The American Association of Endodontists recently interviewed Dr. Chad Gehani, the newest president elect of the American Dental Association. Dr. Gehani, an endodontist, explains how emigrating from India as a young man and the experiences that followed prepared him to be an advocate for the ADA. Gehani discusses the bright future of our profession, with advances in technology and education, but also warns of the imposing barriers to entry that may now challenge other young people like himself so many years ago from entering or succeeding. Below is a Q and A between Dr. Gehani and AAE Assistant Executive Director of Marketing and Communications Kim FitzSimmons.
FitzSimmons: What inspired you to get involved in the fields of dentistry and endodontics?
Dr. Gehani: I was born into a very poor family from Mumbai, India – one of the youngest of six children. I am the proud product of India’s public schools, but there was limited access to dental care and limited oral health knowledge among the public. I saw my first dentist when I was 19. There was a need for general dentistry in India, and I was very much interested in becoming a dentist. I received my dental training at the University of Bombay and eventually went on to study endodontics at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine.
FitzSimmons: I understand your wife, Rehka, is an orthodontist! Describe yours and her journey to becoming credentialed in the U.S. and ultimately opening your own practice? It seems you, along with her and your practice’s partner (who also immigrated here) are living proof the American Dream is strong. What challenges did you face along the journey?
Dr. Gehani: I don’t like to call them challenges or even road blocks. For me, I think of them as opportunities. We are very good at turning lemons into lemonade. My wife and I became dentists in India and eventually moved to the U.S. By the way, my wife and two kids are the best orthodontists!
FitzSimmons: You have three kids, right?
Dr. Gehani: Yes, I have another son. I don’t know where we went wrong with him. He became an MD… He’s an ENT, head and neck surgeon. *chuckles* Science runs in our family.
FitzSimmons: If not challenges–what sorts of opportunities do you see on the horizon with regards to dentistry and endodontics? Similarly, what is your vision for the future or what do you hope to accomplish at the ADA?
Dr. Gehani: Dentistry is changing for the better. When I was a dental student in India, there were 130 dental students with only 10 percent being women. Now, the percentage is roughly 55 percent women and 45 percent men. It’s great to see these sorts of changes!
Our technology continues to improve. Successful root canal treatment used to take three visits, but now we can do it in one visit. But these technological advancements mean higher costs. In order to make sure our patients get the best care, we need modern state of the art tools. Even the chairs our patients lie on as we treat them need to be replaced occasionally and those items can add up–especially if you’re a small business owner or sole practitioner.
I also think data security can be problematic. As doctors, we need to make sure our electronic data is preserved and protected. We can’t let it fall into hackers’ hands who demand ransoms.
I’d like to make the ADA the premier go-to for all things dental, globally. I want us to be the Google of dental, whereby anyone, anywhere knows who we are and comes to us for all their dental or oral health care questions and beyond. Or put another way, we want to be the best source of information with regards to dentistry, sort of like Amazon Prime. I want us to serve our patients’ and the public’s needs, but also be the superior brand or product of associations.
We need to invest in our members and ensure our patients get the best care possible. I think difficulties or challenges also present themselves in the forms of “do-it-yourself” dentistry. We need to educate people about the science behind our work and the advanced diagnostics we do and how DIY products that promise the perfect smile are too good to be true and are probably not the best course of treatment or may even hide a real problem only an endodontist or general dentist can diagnose.
I think the ADA and AAE can work with our state and local elected officials and dental boards to protect the public from DIY.
We need to make sure people have increased access to affordable dental health care and coverage and better dental benefits.
I don’t like to be referred to as an Indian American. I prefer to be known as an American made in India. I became a U.S. citizen for the freedom, but here, it seems we sometimes don’t have the freedom to truly help patients. Their health care decisions should be made between them and their doctors. We all need to work together toward better patient outcomes-and give them the freedom and guidance to make informed decisions about their treatment options.
We also need to work to make school and training more affordable. Student debt is out of control. I’m on the dean’s advisory committee at NYU, where we froze tuition for these last five years, and now we’re attempting to lower it by $1,000 each year. We ultimately need to make going to school much cheaper across the board.
FitzSimmons: You mentioned working with endodontists to help take on the dangers of DIY dentistry, what are some other ways endodontists and general dentists can work together?
Dr. Gehani: I think we need to have open communication between the fields and maintain strong relationships. General dentists can actually do a lot, but endodontists are pain detectives. A dentist may not always know how to treat the real source of tooth pain and they shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to an endodontist.
FitzSimmons: You’re also a professor. What sort of lessons do you teach your students?
Dr. Gehani: We must treat our patients as ourselves or how we’d like to be treated. We must treat them like our moms and dads that way we as doctors will always do the right thing.
FitzSimmons: A little lighter of question, but what do you like to do for fun or in your past time?
Dr. Gehani: I really enjoy reading and studying about all religions. I’m really inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. He was a very small man, literally, but accomplished great things.