Meet Dr. Francisca Mojica, DDS, our Dental Health Partner of the Month. Dr. Mojica is a San Jose, California–based dentist whose interest in dentistry as a child has become a lifelong passion.
The founder of the La Amistad Dental office, Dr. Mojica has been practicing dentistry for more than three decades. Fluent in Spanish, Dr. Mojica an active member in the American Dental Association, the California Dental Association and the Santa Clara County Dental Society.
How did you decide to become a dentist?
I first became interested in becoming a dentist when I was in elementary school. My older sister at that time was attending a university for dentistry, and I would look at her notes and challenge myself to memorize the information. When I was in middle school, I would help my sister at her dental office by setting up the rooms for the patients and helping them put on their bibs. I would see patients come into the office with pain, and I knew that this career would be for me, because I wanted to help them feel better. This motivated me to go university and become a professional dentist so that I can help my community and put a smile on my patients’ face.
How long have you been practicing?
I’ve been practicing dentistry for 34 years.
What’s the most rewarding part of your career?
The most rewarding part of my career is when I’m able to give my patients their smile back and they leave happy.
Can you tell us one of your funniest stories from the dental office?
One day I was doing a crown preparation for my patient. I asked him to close his mouth for about five minutes so that the material for the impression I had placed in his mouth could dry up, so he did as I asked. The next step was to make his temporary crown. For this step he needed to keep his mouth open so that the acrylic could dry, but to my surprise the patient thought that he needed to close his mouth and as he did that, he bit down on my finger. I told him to open, but he got confused and didn’t hear me, so he kept on biting down on my finger — ouch! Once he opened his mouth, I went to the sink and ran some cold water on it to help with the pain.
What do you consider dentistry’s biggest challenge?
One of the biggest challenges is for my patients to overcome the fear that they have in coming to the dentist.
What do you do in your free time?
In my free time I enjoy cooking and gardening.
What are you most proud of about your heritage?
I am most proud of the culture of my ancestors, such as the painting, architecture and traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation.
We’d like to take a moment to congratulate Dr. Mojica and thank her for the work she does for her community. To find out more about Dr. Mojica, visit the La Amistad Dental Office website.
The coronavirus pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but it has been particularly tough on the dental industry. In mid-April of this year, for instance, almost 95% of dental practices reported being either closed completely or open only for emergency patients, according to an American Dental Association (ADA) survey. Most practices reported that their practice volumes were less than 5% of usual, and collections were also down dramatically.
While the pandemic continues, many practices have been able to reopen successfully. And their patients are returning. But reopening hasn’t been without its struggles.
Dr. Ray R. Rodig, DDS, owner of the Vintage Dental practice in Modesto, California, talks about the process of reopening, some of the challenges — both expected and unexpected — and offers some tips and best practices for others in the same situation.
For how long was your practice closed?
Almost 11 weeks.
When did you reopen?
May 26, 2020.
Why did you decide upon that date?
We had done all of our research into what would keep our patients and team members healthy and safe at the office. We had a couple of “practice runs” the week before to work out our new patient flow to make sure it was workable, safe, complete and comfortable for patients and team alike. While hard to get, we had all the PPE we needed, our air purifiers and sneeze guards were in place — we were ready to go back to work, and the ADA said it was safe.
What challenges did you face initially?
The fear and uncertainty of both patients and team members — some patients are still not comfortable returning and have appointed out into November and December. There’s also a balancing act with moving our patients through the office, making sure there’s no “traffic jams” — no one coming in contact with each other in the office. And finding and ordering PPE was very difficult. Thank goodness for our local Stanislaus Dental Society! They really helped and kept us in the loop.
Which was the most difficult to address?
Some people — very few — are just put off by having to wear masks. We explain that they’ll only need them entering and leaving the office and that we’ll even provide them, but some folks just don’t want to accept this. We’re patient and understand completely, but we just need to keep everyone safe. No exceptions.
Did you encounter any challenges that you weren’t expecting or that surprised you?
The heat and stress of wearing the extra PPE really surprised us. Just breathing takes so much more energy — learning to breathe with N95s, wearing both scrubs and full-length gowns together. It creates a lot of heat and stress that we didn’t even think about before we started back.
Which challenges have been resolved and which are ongoing?
The biggest challenge we seem to have is letting our operatories sit empty for five minutes. We need a bit more time to turn over the operatories now, which creates a scheduling issue. We’ve resolved this by revamping the schedule, but it continues to evolve daily, as no day is ever the same, and turning over the operatories and taking the extra time to complete a thorough sterilization is a challenge.
I’d also say closing our reception area has been a real process. It’s yet another scheduling issue involving the flow through the office, but our patients understand what we’re doing and why, so it’s really become a non-issue.
And we’re getting used to the hot PPE, but I’m sure hoping this doesn’t become the “new normal.” It’s sure hard to visit with our patients now.
How did your staff react to returning to work? Did any refuse?
Thankfully, our team was ready to come back to work — not one person refused. Some voiced safety concerns in our team Zoom calls prior to reopening, but we answered their concerns, and everyone came back.
What additional precautions have you had to take in your office?
We closed our reception area, and our patients must call and wait in their cars for their appointments — this was very odd for us since we like to visit with our patients, but they seem to understand. We also don’t allow extra persons to come with them unless they have appointments, too. All patients need to answer a series of questions, sanitize their hands and have their temperature taken before we’ll take them to their operatory. Temperatures of all team members are taken as they enter and as they leave each day.
Our team members in the back office wear two masks (one being an N95), a face shield, scrubs and a full-length surgical gown, and most like to wear bouffant caps. Before COVID, we only wore level 3 masks, face shields and lab coats.
We have limited the use of the cavitron, and have external vacuum machines to help suction any aerosols away while in treatment or hygiene; we use Isolites as well.
Our front team wears masks and are stationed behind large sneeze guards, and they’re constantly sanitizing all pens, files, countertops, etc. There’s hand sanitizer everywhere. The office is fogged daily, and we have air purifiers in every operatory.
Additionally, we started using a COVID-19 testing program weeks ago through Pathnostic. We have kits on hand, and if someone isn’t feeling well, has a cough or fever, or has come in contact with someone they think (or know) has been ill or had COVID-19, we have kits in the office that are simple to use, comfortable, and we get results back in a couple of days.
I highly recommend these for safety and peace of mind, and they’re not scary, painful tests. There’s no cost to the office or the person being tested. We’ve tested team members, family members, friends, patients — and everyone is surprised at how easy they are to do, and how fast we get the results back. It’s comforting to know we can find out quickly if there’s a problem.
Have you had to discontinue use of certain equipment or purchase new equipment?
We have limited the use of cavitrons — the hygienists have external suction machines to limit aerosols in addition to air purifiers in their operatories, so we leave it up to the hygienists to decide whether to use it. As far as equipment is concerned, we have really only purchased air purifiers for each operatory and a fogger we use daily at this point. Our office has always been very sterile and safe, so we didn’t have to change or add much.
What kinds of additional expenses have you faced as a result?
The professional installation of sneeze guards was a bit pricey but certainly necessary, and the cost of PPE went through the roof — that’s quite an expense right there.
How do ask your patients to prepare for a visit?
Our front office will call our patients the day prior to their appointment and ask all the same questions that we will ask when they arrive for their appointment. We don’t want them to show up and not be able to see them due to travel, or fever, or coming in contact with someone who may be sick. We ask that they wear a mask, arrive at the time of their appointment, call us from their car when they arrive, and we call them back to let them know when to come inside.
What do ask your patients to do when they arrive?
Our reception area is locked; when they call to let us know they’ve arrived, we let them know that we will call them back when they can enter. Once their assistant or hygienist is ready, we call and ask them to come on in. Our team opens the door, so patients don’t have to touch the door handle.
How have your patients responded?
Some have been a bit confused at first, but 99.99% of our patients are happy we’re working hard to keep them safe and healthy. The .01% that are unhappy about wearing masks are still appreciative of our efforts. Some are pretty amazed at all the precautions we take and have taken some of our ideas to implement in their homes.
Have your patients had any concerns? How have you addressed them?
Their concerns seem to center around safety. Once we walk them through the process over the phone, they understand that each patient is carefully screened and put through the same process they’re going through, as well as our team members. Most are confident by the time they get here and are definitely confident when they leave.
What is your current situation in terms of patient volume? Collections?
We were very surprised at how busy we were right from time we reopened and we’ve continued to stay busy — new patients, patients coming back for treatment diagnosed prior to closure, past patients with new treatment needs — people seem to be excited to be able to get back to keeping their teeth healthy. Our collections have exceeded our expectations, as has the patient attendance. We were pleasantly surprised.
How has this changed since you initially opened?
Our patient flow is much more of a rhythm now — at first it was disconcerting implementing all the new steps, but now it’s a habit and much easier. I’m also blessed with a great team and great patients.
What advice do you have for other dentists in a similar situation?
I’d say everything can be really overwhelming at first, but as the old saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Do your research, figure out what works best for you and your team, find out what is working for other professionals in your local dental community and emulate them.
We thought it would be very hard to reopen, and while it seemed very challenging at the beginning, it became easier sooner than we anticipated. And let your patients know what you’re doing to keep them safe — they’ll appreciate that.
Is there anything you’d caution other dentists about or recommend that they look out for?
I’d make sure that your team knows how important it is to everyone that they practice social distancing in the office.
We protect ourselves from our patients, but once the PPE comes off and we’re with our “office family” we can’t forget that we need to keep our distance from each other. This isn’t the easiest thing to do — we have staggered lunches, plenty of room in our breakroom and wear masks when not eating.
And remind your team about social distancing and wearing masks away from the office. We need to protect each other.
Meet Dr. Marc A. Cirelli, DMD, our Dental Health Partner of the Month. Dr. Cirelli is a Reno, Nevada-based dentist whose passion for carpentry and home improvement seamlessly blend with a compassionate approach to helping veterans with dental care, free of charge.
Why did you become a dentist?
I majored in biochemistry, Spanish and history while in college. I found that I really liked dealing with people more than laboratory work. I was also fortunate that my parents owned rental properties. I quickly learned how to become proficient in all of the trades with respect to home improvement. I especially liked framing and other areas of carpentry work. It turns out dentistry is a lot like being a carpenter, but there is still an artistic approach to it.
How long have you been practicing dentistry?
I’ve been practicing dentistry since 2007, graduating from Oregon Health and Science University. When I returned to my home state of Nevada, I worked for three years in a public dental clinic, followed by two years as an associate in private practice. I then purchased my dental practice in December 2012.
What are some of the challenges facing dentistry?
Getting people to recognize the importance of oral health and how it affects other systems of the body is one of the greatest challenges facing dentistry today. I like to use the analogy of a person with severe acne. You see the effects it does to your skin, and you want to clear it up, so you go to a dermatologist. With an oral cavity, people aren’t aware of what happens in the mouth, so they don’t see a dentist until they have a toothache.
We take intraoral photos in an effort to educate patients about the importance of regular dental care. This has been a great motivator for better hygiene and preventive treatment.
What do you do in your spare time?
In my free time, I enjoy running, hiking, skiing, target shooting, martial arts and, of course, home improvement projects.
Tell us one of your funniest stories from the dental office.
As every dentist knows, esthetic cases can be the most challenging. You not only have to meet the patient’s desires but those of their significant other.
In one such case, the patient was in the office for a complete maxillary denture. Esthetics were great: The patient liked the shape, size, form and, most importantly, function of the denture. He’d even provided us with a picture from before he lost his teeth.
We ended up meeting the demands of the patient, but his wife had us redo the denture to meet her demands. She wanted him restored into her ideal husband! I still remember going through the wax try-in and he gave me a look that said, “I like the first, but I need to satisfy her, so go with the second!”
What is most rewarding about your career?
Seeing the results of your work and how it changes a person. Our office works with a program called Adopt a Vet. Since most veterans are not eligible for treatment through the VA, we see veterans on a volunteer basis and do all of their treatment at no charge. They come to the office in pain, and some can’t even chew. We get them out of pain and restore their dentition, often completing dentures so that they can smile and enjoy a good meal again. To me, that’s what dentistry is about.
We’d like to take a moment to congratulate Dr. Cirelli and thank him for the work he does for his community.
Meet Dr. Sheri Watson-Hamilton, DMD, our Dental Health Partner of the Month. Dr. Watson-Hamilton is passionate about dental health and provides care to uninsured and underserved patients.
Based in South Florida, Dr. Watson-Hamilton works at the Martin Luther King Jr. Clinica Campesina Health Center. This full-service facility provides dental care alongside urgent care, primary care and more. It’s part of the nonprofit health care organization Community Health of South Florida, Inc., or CHI, which offers affordable, quality health care services to local residents.
Why did you decide to become a dentist?
I’ve always wanted to practice in the medical field. As a child I would always ask anyone I was close to, “Let me see your teeth!”
What really helped me decide on dentistry was when I volunteered at a dental office during undergrad. I saw how a patient would come in with pain and receive immediate relief. Patients would come in with self-esteem issues and once their teeth were restored, they’d leave the office smiling confidently — no longer hiding their teeth.
How long have you been practicing?
For 24 years.
Tell us one of your funniest stories from the dental office.
During one of my appointments, I had a set of twins as patients. One was a really great patient — the other was really dramatic. At one of the visits, the dramatic twin was hesitant about the visit, as always. Once the anesthesia was placed, she looked up at me and said, “If you do that again, I’m gonna call 991!” — meaning 911.
What do you consider dentistry’s biggest challenge?
Getting patients to value their teeth and their smile.
What do you do in your free time?
I enjoy spending my free time with my immediate family.
Congratulations, Dr. Sheri Watson-Hamilton! Thank you for your work.