Office Visit: Dr. Meghna Dassani by Kyle Patton

Office Visit: Dr. Meghna Dassani 

This Townie shares her passion and knowledge for screening technology, airway treatments and taking referrals to the next level


by Kyle Patton
photography by Matt Hutchings


Dentists spend most of their working hours inside their own 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 how they practice.

Regular readers of Dentaltown may recognize Dr. Meghna Dassani, whose article in our November issue outlined the important signs and symptoms general dentists should keep an eye out for when screening patients for sleep apnea. This month, we visit this Townie’s Houston practice, which she doubled the size of within her first year of ownership.

Dassani practiced dentistry in Mumbai for six years before moving to the U.S, where she reattended dental school before opening her practice in 2011. Her expertise in sleep apnea treatments for adults and children has made her a popular international speaker and educator.

In our exclusive Q&A, Dassani debunks some myths and misconceptions about adding sleep dentistry to a GP toolbox, shares which steps were most critical for practice growth and stability, lists her favorite clinical technologies and more.



Office Highlights
NAME:
Dr. Meghna Dassani

GRADUATED FROM:
Boston University
Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine

PRACTICE:
Dassani Dentistry,
Houston

PRACTICE SIZE:
2,750 square feet; 8 operatories

TEAM SIZE:
5

How did you find your way into dentistry?

I’m fond of saying that I became a dentist when I was 8 years old. Growing up in Mumbai, the summers were hot. We lived on the fourth floor of an apartment building and there was a dental office on the first floor. I spent most of my summers in that office—not so much because I was interested in dentistry, but for its air conditioning.

I distinctly remember one day when I skipped into the office, perky as could be, and asked, “What are we doing today, Dr. Iyer?” He turned to me and asked, “Would you like to pull a tooth today?” What I had not seen was my neighbor sitting in his chair because she had a loose tooth. Honestly, at that time, even as an 8-year-old, I didn’t think she needed the dentist to pull her tooth, but she was scared and didn’t want to be in any pain. Eyes wide, I nodded. Dr. Iyer numbed the tooth and allowed me to “hold” the forceps as he wiggled that tooth out for her. I was hooked! Even at that age, I realized that dentistry could have such a big impact on a person’s life. Years later, I went to the Nair Hospital Dental College in Mumbai. I practiced in Mumbai for six years before I moved to the U.S. when I met my husband.


What can you tell us about practicing in two different countries?

Comparing practice in India and the U.S., there wasn’t as much of a difference with regard to the dental materials that we were exposed to. As a private practice owner in India, I had access to all of the technology and newest materials I did when I started in dental school in Boston.

One of the main differences, though, has been the use of auxiliary staff and team members. It certainly makes for a much more efficient practice model to use the team in more expanded roles. (This is said keeping in mind that my experience of practicing in India was 22 years ago. I’m sure things are much different now.)


Tell us about the accelerated program you took in Boston.

It was an amazing introduction and training into dentistry in the United States. We were exposed to CAD/CAM and the latest dental materials, as well as mentorship from some of the leaders in dentistry. As an experienced dentist, it allowed me to be prepared for the licensing exams while also creating a community of other international dentists, the D3 and D4 students around me, many of whom have become lifelong friends.

The exposure to various procedures I had already practiced in India and the perspective of being able to perform them on patients here gave me valuable insight into patient management and communication as well.


You’ve now been a practice owner since 2011. Tell us about your office and its evolution in that time.

I took over an existing practice from a retiring dentist. It was a bread-and-butter practice that had been in the community for a long time. Transitioning into the practice was not without its set of challenges, but it was pretty seamless because the retiring doctor and I shared the same treatment philosophies.

I am a general dentist, but almost 50% of my practice involves sleep and airway dentistry for adults and children. I continue to do everyday bread-and-butter dentistry, some endodontics and LANAP. While I don’t do as much surgery or implants anymore, I’ve found that integrating sleep dentistry has changed how I treatment-plan.

I am a firm believer in coaches and mentors, especially if one is seeking growth and evolution. I’ve always had a coach, if not multiple coaches. I strongly believe that’s one of the keys that has allowed me and my office to see the exponential growth we’ve experienced. The best, most successful and strongest athletes always have a coach by their side. Growing from three operatories and 1,500 square feet to eight ops and 2,750 square feet within a year of buying the practice meant I needed to have that sherpa alongside me.

Along with the many coaches that I’ve had the honor of working with, Bruce Baird and Victoria Peterson of Productive Dentist Academy have been my constants. And for that, I’m extremely grateful.


Your practice has a strong focus on treating sleep apnea. How did this start?

In my experience, all big “whys” typically have a personal loss or story attached to them, and it was not any different for me. When I was a newlywed, our family experienced a great tragedy when we lost someone very close to us to causes related to sleep apnea. At that moment, I knew I didn’t want my family to have to experience such a loss again, and I resolved to do everything I could. I began learning about sleep apnea so I could understand it better and help those I loved manage it.

Then, the most amazing thing happened: As I learned more about sleep apnea and had more conversations with everyone around me, I realized that my “family” grew to include my office manager’s father, our patient’s neighbor and even our UPS delivery guy. Once you see it, you just cannot unsee it … or stop talking about it.


What steps did you take to begin delivering sleep apnea treatments in your office?

When we started to implement sleep apnea services into the practice, I realized the biggest step that would either drive this to success or hold us back was getting the team involved. Team training is key, because sleep is a team-driven procedure. When we had every member of the team having conversations about this—about the effect lack of healthy sleep can have on our health and the health of our children, and also the fact that dentists play a pivotal role in treatment—the sleep component of our practice changed.

The next important step we implemented after we started to deliver sleep apnea treatments in the office was raising awareness. This included putting up posters, sharing information on social media and just talking with patients. We realized that even if the particular patient we were speaking to wasn’t suffering from sleep-disordered breathing, they most likely had a friend, a loved one, a neighbor or somebody else in their life who was. This helped quickly spread the word within the community that our office was a great resource for sleep apnea treatments for those who were unable to tolerate the CPAP.

The next important step was creating rock-solid systems that could be replicated every single day and for every single patient. Without systems, adding a new service to a practice can quickly become chaotic!

Once we had created and implemented our systems for seamlessly integrating sleep apnea services into the dental practice, that’s when the stress of adding a new procedure was lifted. Every team member was now able to have conversations, answer patient questions and know what needed to happen next to be able to help that particular patient.


You now coach other dentists on how to incorporate sleep apnea treatments into their practices. What common misconceptions have you run into?

Coaching other dentists and helping them incorporate sleep apnea treatments into their everyday practice is one of the things that brings me the greatest joy! Seeing how they can change the lives of their patients and of their team members and the productivity and profitability in their practices is beyond anything I can describe.

The most common misconceptions doctors have regarding this area are:
  • “Adding sleep apnea services to the office will require more team members.” I find this keeps doctors paralyzed when trying to integrate sleep into their practice. Nothing could be further from the truth; our current team members are capable of helping implement sleep services into the practice easily, effectively and successfully.
  • “It’s going to take extra chair time and/or cause doctors and their team members to run late during regular appointments.” With the right training verbiage and systems, conversations about sleep, its impact on our health and the treatment modalities easily become a part of patient conversations without taking up more time in the schedule or causing team members to run late.
  • “A weekend course or seminar will be sufficient before I successfully integrate sleep into my practice.” Sure, some doctors, teams and offices are doing it successfully after one seminar, but when we start to learn about and integrate sleep into our practices, it is a journey. We have to set upon the path and as we go down this path, we’re going to find ourselves drawn into the rabbit hole.
We are changing, affecting and saving lives. What is going to make the difference in being able to successfully integrate this with the least amount of stress is systems. Having the right systems and protocols in place can make for a very seamless integration into everyday dentistry.


Establishing relationships within the profession can be tricky enough. How should dentists go about connecting with the medical community at large? What works? What doesn’t work?

Our license allows us to screen patients for sleep issues, have the necessary conversations and offer treatment. What we are not allowed to do is diagnose patients with sleep apnea. Working with our medical colleagues is a key part of being able to serve our adult and pediatric patients who may suffer from sleep-disordered breathing.

One common mistake I see dentists make is trying to connect with medical colleagues without building a relationship around how we can serve our patients as a team. What I have found works well is connecting with and communicating with MDs along with routine and regular follow-ups, be it via email or letters—especially when it comes to mutual patients who suffer from sleep-disordered breathing we may be treating.

What doesn’t work as effectively, in my experience, is dropping off business cards or referral slips at any office and asking them to refer their patients to us. Just because we provide a service that is very valuable doesn’t always mean we’ll be able to create that connection with other like-minded professionals. Sometimes, time is all that is needed. Consistency is key. Making sure we’re in constant communication with our medical colleagues regarding our mutual patients and the status of their treatment processes goes a long way.


Give us an overview of other types of clinical work you especially enjoy.

I’m still a general dentist at heart. This means that I still enjoy getting patients out of pain and helping them improve their smiles, along with saving their lives.

Over time, I have realized which procedures bring me the most joy, and I have found myself drifting into a lane where I perform only the procedures that give me happiness and bring great satisfaction. Along with sleep services, I enjoy doing LANAP procedures for our patients who need the treatment to help with their advanced or severe periodontal disease. I also enjoy full-mouth rehab procedures to help patients who have worn-down dentition as we consider addressing their sleep. Invisalign is another procedure that makes up a fair amount of my treatment that I enjoy, as is pinhole gum rejuvenation.


Top Products
DEKA SMART US-20D CO2 LASER
I use the fractional handpiece in conjunction with sleep appliances for obstructive sleep apnea patients who snore. I also use the laser extensively for frenectomies and other procedures, such as laser debridement in perio cases. This laser is also instrumental in performing QuietNite treatments.

PERIOLASE MVP LASER SYSTEM
Using this for sleep apnea services and LANAP procedures has changed the course of my practice.

MOUTHWATCH INTRAORAL CAMERA
Great for patient education as well as documenting cases.

T-SCAN NOVUS OCCLUSAL ANALYSIS SYSTEM
Using this for my DTR patients has helped me help my TMJ/TMD patients tremendously.
Walk us through your office. What are your favorite elements?

Our office is a space that brings me joy! When you walk in, the front desk and waiting area are open and expansive, allowing for easy communication between my team members and patients.

We have a Prexion Excelsior CBCT unit, which allows us to screen patients effectively and comprehensively. This unit has airway screening capabilities that let us screen the patients for airway, too.

As we walk into the back, we have eight operatories, a lab and sterilization space, a break room for the team and the doctor’s office. All of our operatories have overhead screens so patients can watch TV if they would like to while they lay back. The dental chairs have heat and massage options, which patients seem to especially enjoy because it helps them relax during their time in the chair.

Like any other dentist, I love the shiny new toys (aka technology and equipment) dentistry allows us to use as we care for our patients. I am especially fond of new technology, and have always found ways to incorporate it into the practice. I am a self-professed continuing education junkie, which is obvious when you walk down the hallway in the practice because it’s lined with my CE completion certificates and letters of attendance from my various learning endeavors. It is a great source of pride for my team and never ceases to amaze our patients as to how much learning I and my team put in to be able to deliver the highest standard of care to our patients!

We use electric handpieces for our restorative cases and have Piezon units from EMS Dental in the hygiene operatories. We have Medit as well as iTero scanners for all our restorative, orthodontic and sleep procedures.

I especially enjoy using both my laser units: a Deka CO2 laser and a Periolase MVP-7 laser, which is used for LANAP procedures.


How do you like to manage your practice?

When I started as a practice owner, I used to be a micromanager. Over time, I have learned with a lot of guidance from my mentors and coaches—as well as through personal growth—to step back and allow my team to do what they do best.

We have weekly team meetings, which allow my team to understand my expectations and allow me to communicate better with them. By doing this, they can take ownership of what they do within the practice.

It’s very rare that I need to be involved in the day-to-day running of the practice anymore. My leadership team takes care of that for me, which allows me to focus on what I enjoy doing: dentistry.


Your office manager has been with you since the start. What kind of dynamic do you have with her?

I hired Christina at an interview in a Starbucks one month before I closed on my practice sale. After the initial pleasantries, we immediately hit it off and continued chatting about dentistry, the new practice I was purchasing, etc. Before we knew it, an hour had passed and she had to get back home to her children.

When I got home, I realized that I had offered her the job but we hadn’t discussed pay, benefits or any other such information. I like to say that was my first sign of the future we were going to create for the practice.

I’ve worked with Christina for 13 years—since day one of taking over the office. I like to say she has the superpower of being able to read my mind, which comes in handy, especially if she has questions for me when I’m in the middle of something. (She correctly interprets my grunts, head nods and hand waves!)

It’s especially comforting to have somebody I know I can trust to treat the office like her own, who anticipates my needs and takes care of the everyday nitty-gritty of running the practice, leaving me to deal with the bigger stuff. At this point, I can safely say she is more than just a team member; her family is my family.


Do you have a favorite patient story?

One patient interaction that lives rentfree in my mind is that of a retired high school football coach. He found us because he was unable to use his CPAP but also understood the importance of managing his sleep apnea. When he returned for his follow-up appointment, he asked if he could record a testimonial so other people could know how oral appliance therapy for sleep apnea helped him.

Once he finished recording the testimonial, he asked if he could speak to all my team members. He then shared with us that he lived alone because his wife worked in another town; she traveled every weekend so they could see each other.

He’d been so sure he was going to die from his sleep apnea that he slept with his front door unlocked, because he didn’t want to give his wife one more thing to take care of if the paramedics had to break down the door to get to him. When we made him the sleep appliance and he realized it helped him sleep better and breathe better, he told us he had started to lock his front door at night because he wasn’t as worried about dying in his sleep. He rode his bicycle to the office for his appointments, he knew his VO2 max was up, and he felt better and more energized.

Despite knowing that we do impact lives every day with this service, his story was a sobering yet positive reminder that what we do for our patients matters.


How do you hope dentistry will evolve over the next 10 years?

I hope sleep apnea treatments in the dental office become the norm. I would love to see dental and medical professionals work seamlessly to help patients with sleep-disordered breathing get the help they need and deserve.

As dentists, we often play the role of quarterbacks in sleep apnea treatments for our patients. We may not be the first provider they need to see or that can help them, but we can help guide our patients toward the treatments and providers who can help them at any time. It truly takes a village, a tribe, to help patients who suffer from sleep-disordered breathing. Dentists are slowly becoming a key part of that tribe.


What has been the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received?

The late Dr. Carl Misch told me, “Learn everything you can, but choose pearls from each bit of education as you go along your journey. Use those pearls to make your own necklace that is unique to you.” This advice has served me well in my journey—not only as I pursued learning everything I could about sleep, but also as I have been able to integrate it into my dental practice.


Give us a snapshot of your life outside of dentistry.

When I’m not busy being a dentist or an educator, I am a busy mom of two teenage girls. My entire life revolves around my family. Trying new restaurants (and shopping!) with my foodie teenagers and traveling the world with my husband keeps me on my toes. Cooking, reading and gardening are some of the ways I decompress at the end of a long day and how I recharge my batteries.

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