At DENTALEZ, we’ve always listened to our audience, and for years, that’s fed the kinds of evolutions and innovations that you’ve come to take for granted in our product lines. We share our insights across our team, from our customer service representatives answering your calls, our sales force out in your offices, and our engineers behind the scenes gathering the information and puzzling out how to give your requests wings.
As part of this endeavor we’d like to introduce you to some of the people we work so closely with, and let you get to know their stories, too. We work with a number of dentists personally; who we consider advisors, colleagues and friends. These one-on-one relationships help us understand what’s changing in your day-to-day world, what you, your staff and your patients are experiencing.
We’re starting our interview series with Dr. Thomas Sardina, who hails from Lancaster where he runs a growing, mid-sized practice for the past 15 years -- Sardina Dental Group. He’s a general dentist, with three children whose other interests include reading and exercising. He just started working with us last fall, testing out some of our products, and visited our facility in Lancaster recently as the pandemic restrictions were lifted.
Dr. Sardina's Background
Could you give us a little more background, Dr. Sardina? Tell our readers about your education, professional path, current position and what you like about it….
Well, I wasn’t one of these dentists who knew from early on that I wanted to be a dentist! I was definitely on a completely different path initially; I had wanted to go to Veterinary school. So, I started at Temple University for undergrad, and had a great time ― and out of undergrad I then applied for my Masters’ ― again at Temple, so I was there for another two years ― then I started applying to Veterinary school.
During that time, I was considering other career options as a backup if I didn’t get into vet school. It was the veterinarians who actually suggested dental! They pointed out how it was a pretty cool career, and you still work so much with your hands. And on their advice, I shadowed my dentist and found I really liked it.
So I applied to both University of Pennsylvania’s vet school and Temple’s dental program ― and got into both, at the same time! And after all this time and energy, I chose dental (he says with a chuckle “I figured I could always own as many animals as I wanted”). I went back to Temple, lived in Queen Village in Center City and then moved to Lancaster where I am now.
So that was my path. I know a lot of my colleagues knew from day one, they knew in their hearts they wanted to be dentists. Mine was more of a learning experience. As I progressed I slowly chose dental over other careers.
Currently, I’m in my own private practice. I first bought a small office in 2007, and in 2009 I moved to a bigger location up the street which is 8500 square feet and has 8 operatories. I’m adding 6 more by the middle of next year. I have two associates that work with me, and a few specialists that come in and work with us too.
So we try to stay current, we try to be as progressive and up to date as we possibly can. I focus a lot on training, especially team training, cultural training and CE. We focus on our team, which helps us focus on our patients.
Question & Answer with Dr. Sardina
Would you say that focus on staying current applies to your dental equipment too?
Yes, exactly ― as part of our focus on what helps us be better at our jobs, we keep a running list of the equipment we need or want each year, so we prioritize it. We allocate a percentage of our funds from the last year toward new equipment. I think that’s somewhat typical across our colleagues. I like to have the systems in place to be prepared.
And in the last few years what have been some of your big investments, and why those over some others?
One of the biggest is a milling machine. We really like it and feel it’s been a game-changer because it helps us reduce the number of visits a patient has to make for a typical crown from two down to one. In our opinion the fit is also much better, more intimate than the traditional, digital impression. And to make it the same day, is just great for our staff, and for our patients. So we’re really happy with it.
How did your collaboration with DENTALEZ come about, and what has been your main involvement so far?
One of my patients is your VP of Commercial Operations, and he approached me and said we like the way you’re doing things; would you agree to be on our clinical team and test out some of our products? The first item I was able to help out with was the Star 500 Elite handpiece, which was relatively new when he showed it to me last fall. We’ve been using it for several months now, and we like it. It’s like a hybrid, because it’s air-driven but cuts really well like an electric.
What was your understanding of who DENTALEZ is as a family of products (if any)? What does their brand represent to you?
Honestly, as a dentist, it’s really difficult to learn about the brands separately because you’re not dealing with the brands one-on-one; usually you’re dealing with the big equipment companies like Schein. So they recommend what’s good, or the service tech tells you what’s reliable, and what they like. Over time you glean who’s who. So it turned out we were already using a Ramvac vacuum and compressor. And we had some Star handpieces because we learned with them in dental school. I really like those actually ― especially the ones that come with the repair kit. You can fix them yourself immediately. So that’s really useful especially when you have limited supply.
What are you looking for when it comes to selecting the following? What’s most important? What do you fear/want to avoid when selecting one of these products?
Look for: reliability; cutting power/torque
Avoid: weak power, older doesn’t cut well (new materials like zirconia are so tough)
Dental Chairs or Delivery System
Look for: simplicity, minimalistic. Massage has become a priority; all our patients want one of the ones with massage now!
Avoid: too many bells/whistles; too cumbersome (too many pieces make it too many options to break)
Dental Compressors or Vacuums
Look for: reliability, no repairs, turns on/off when we want it to. We are a little bigger so we want something that can grow with us, rather than needing something totally new.
Avoid: something limited in the flexibility to grow
Milling machine has replaced a lot of that ― we have computers to design the crowns, and feed the information to the milling machine
Which piece(s) of dental equipment would you say are most important to you, in your day-to-day work, and why?
For me, I’d say certainly the dental handpiece is key. You just rely on it all day long.
Second, I’d say was the dental chair design. It directly affects your ability to do the work, your comfort, your access, and the patients’ comfort.
For hygiene it would be different. Like the use of oral cameras changed everything ― the ability to show someone (the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words”) and really show them what’s happening inside their mouths vs. you just telling them has been invaluable.
What do you think today's dentists are looking for most, out of a dental equipment supplier?
Well for sure, the less hassle the better.
But you want it all ― you want something technically sound; that’s best on market, helps you do your job better, and that you don’t have to repair all the time! Something you don’t have to repair all the time will win over something high-tech you have to fix every month.
I like to ask the service techs which products they see working well.
So, when DENTALEZ creates products like the Star 500 or our utility room products with embedded sensors, to alert you when something is potentially going wrong, do you see those innovations as important for your practice?
Yes absolutely. That’s actually one of the things I like most about the new Star 500 handpiece. I had been happy with our Star handpieces. But to have that ability is really cool ― right now, we’re keeping spreadsheets on all of our equipment, when was it last repaired; what was wrong with it… trying to keep track of the repair history on all these things. I think that’s awesome ― it’s a game-changer. You incorporate that into all your equipment, then instead of a clipboard with your list of repairs, or you guessing what’s wrong, you or your tech just pulls up the dashboard from wherever they are ― they can even order the parts before arrival.
What emotive words would you associate with the individual products, the use of their products, how they fit with your practice?
On the forefront, innovative/progressive.
Better, faster, stronger, more efficient.
Make the dentist's life easier, and the patient happier.
We normally like to ask our advisors at this point if they’ve seen the results of their feedback get incorporated and how, but you’ve been with us for a relatively short amount of time ― is there anything you’d like to say about that, in any capacity?
Well we’re always looking for things that can help us be more well-rounded, so one of the things I’d say now, and anywhere down the line, is that CE or training would be really helpful, and few people do that! So if you paired more CE along with your products, we’d be excited about that. The more the better.
What do you think has changed the most in the industry in the last few years (can be related to COVID or not)?
So the change is the effect of the PPE. It’s been so hard to find good team members ― whether that is dentists, assistants, hygienists, front desk staff, it's really difficult. It’s putting a strain on the dental community to get good team members and keep them. Especially wearing PPE all day. We lost a lot of people, whether it was dentists looking to retire sooner rather than later or younger people who just don’t want to wear all that extra material all day. If I had known coming out of dental school I’d be in a gown, a mask, a shield ― it’s hot, it’s tedious. So we’ve definitely taken a hit just in personnel. Which means now we can’t see as many patients. That means we have to drop more insurances because we can’t keep up. We have so many patients, we can’t see them all! We’re booking so far out; we just can’t keep up with the patient base.
Let’s end on a fun note:
What’s on your wishlist, as a dream solution (whether DENTALEZ can make it or not!!)?
In terms of equipment? I’d say a 3D printer, definitely. I’m not a high-tech kind of guy but it’s evolving to the point where we could handle it and that would be a cool feature. There’s just so much you can do with it. You could print out nightguards, Invisalign trays, even crowns in a pinch.
And again, from a non-equipment side, we need more training. More experts, who will come to the office to train the team specifically how to work with different situations; not even specific to dental procedures but customer service ― like the new patient experience, for example. Some industries seem to have that; dental just doesn’t seem to have a lot of that.
Dr. Sardina thank you so much for sharing your story, and all your insights into the dental industry as you and your team are experiencing it!