This Townie went from hating endo to specializing in it—and is helping other dentists improve their skills, too
Dentists spend most of their working hours in their practices, so they usually don’t get many opportunities to see what it’s like inside another doctor’s office. Dentaltown’s recurring Office Visit profile offers a chance for Townies to meet their peers, hear their stories and get a sense of their practice protocols.
In this issue, we introduce Dr. Reid Pullen, a U.S. Army veteran practicing in Brea, California, who went from hating endodontics to specializing in it—and now teaches others how to improve their skills through online and in-person training programs.
Read on and get an exclusive look at his surf-themed practice and learn what he enjoys most about endodontics, how he donates his time and resources, and how he thinks dentistry will evolve in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Name and credentials:
Reid Pullen, DDS
• Dental school: University of Southern California, 1999
• AEGD: U.S. Army Dental Corps, 2000
• Endodontics residency: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Long Beach Healthcare System, 2006
• Brea Endodontics, Brea, California
• Root Canal Academy
1,800 square feet
What led you to choose a career in dentistry?
I’m really not sure! I wanted to be a cop, but somehow I ended up in dentistry, and then endo. I hated endo in dental school, too! But I learned to love it—it took me a few years to get to a place where I felt I was pretty good at endo. Now I find it absolutely fascinating.
You served as a dentist in the U.S. Army for three years in Germany. What was that like?
It was awesome: It was a great learning environment and we had a lot of fun. It was low stress and we focused on learning and doing a good job treating patients. Most of the colonels treated us like family—thank you, Col. Richard Cohen, Ret.—and took very good care of us. I also drank a lot of German beer.
Why did you transition from general dentistry to endodontics?
I started performing endo in the Army and found it challenging and somewhat fun. The problem was, I was able to get a good result only about 50% of the time. I wanted to learn how to do better endo because I always struggled with root canal treatment and felt very inadequate.
How long after completing your endodontics residency did you decide to open your own practice? How long have you had it?
I worked for about a year in different endodontic offices, then decided to take a giant leap and open my own office. I am glad I did but it took a lot of work. My practice has now been open for 13 years.
What's an average day like?
I see six to eight treatment patients a day. On top of that, I have side bookings of consults and recalls and the unpleasant “checks,” which means something is wrong with the root canal that I performed. I have a great staff. Our office motto is stolen from football coach Bill Belichick: “Do your job!”
How has your practice adapted to COVID-19? What does this mean for treating your patients?
This has been a huge game changer for dentists. I’m one of the lucky ones because as an endodontist, I’m still on “pus patrol” and go in for emergencies. I have prescribed a lot of antibiotics these past six weeks.
What makes your practice unique?
We try to make patients feel loved, like a Cheers bar atmosphere. I try to be really funny when performing treatment. Humor at the appropriate time relaxes the patient. (If I could just learn the appropriate time!)
What do you enjoy most about endodontics?
I love the fascinating root canal systems and trying to put the puzzle pieces together of what’s going on. Each day is different and there’s such a variety of crazy cases that it keeps me entertained.
You’ve spent most of your life living and practicing in Southern California. Have you implemented any elements into your practice?
I love to surf, so I’ve created a surf-themed office. I bring in my old surfboards and use them to decorate; the reception area and each treatment room has one or two. This helps relax patients and usually makes them smile because it reminds them of vacation. I tell patients that during treatment, I want them to pretend they’re sitting on the beach drinking a mai tai.
How do you market to new patients? Do you receive a lot of referrals?
I really market only to referring dentists, but am trying to market more to patients by asking current patients who liked us to leave an online review. We all need to take advantage of this powerful mode of social media. Here’s how I communicate with the patient: “If you liked us, can you tell your dentist and also leave a great review? If you didn’t like us, can you not do any of that?”
1. ProErgo microscopes by Zeiss. We call this “the starship” because it’s a large, advanced microscope. I love that I can see amazing detail with this scope—what you can see, you can treat! I’ve named each of my four microscopes: Grover, Buddy, Frankie and Mindy.
2. ProTaper Gold and WaveOne Gold NiTi files by Dentsply Sirona. I love these files. They are efficient, effective and safe, and they create beautiful shapes. I no longer have file separation anxiety.
3. ProMark apex locator by Dentsply Sirona. This apex locator is extremely accurate.
4. GuttaSmart obturation system by Dentsply Sirona. This is my favorite system for performing warm vertical obturation. This cordless system has a heat tip and a backfill handpiece. It is very efficient and only takes me three minutes longer than single cone obturation. I feel strongly that I get a great apical seal using warm vertical obturation with Pulp Canal Sealer EWT or ThermaSeal Plus Ribbon sealer. I also like the EndoPro 270 Heat Tip (Brasseler) for removing gutta percha.
5. J. Morita CBCT. I can’t practice without a CBCT. This is probably the No. 1 tool in my practice to enhance accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.
6. X-Smart IQ cordless endo motor and ProMark Endo Motor by Dentsply Sirona. In my opinion, these are the best endodontic motors on the market. The X-Smart IQ is cordless and can reciprocate (WaveOne Gold) or accommodate rotary files (ProTaper Gold, Vortex Blue, TruNatomy).
7. GentleWave by Sonendo. This multisonic sound-wave device power-washes the root canal system and blasts everything out. I have never seen cleaner canals.
What gives you the most professional satisfaction?
I love when root canal treatment all comes together and you end up with a great result. I also love when patients tell me it was so much better than they expected. I still need a lot of affirmation at 47 years of age.
You’ve gone on a few missionary dentistry trips.
I’ve been to Mexico two times, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, four times and Liberia once. I usually go to Haiti with my cousin, Tawnya, who’s a neurologist. We set up shop at two different orphanages; she runs a medical clinic and I run the dental side. I clean and extract teeth. The need is absolutely critical. There is so little care in these countries that it breaks my heart.
In addition to endodontics, you’re very involved in sports, and played football in college. You’ve also practiced Brazilian jiu-jitsu for nine years. What do you enjoy the most about it, and how do you feel that it’s helped you in your personal and professional life?
I’ve always enjoyed contact sports and the camaraderie that it brings. Football made me tough and I learned that it’s OK when someone yells at you. This helped me in the Army when the commander would yell and make me do pushups. I only cried twice.
Jiu-jitsu is such a fun and exhausting sport/martial art. It tests me mentally and physically in every way. It has taken me nine years to get a brown belt and I’ve been fortunate to compete in numerous tournaments. I’ve only passed out three times from getting choked out, so I think I’m doing pretty well.
How do you think dentistry
will change over the next few months? What have you been doing in your spare time?
It appears that we will adopt “extreme” universal precautions and wipe and mop down every surface of the operatory, even if it wasn’t touched, between patients. This may cause a reduced efficiency, but for the time being it may be the new norm of practice and keep us and our patients safe. My guess is that we will be wearing N95 and Level 3 masks for the rest of this year and maybe all of next.
In my spare time, I’ve been working on creating and filming new lectures for my Root Canal Academy, an online education website with a free library and resident membership where users can watch lectures and technique videos. I’m pretty excited about the new lecture content.
I’ve also finished editing two new endo playbooks—The 4 Quarters of the Root Canal Game and The 4 Quarters of the Simple Re-Treatment Game—and eight new The Learning Lesson technique books.
I love to teach people how to perform better endodontics—I also run two-day Root Camp Boot Camps that help dentists improve their molar endo skills. I sucked at endo for my entire five years of general dentistry—I didn’t really know what I was doing. My dental education wasn’t great when it came to endo—I never had a system or a playbook—and I suspect that’s still lacking in most dental schools.
The 4 Quarters Root Canal system is designed to help general dentists become more effective, efficient and excellent in endodontics. The Learning Lessons clinical step-by-step picture books incorporate radiographs, CBCT images and pictures from my microscope to show cases that I found educational and interesting. Each book has a specific treatment focus: root canal treatment; re-treatment; endodontic mistakes; access and locating calcified canals; finding the dreaded MB2; tricky diagnosis, GuttaCore obturation; and removing Thermafil carriers.
How would you like to see endodontics evolve within the next 10–15 years?
I’d love to see better diagnostic tools for testing the true pulp vitality of a tooth. Most of the cases we can figure out, but there’s still that 10% that have hot pain, or an on/off ache, and we can’t always figure out what’s going on and which tooth is the problem. Also, we are getting closer to using systems like GentleWave and immediately, automatically filling the cleaned root system in minutes.
I’d also love to see great, more accessible endodontic training. I’m committed to helping dentists diagnose patients and conduct great root canal treatment. Dentists can increase revenue by being comfortable treating many cases and still have referral relationships for difficult treatments. Knowledge is power.