Q & A with Dr. Kern
- When did you become interested in dentistry?
- What is the most memorable smile you have worked on?
- Your dental practice environment is unique; what have you done to your office to set a different tone?
- Why do you think some patients have anxiety about seeing you, or any dentist?
- What is the biggest dental mistake you see people make?
- What is the core mission of your dental practice?
- What do you think sets you and your dental team apart?
- What amenities do you offer in your practice?
- Besides dentist, what roles do you play?
- You call yourself a perpetual student. Why?
- What are you like as a dental patient?
- Why do you love your job?
1. When did you become interested in dentistry?
At thirteen, I was self-conscious about my two front teeth crossing and a space on my right side between two teeth. My parents took me to the orthodontist. I started in dentistry by observing in my orthodontist’s office during the summer. Working in his office, I would see the transformation in the smiles of his patients, and their joy as a result of his work. It was seeing these transformations, combined with my father’s encouragement to "Reach for the Stars” and belief that I could be and do anything I wanted, that motivated me to pursue dentistry.
I quickly learned dentistry required a long school journey with four years of college, four years of dental school and then an additional few years to specialize. After working in the field and attending college, a counselor at CSUN recommended I pursue a career in dentistry because I had the aptitude and grades to succeed. I completed the prerequisites for dental school, got my bachelor’s degree and spent the first nine years of my career working as a dental hygienist. I believe that my time as a hygienist gave me the foundation I needed to become a really great dentist.
When I completed university in the 1970’s, times were different and expectations for women in our society were not what they are today. By the mid 1980’s, my employers were supportive and encouraged me to go back to professional school. Inspired, I enrolled in UCLA’s Dental School and ended up graduating in the top of my class.
Today, only about 15 percent of dentists in America are women. I am very proud to be a female dentist and always encourage girls, including my own daughters, to take an active interest in science.
2. What is the most memorable smile you have worked on?
Two of the most dramatic oral rehabilitation cases in my career were through a charity we partner with called Give Back a Smile. Give Back a Smile helps the victims of domestic violence restore their oral health and regain their smiles.
Both of my most memorable smiles were patients who were victims of domestic violence. While both experienced such transformations in how they looked and how their mouths functioned; I have to say that being able to smile and chew with ease paled in comparison to the dramatic self-esteem building that occurred.
Before choosing to tell this story, I spoke with these patients. Each is allowing me to use her name so that their cases might empower others and give hope to those who need it.
When I met Carmella, she had a removable appliance she had been using for quite a while because of her missing front teeth. She had many chipped, broken or decayed teeth from lack of care. Fear and embarrassment had kept her away from a dentist for years. Slowly, with baby steps to overcome her fears, we were able to use Sedation Dentistry for her. During her sedation visits we restored her teeth and built her a beautiful smile.
Carmella’s overwhelming gratitude and appreciation made the work we did so rewarding. Since her treatment, she has gotten at least one promotion at work and is in a relationship that is safe and healthy for her.
My patient, Rita, is also a domestic abuse survivor. When I met her, she was working three jobs to make ends meet. Mostly, she works as a waitress. In her other jobs she deals with the public and did not smile. Ever.
After hearing her story, our office guided her to apply for the Give Back a Smile program and she was accepted. During our work we fit Rita with “temporaries.” It is customary for a dentist to make patients temporary crowns or veneers to ensure proper fit before placing the permanent solution. The patient then wears the temporaries for a week or two until it is time to place the permanent solution.
A week after having her temporaries put on, Rita came in and told us that she smiled more and her tips at work were going up. In the end, we changed her decayed front teeth into a beautiful white smile. Because of our work, life got better for Rita and she became more confident, made more money and was able to afford to move out of the area to begin a new life. Just changing Rita’s smile helped make her dreams come true.
3. Your dental practice environment is unique; what have you done to your office to set a different tone?
My team and I had a vision when we designed our office setting. We wanted a space where our patients would feel comfortable and relaxed. With that in mind, we created a very clean and open, Zen, spa-like atmosphere.
To set the tone, we begin every day with a morning huddle. During the huddle we prepare for our patient guests. We are fortunate to have each team member committed to delivering the best care in their own way, through their role in the office. It is with this understanding of each other and the day ahead that the tone is set. In this office, we call it the Attitude of Gratitude, and we make sure to set that every day.
4. Why do you think some patients have anxiety about seeing you, or any dentist?
Past experiences with less compassionate or communicative practitioners have created traumatic memories for some people. In prior decades, the relationship of doctor and patient was more authoritarian in style. Today, we know that is not effective for anyone: doctor or patient. In our dental practice we understand that we are in a companion or advocate role; we really are your partners for better health.
Just knowing that you have a nice dentist does not relieve anxiety for everyone. In dentistry especially, the close proximity of the clinician in your personal space and body can be unsettling for many. We as practitioners need to respect that privacy and sacredness.
For patients who struggle with anxiety, or dental stress, we offer Oral Conscious Sedation treatment, or OCS. OCS is a relaxing, safe, and comfortable option for patients who are not able to move past their fears on their own. Medication allows them to have the dentistry needed while they rest comfortably without pain or memory of the procedures. I have completed the OCS certification process through the Doctors for Oral Conscious Sedation program at the University of the Pacific.
5. What is the biggest dental mistake you see people make?
Waiting until something hurts. Regular visits can save you money, pain, and possibly loss of teeth. By finding the initial signs of disease, our dental team can take the necessary steps to restore and maintain health. By reviewing oral health care techniques and encouraging regular visits, we have the opportunity to instill good habits. Preventative care and early intervention will save you money, time and anxiety.
6. What is the core mission of your dental practice?
In this office we use four phrases to define what our mission is.
To deliver excellent dental care through our relationships with patients as educators, oral health advocates and clinical experts.
Working with our patients to achieve their health goals and aesthetic desires.
We create a comfortable spa like atmosphere to give our patients a pleasant and care filled experience.
We are about creating trust, comfort, quality care and an enthusiasm about each person’s oral and overall health.
7. What do you think sets you and your dental team apart?
We have a highly educated team. We are experts in service, offer a great deal of knowledge about the latest dental techniques and have a very strong understanding how technology can improve treatment.
Our goal is always to keep the lines of communication wide open, not just between team members, between all of us and our patients. We want to deliver what patients want, not just what they need. It is very important for our patients to be comfortable in the office and in the dental chair whether having routine care, a complete Smile Makeover, or just creating affordable financial arrangements. We believe the difference is why our patients refer their family and friends and continue care with us for many years.
8. What amenities do you offer in your practice?
I think the most important extra benefit we offer is time. We really take time to get to know each person in our care. We talk about what’s important to you before any treatment is offered.
To make visits comfortable we have warm neck pillows, paraffin hand treatments, and blankets to create a relaxing experience, and personal music players with calming music are available from our extensive catalog.
When it comes to the business part of dentistry, we deliver personalized progressive or phased treatment plans to help each patient obtain the necessary dentistry in the present and delay financial obligations to be affordable and within the patient’s budgetary guidelines.
9. Besides dentist, what roles do you play?
I am a mother, wife, business owner, community leader, board member for numerous non-profit organizations dedicated to women’s and children’s issues, active in the dental society and on the peer review board.
I believe it is important to give back to my community as a volunteer and as a leader.
As a mother, I enjoy supporting programs designed to instill creativity, teamwork, and building self esteem of young people. One of my favorite charities, Dance Kids of Monterey County exposes children and teens to performing arts. I have also contributed financially to this non-profit organization through my efforts with Smiles for Life, a Garth Brooks Foundation affiliate.
As a business owner, I am active with the Professional Women’s Network (PWN) organization. Through PWN, I serve on committees designed to help businesswomen stay current with marketing trends, networking opportunities, and supporting each other in balancing our busy lives.
I am currently the Vice President of the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center (MCRCC). Through education in schools, advocacy and support, the organization helps victims of sexual assault and child sexual abuse. Being a sponsor for Relay for Life and Together With Love race for MCRCC has given my family and I opportunities to be active participants for building awareness about these worthy causes. Going out in the early morning handing out water to over 1,500 runners, or just walking around the track at midnight with our team, and being a supportive volunteer is very rewarding for me and my family.
I have found that giving to others is truly an act of joy. Many times networking contacts have grown into friendships. I am very appreciative of our community and the commitment from leaders for a safe environment. Being associated with and working with other community leaders gives me exposure to people with talents and leadership styles different from my own. I am privileged to be able to continually learn from others and believe that constantly touching lives is what truly builds a strong community.
10. You call yourself a perpetual student. Why?
I was fortunate, early in my dental career, to be employed by true professionals, really incredible, humble and brilliant doctors. What these doctors showed me is that there is always more to learn, new details to be aware of, and new techniques that can perfect your work. They taught me that when you are passionate and believe in delivering your very best work everyday that you must be committed to learning forever. My early mentors exemplified the role of perpetual students through their involvement in the local dental society and ingrained that passion in me.
Reading journals is important but extending yourself to take hands on courses is where the greatest growth occurs. Lectures explaining new techniques and new materials are very valuable. The continuing education in different regions of the country expands your exposure to colleagues' philosophies and styles of practice. By being discerning, I can bring the tested and latest clinical skills to benefit my patients. It could be in customer service and communication techniques, or my ability to better understand the needs of my client and team. Materials or techniques that will save time, decrease discomfort or expense, or increase the longevity of the dentistry I do today.
This is why I am associated with American Dental Association, Monterey Bay Dental Society, American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, American Academy of Laser Dentistry, Cerec Study Club, and Monterey Bay Dental Pearls. In recent years, I have traveled to New York for the Aesthetic Advantage with Dr. Larry Rosenthal at NYU, to Florida to attend lectures with Dr. Peter Dawson, to San Diego, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Seattle to hear dental pioneers Dr. Frank Spear, Dr. David Hornbrook, and Dr. John Kois. Finally, through the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, I have worked very hard to achieve Sustaining Member status and have traveled to sessions from Vancouver to Boston to Hawaii to Nashville.
I am driven by my love of dentistry, the excitement that learning brings, and most of all by the feeling I get when a person I have helped by using my knowledge looks at me and says ‘thank you’. When you can relieve someone’s pain, whether it is physical or emotional, by improving his or her smile, you have given that person something very meaningful.
11. What are you like as a dental patient?
I am a selective and involved patient. When I was ready to redo my old porcelain and metal crowns, I selected one of my most highly trained colleagues and mentors. I had learned how important achieving the smile of your dreams is to your self-esteem. I wanted the very best.
I knew it was important for my dentist to know what I wanted my smile to look like, and I liked that he worked with a master ceramist and had a good relationship with the dental laboratory. Before we started any work, I brought in photos of smiles that I admired to show the dentist. Through our process, I learned that taking an active role in communicating my likes and dislikes would give the dentist and his laboratory experts the best chance of delivering on my expectations.
I believe that having experienced the designing, the preparation and temporary stages all personally, makes me a better dentist today. Because I have crowns and veneers, I can better explain what the patient can expect to feel, which foods to avoid, and how best to care for their investment.
For me, paying for quality dentistry gave me an appreciation of the value associated with building a beautiful smile and the thought processes a patient goes through prior to committing to a Smile Makeover.
12. Why do you love your job?
I cannot imagine a more fulfilling profession. Dentistry allows me to be a scientist and an artist. The best part is the relationships you build with your patients. In private practice you are privileged to care for your fellow human beings from age 4 to 104.
Being able to relieve a person’s pain, physically or emotionally, is a gift that I give on a regular basis. I love the educator role because I believe that with knowledge, the patients will do the right thing regarding their health. Teaching oral health care habits is so valuable; it is like being a personal oral health coach.
By doing restorative dentistry, fillings, crowns, and bridgework, I give people comfort and security to eat foods that they enjoy and keep them healthy.
The aesthetic training that I have taken gives me a variety of techniques to change the look of a person’s smile. Bonding may be simple but it is what allows dentists to create longer, straighter looking, and brighter teeth. Our culture admires white straight teeth but our job as dentists is to make sure they are also healthy, well functioning, pain free and long-lasting. The scientist in me loves the constantly changing technology and materials that are being developed every year. Keeping current with all the changes, keeps it interesting and challenging.