis Tramel on being our Dental Health Partner of the Month! You can learn more about his mobile practice on the GeriSmiles Dental Health Foundation website.

Dentist spotlight: Dr. Amanda Rafi

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.

Congratulations to Dr. Rafi on being our Dental Health Partner of the Month! You can learn more about her and her practices on her website and on Facebook.

Dentist spotlight: Dr. La Toya C. Morris

Meet Dr. La Toya C. Morris, our Dental Health Partner of the Month. Dr. Morris was born and raised in Inglewood, California, and attended St. Bernard High School in Playa Del Rey. It was during her senior year of high school that she decided to go into the health care industry.

After receiving her Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry in Nashville, Tennessee, Dr. Morris returned to California and was awarded her California dental license. Today she heads her Los Angeles practice, La Toya C. Morris DDS Inc.

Dr. Morris has sought out the latest trends and developments in the dental field and continually adapts cutting-edge techniques. Her priority is offering family-like hospitality, and her goal is to improve not only her patients’ smiles but also their lives through a great experience and education they can take home with them.

Dr. Morris volunteers her time and experience to organizations that care for underserved patients, and donates one week each year to a health clinic that provides care to the less fortunate. Let’s see what else Dr. Morris has been up to.

Why did you decide to become a dentist?

I decided to become a dentist while I was in high school. I knew from an early age that I wanted to be in health care. I recall sitting on the stairs in our home with my sister and best friend. My sister was reading Black Enterprise magazine, and the issue featured the top 10 professions for that month. My sister mentioned that dentistry was a great profession for women because you could work regular hours and be home in the evening with your family. In other words, unlike a physician, you didn’t have to be on call or spend many hours in the hospital.

How long have you been practicing?

I’ve been practicing dentistry for 21 years.

What is the most rewarding part of your career?

The most rewarding parts of my career are (1) helping people get out of pain, (2) helping patients gain confident smiles and (3) educating patients on good oral health habits to promote excellent oral hygiene.

One of the funniest stories from the dental office?

One of the funniest stories in the dental office is when, after I administered anesthesia to a patient, she asked if I was done. I replied yes and left the room to allow the anesthesia to take effect. In the meantime, I performed an exam in another room. When I returned, the patient I anesthetized was gone. I asked the front office assistant where the patient was, and she replied, “She said you told her she was done.”

We still laugh about this scenario. We called the patient on her cellphone, and I told her that I was only done with her injections and she needed to return to finish treatment. We laughed because the patient told us that all she could think about was treatment being finished. She had to reschedule.

I learned a lesson from that. To make sure patients aren’t confused, I now say, “We’re only finished with giving you anesthesia. We’ll let the medication take effect and I’ll return to complete your treatment.”

What do you consider dentistry’s biggest challenge?

Dentistry’s biggest challenge is getting patients to relax in the dental chair. Each patient is different. Many have had traumatic experiences or have heard horror stories about going to the dentist.

Surprisingly, some adult patients have also mentioned they weren’t brought up going to the dentist and wish their parents had made it a priority. It appears their parents didn’t understand the importance, and these patients realize they could have avoided many of the dental issues they’re facing.

What do you do in your free time?

In my free time, I enjoy hanging out with my daughter and spending time with our family and friends. I also enjoy nature walks, hikes, relaxing at the beach, reading novels, traveling, going to concerts, seeing plays, movies, playing games and eating out.

During Black History Month, we like to ask our partners whether they have a historical African-American figure they admire. Do you have one?

The one historical African-American figure I admire is my dad because he had integrity and was disciplined, hardworking and ambitious. Growing up, I saw these qualities in my dad and how others around him had the utmost respect for him. He was admired, trusted and complimented by many people. My dad had a heart of gold and was loved by all who knew him. Again, as a young child, seeing these qualities in both my parents made me want to have the same characteristics.

The lessons I learned from them influence my work today. I have a huge appreciation for life and want to help others. Getting up in the morning to get ready for work, I know I have a purpose. I like to assure my patients that I’m here for their dental needs. I’m passionate about what I do, and I try to give each patient the undivided attention needed to create the treatment plan that’s most beneficial for their oral care. Most importantly, listening to a patient’s chief complaint and addressing it before proceeding with their other treatment is a priority to me.

My thoughts on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s book Where Do We Go from Here is, as African-Americans, I recognize that we’re very much underrepresented in the dental field. In the past, I’ve volunteered and spoken with students about choosing dentistry as a career, and high school students volunteer in our office to learn more about the field. My doors are open to anyone considering dentistry as a career path. I like to encourage my patients — and everyone else — to consider the dental profession.


We’d like to congratulate Dr. La Toya C. Morris and thank her for her volunteer service. To find out more about Dr. Morris, visit her website.

Dentist spotlight: Dr. Richard L. Owens

Meet Dr. Richard L. Owens, our Dental Health Partner of the Month. Dr. Owens is the owner of Owens Family Dental Care in Destrehan, Louisiana, where he practices with his son Dr. Reid M. Owens.

Dr. Owens served in the U.S. Air Force for several years before graduating from the LSU School of Dentistry. Committed to continuing his dental education, Dr. Owens has received his Mastership Award from the Academy of General Dentistry, which has been achieved by only 2% of U.S. and Canadian dentists.

As a veteran, Dr. Owens believes in serving his community. In 2012, Dr. Owens was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel Dental Officer in the Louisiana Army National Guard, and currently serves as their State Dental Officer.

Dr. Owens has four children, two grandchildren and two best friends — boxers Bacco and Stella. Let’s learn more.

Why did you decide to become a dentist?

As a student, I became interested in the biological sciences and learning about the mysteries of the human body. During my college career, I was fortunate enough to obtain part-time employment as a medical technologist and meet dental students who also were working part-time in a hospital environment. I became quite interested in the dental profession and made the final decision to pursue this career avenue. I was especially interested in the application of science, artistry, and technology in the dental profession as well as the respect and autonomy that defines this profession.

How long have you been practicing?

I graduated from LSU School of Dentistry back in 1981 and have been practicing dentistry for around 39 years.

What is the most rewarding part of your career?

The most rewarding thing during my career is the relationships that I have been blessed with over the years with my patient families. Most of my patients have been working with me for years, and I’m honored and blessed that each of them definitely knows who their dentist is if asked. On a personal note, the most rewarding was the dental school graduations for my son Dr. Reid Owens and his wife, Dr. Stacey Owens.

One of the funniest stories from the dental office?

The funniest issue I remember is a situation in which I had to barter with a five-year-old patient for her to allow me to restore a couple of carious teeth. We made a deal that if she came in on her next visit and allowed me to treat her, then she was to bring in her nail kit and paint my fingernails. Well, she definitely remembered this, and after her treatment was done, she pulled out her kit and went about painting my nails with three coats of three different colors. Mission accomplished.

What do you consider dentistry’s biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge in dentistry involves the education of children and parents regarding the medical necessity of dental health and dental care, as it’s linked systemically to the overall health of the body. People will always seek out care they want, but not care they need.

As a society, we’ve missed the boat regarding public education regarding dental care. We achieve preventive care for only around 40% of the overall population.

Being involved with the military in Louisiana and personally reviewing charts for around 11,000 Army National Guard soldiers, only 35% of the enlisted soldiers in this state have ever been to a dentist for preventive care and actually have a dental home. Dental diseases and maxillofacial pathologies are rampant in this country today.

What do you do in your free time?

Growing up as a musician — I was a trumpet player in bands — I always enjoy concerts, plays, and the arts. I also greatly enjoy the game of tennis and love going to professional tennis tournaments. Of course, the top of my list involves spending time with my family and grandchildren, and my church brothers and sisters.


We’d like to congratulate Dr. Richard L. Owens and thank him for his service. To find out more about Dr. Owens, visit the Owens Family Dental Care website or Facebook page.

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