COVID-19, protests, holistic dentistry, and technology: Exploring the recent world of Dr. Nammy Patel

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Like many dentists, Nammy Patel, DDS, has faced her share of challenges over the past couple of months. With a dental practice in the Union Square area of downtown San Francisco, Dr. Patel has seen her business disrupted not only by the COVID-19 pandemic but also by the recent number of protests in the city's business district spurred by the death of George Floyd.

Certainly, Dr. Patel has done what she can to keep her business going forward as much as possible, despite the events that have dominated the headlines since mid-March. But, being of East Indian descent and having a darker skin color, the events of the past few weeks have been a chance for her both to reevaluate how dentistry is performed inside her practice and to ponder how she and her team are making a difference in society.

Nammy Patel, DDS.Nammy Patel, DDS.

"You know, it has definitely kept me up," Dr. Patel said recently of the events she has seen in downtown San Francisco. "I thought just being a dentist was tough, but really being a business owner and really understanding all the aspects that go along with running this business has been very overwhelming, honestly.

"I have darker skin, so I definitely have experienced racism myself. I've also thrived in adversity. I've always found a way to survive and thrive."

Part of that survival is how Dr. Patel has tried to set herself and her practice apart. She markets herself as a holistic dentist and shares the things she is trying to do to help the environment at her dental practice. She tries to make a difference in society with both her words and her actions, including causes she supports with her money and time.

"I have a holistic practice and my patients are very liberal," Dr. Patel explained. "I would say 70% of my patients came in after we opened back up. I did have a number of people who are not comfortable getting outside of their homes, because of COVID, because of the protests, and I respect that. I feel like if that's not something that you feel comfortable with, you know, we can reschedule. That's not a problem."

The use of dental technology, including CAD/CAM, is a part of the message of overall health that Dr. Patel tries to convey to her patients. Being based downtown, she knows that time is of the essence to the business patient, so one-visit appointments rather than having to come back multiple times is important. However, in Dr. Patel's mind, there's also a "green" element to CAD/CAM as well.

"The first thing I look at with CAD/CAM is the patient perspective," she said. "What is the patient going to want? They're going to want dentistry done in one day. That way, they don't have to get numb twice. With one visit, they're not putting any more chemicals into their system. They're also not having to take more time off of work and they're not having to deal with more pain.

"Then there's the eco-friendly aspect of it as well. The carbon footprint is lessened because you're not having to ship something to Timbuktu and then wait for it to come back. You don't have to go back and forth several times as a patient. It's one trip.

"So, when I tell patients, 'Hey, we can do this in one day. It will save you a lot of time, effort energy, money, and also teeth, because it's conservative,' it is something that they really appreciate. And the convenience of being done in two hours with an e.max [Ivoclar Vivadent] crown, it's wonderful. The patient is done and can go back to his or her life. In a city environment where people are really busy and have a lot of things to do, it really helps with time management."

Dr. Patel has been in practice for 15 years, and she said that CAD/CAM has been a part of her practice since she began. She currently works with a CEREC system (Dentsply Sirona), and I asked her about the ease of finding team members to work with technology. And, in her case, it's not only about working with technology but also finding team members who believe in the benefits of holistic dentistry.

"When it comes to holistic dentistry and technology, the first thing I do when I am hiring someone is I tell them about me," Dr. Patel said. "I tell them my vision, and then I tell them about my mission and my core values. Then I ask them what they think about that. That person may not know anything about holistic dentistry. He or she may not know anything about technology, but that doesn't mean he or she doesn't want to learn about it.

"When we start talking about being 'patient-centric,' a lot of times the interviewees are like, 'Oh, that means that we really care about the patient, and we focus on them,' or it may be that they understand that we may take the extra step in our practice. It makes a difference."

Being patient-centric in terms of technology and saving time and resources has become a mantra of Dr. Patel's business. So has ensuring that her team is still on the same page after COVID-19.

"We just had a meeting, and we talked about what is the reason why they're here. After all, we were closed for a while and then we went back full time," Dr. Patel explained. "I asked them, 'You had a choice. You could have stayed home and taken unemployment for the next few months, but why did you choose to come back?' One of the things they said is that they saw I am committed to their success. That was really important for them.

"That was really sweet to hear. They also love to hear from our happy patients that we give them good, quality work and that they know we care about them. My team loves the fact that they're involved with something bigger. This isn't just about a dental office. It's really about making a difference with our technology and philosophy and building those relationships, because they get the opportunity to build a relationship as well. It's not just about me. It's about them as well, so that's very cool."

Note: Dr. Patel is also an author, with proceeds from the sale of her book going to help build a health center in India.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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