GAINING FIRST-HAND KNOWLEDGE OF DENTAL PROCEDURES HELPS YOU CONNECT WITH YOUR PATIENTS.
As a medical educator, my father always said, “Practice what you preach.” Throughout my dental career, I have chosen to live by this philosophy, or as I like to say, ‘walk the talk.’ What exactly is ‘walk the talk?’ Essentially, I don’t just tell my patients what it’s like to have a dental procedure because I’ve read about it in a textbook. I can tell them what it’s like because I’ve personally had the procedure done. I don’t tell my patients that a crown or a bridge procedure is easy because I learned about it in dental school. Instead, I can sit down and describe the exact process to my patients because I’ve personally undergone many of these procedures.
Moving Past the Talk and Starting the Walk
I began moving in this direction while I was still attending dental school. Oftentimes, my fellow classmates and I worked together to practice various procedures on each other. I remember one day in particular: my classmate Larry Cunningham and I had patients booked, but they all failed to show for their appointments. In order to complete our assignments on time for our course, I allowed Larry to extract my wisdom teeth that day in lieu of extracting the teeth of our scheduled patients. Crazy? Maybe! But this allowed Larry to receive credit for the extractions and me to receive credit for being a patient. It also gave me first-hand knowledge of what an extraction procedure was like. This knowledge has proven invaluable to me over the years and I have continued to add to it by experiencing more and more dental procedures.
Once I finished dental school and began my own practice, I continued to ‘walk the talk.’ I made myself night guards and bleach trays. I perfected injection techniques on myself with The Wand® system and by doing so became one of the first dentists to utilize this system when it debuted more than 18 years ago. I also practiced gingivectomies on myself using laser technology. I went through orthodontics and orthognathic surgery to correct my overbite and overjet that had resulted from an unsuccessful stint with orthodontics as a child. I also had large fillings replaced with crowns and several elective root canals just so that I could honestly say, “I know what it is like to have a root canal,” to my patients. I cannot tell you how powerful the connection with patients becomes when they know that I am speaking to them from the perspective of one who has undergone the procedure. That connection is the most effective way I know of combating the fear and doubt that patients can sometimes feel when they are faced with a recommended course of treatment.
In 2009, I decided to enter into the field of dental sleep medicine after completing my sleep residency at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston. To better understand my patients and their struggles with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), I decided to go through a sleep study in a sleep lab and participate in numerous home sleep studies. I’ve had a multitude of different oral appliances made for myself for the treatment of OSA. I have also used a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, just to have the experience. Overall, I’ve had more than ten different oral appliances constructed for myself in order to truly understand and experience the pros and cons of each appliance. I wanted to personally determine which ones had the best results with the least amount of side effects. Because of this experience-based approach, I have found that the DNA/mRNA yields the best results for OSA. I have been wearing the device to non-surgically remodel my upper airway and widen my dental arch prior to my implant and full mouth rehab. I can now in good faith recommend the mRNA appliance™ to my patients who are struggling with airway issues because I’ve personally conducted this research myself.
In addition to these procedures, I’ve also had an upper right bicuspid extracted, a bone graft, sinus lift and implant placed in lieu of a three-unit bridge. The reason for doing this was simply for the experience. I routinely offer my patients the option of implants, and for me to effectively communicate how the procedure will impact them personally, I wanted to experience the process myself.
Taking the Walk to the Next Level
The most recent procedure that I had done was the Elite smile makeover. I needed to have some of my crowns replaced and my implant restored. In addition, I believe that a cosmetic dentist needs to have the perfect smile, right? Therefore, I wanted some various cosmetic enhancements made to my other teeth. There is nothing worse than a dentist talking to you about investing in cosmetic dentistry and his or her teeth are all messed up. My orthodontist had crooked teeth and I thought, “How can this be? Does he not value his profession and his work?” I value my profession and believe in what I do on a daily basis. I change lives! Because of that, I elected to have a full mouth reconstruction. Drastic? I don’t think so. I knew that if any of my patients came to me with the same issues that I had, I would recommend the same treatment plan for them. If it was the proper treatment for my patients, then I—as their dentist—should lead by example.
Once I made the decision to proceed with the Elite makeover, I contacted Kent Garrick at Arrowhead Dental Laboratory and was referred to Dr. Jason Lewis in Draper, Utah. Dr. Lewis took on the procedure and performed my full mouth reconstruction with Arrowhead’s Elite dental restorations. I have never been happier with my smile. In fact, when people ask me if I have any regrets, I say, “The only regret I have is not getting it done sooner!”
By far, this procedure has been the most rewarding for me, both personally and professionally. Since February of 2013, after completing the Full Arch Reconstruction course with Dr. Jim Downs at Arrowhead, I have completed sixteen full arch reconstructions. I know that the main reason for this success is that I’m a living advertisement for the benefits of the procedure and Arrowhead’s Elite dental restorations. Every single one of these sixteen patients specifically said to me, “Dr. Cress, I love your teeth. How can I get a smile like yours?” Once they said that, it was easy for me to sit down with them and describe what it would actually take (from a procedural and financial standpoint) to experience an Elite smile. My firsthand knowledge and experience is the only reason these patients felt comfortable and excited about making the investment in their dental health.
Benefits of Walking the Talk
When asked, “What has been the greatest benefit for you of ‘walking the talk,’ my reply is simple—it has allowed me to build genuine relationships with my patients and to empathize with what they’re going through. When patients come to me for my professional opinion, I can personally relate to their genuine fear about the dental procedure that I have recommended. I can calm their anxieties and say, “I truly know how you feel because I have been in your shoes, but let me tell you what you’re going to experience and how happy you’ll be once it’s done.”
Recently, a patient came into my office who had just taken a trip to Machu Picchu. Now, let’s be honest, who doesn’t have that spectacular locale towards the top of their bucket list? After we finished chatting about her adventures, I realized that I learned more from her about the intricacies of visiting this location than I could have ever learned by reading a guidebook. I also knew that what she shared was only a ‘drop in the bucket’ of what I knew I could learn. I knew that I really would not know what Machu Picchu was like unless I experienced it myself.
The same is definitely true about dentistry. You can read a million “guidebooks” on a dental procedure, but unless you have firsthand knowledge about it and have experienced it yourself, you don’t really know what it is like.
Of course, my mode of operating is unique to me. Not many dentists have traveled my path. I revel in the fact that I have taken The Road Less Traveled, as the Robert Frost poem suggests. However, because I have traveled this route, I can give my fellow dentists some advice; believe in what you do and become a walking advertisement of your work. Get to know first-hand what the various procedures are like that you have to offer your patients. Don’t just ‘talk the talk.’ Practice what you preach and ‘walk the talk.’ Your practice and our profession will be better because of it.