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Teaching and Saving Teeth: A Family Affair

Compiled by Michael Dobrow

With Father’s Day around the corner, Michael Dobrow, integrated communications specialist for the AAE, interviewed father-daughter duo, Paul A. Falcon, D.M.D., and Carla Y. Falcon, D.M.D., M.D.S., to learn more about their experiences as a family committed to academia and saving teeth. The pair are accomplished authors, educators, and leaders in the endodontic field.

Michael Dobrow: Thank you both for taking some time to connect with me and for the opportunity to share this with AAE Members! Before we get too into it, can you both tell me more about where you went to school and your current position?

Dr. Carla Falcon: I studied Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences, as well as History, and received my B.S. from Northwestern University in 2007. I received my D.M.D. from the New Jersey Dental School, University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey (now Rutgers School of Dental Medicine) in 2013. I also earned my M.D.S. and Endodontist Certificate from there in 2015. I became ABE Board Certified in 2016, and I currently teach at Rutgers. I am the Pre-Doctoral Program Director in the Department of Endodontics.

Dr. Paul Falcon: I received my B.S. in Chemical Engineering in 1975 from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). I also earned my M.S. in Chemical Engineering from NJIT in 1977.

I earned my D.M.D. from New Jersey Dental School (Rutgers School of Dental Medicine) in 1981. I received my Endodontist Certificate from Rutgers in 1983. I became ABE Board Certified in 1992. I’m currently the Director Specialty Education Program in Endodontics at Rutgers and a District II Director for the AAE.

Dobrow: How did you both get interested in dentistry and endodontics?

Dr. Carla Falcon: I’ve always been interested in engineering. My father and I both have a background in it – which may be a source of our overlapping interest in endodontics. Engineering is very much about problem solving.  It teaches one to break down problems to understand the constraints and parameters of each of the component parts.  Instead of “treating symptoms”, an engineer discerns and treats the root cause, thereby resulting in the desired resolution of symptoms.  I think this is also the skillset of an Endodontist.

Dr. Paul Falcon: Personally, I was unfortunate (fortunate) to have a central incisor sports injury – at the age of 14 – which created and oblique crown fracture down to the level of CEJ on the palatal tooth #9.  The entire experience or journey, from injury to treatment, was really awe inspiring to me.

A series of same day events unfolded after my injury. I received a completed root canal and temporary post/crown.  I was a bewildered high school freshman who received a crash course /schooled by an adroit general dentist, oral surgeon and endodontist – each of whom – paid cab fare moving me to each other’s  offices as dental management unfolded.

At this early age, I saw them coordinate, via telephone conversations, formulating best outcome decisions…Dental offices were a lot smaller in the 1960’s. These dentists were sharp at the task they were given in solving my problem. They were friendly, yet focused, almost with a swagger, in having the correct knowledge of how to manage “my” issue.  These dentists stuck in my mind as the type of person to emulate.

Dobrow: What’s it like working with each other? Similarly, I’m told you’re both married to general dentists – can you tell me more about that dynamic –  is there any “good-natured” rivalry between father and daughter and/or spouses?

Dr. Carla Falcon: I don’t think there’s a particular rivalry between us.  As  co-workers, (my father and I both teach at Rutgers) I think open and direct communication is actually made easier.  The nice thing about spouses/parents in the field is that there is a true understanding of the challenges we all face.

Dr. Paul Falcon: Rivalry is not in the mix. It is really cheerleading that rules the day. With all endodontists, especially those with style and profile on the internet, it is fun to see those who can think and solve problems outside the box. None of us have all the answers for all cases, and this admitted humble approach, is what really keeps endodontists real to each other…Even any colleague down the street… All can admire healed endodontic treatment and appreciate the attention to detail or easily recall images of completed cases and help each other.

Like attracts like, naturally. It is good to have a soul partner in endodontics, a close colleague is like a priest, rabbi, or minister.  Truly, only another endodontist appreciates the depth of discussion of a difficult treatment case, or a disheartening outcome involved with referral issues in the practice setting.

Dobrow: Broadly speaking, can you tell me how the pandemic has affected you?

Dr. Carla Falcon: Pandemic life has felt like a sprint.  It’s been at times both exhilarating to rise to new challenges and exhausting.

Dr. Paul Falcon: Even through the pandemic, I have never regretted the career decision to practice endodontics. I think the support offered to each of us by our surrounding colleagues has framed the fragile nature of our humanity and reinforced the desire of all of us to truly care for family, friends, and patients.

Dobrow: You’re educators – what sort of broad lessons or messages would you like to share with our readers?

Dr. Carla Falcon: As a recipient of the AAEF Endodontic Educator Grant, I would like to share my gratitude to the supporters of the AAEF.  I could not have sustained a full-time teaching career without the support of that grant. The loan burden associated with dental education is so high, and loan repayment is a major barrier to a new graduate pursuing a teaching career.  On an educational front, I’d also like to make an appeal to members to consider part-time teaching involvement.  It could be at a community-based site, AEGD, GPR, residency or traditional dental school.  Endodontists’ involvement in all levels of dental education lays important groundwork for the future of the specialty, both in training future endodontists, but also the training of future referring dentists.  On a personal level, it can be quite rewarding to mentor students as the foundational concepts come to life.

Dr. Paul Falcon: The broad lesson of my time line in the AAE, academics, and private practice is that the organization will be sustained by input from all of us. It will change faster with younger and smarter representation from the diversity of students in our current academic settings.

Many strong endodontic concepts from our founding “Fathers” of endodontics are expressed by our hands in the operatory, but also by the sincerity of care seen on our post op images amongst dentists. How we positively project to each other is observed by the public one patient at a time but can be a strong message for the future.  The AAE does bring the family of endodontists to the table to argue, push and ultimately decide which path benefits all.  Keep it close to your heart.