Building Patient Trust During COVID-19





By Lexi Marino October 1, 2020

In this episode, we interviewed Dr. Maria Sebastian, DDS at Dentistry With a Smile to understand how she was able to build an even stronger client base since prior to COVID-19.

Rolando Mia, from Zyris, is the host of our series, Dental Voice. In this show, we focus on the latest news, topics, and conversations happening in dentistry and asses differing views across the nation. In Season 2, we’re focusing on, “What’s Working and What’s Not”, where we’re debunking myths by assessing trial and error since the start of Covid-19. 

Watch this video to learn the following:

  • Importance of continuous HVE in addition to PPE
  • Building a tribe of teammates who feel genuinely cared for
  • Creating engaging communication helping them to understand safety precautions
  • Implementing technology to keep staff and patients safe based on research

Rolando Mia:

Good day, everyone. Welcome to Dental Voice. This is Season 2 with Zyris. My name is Rolando Mia and the purpose of Dental Voice is to hear directly from clinicians to understand the experiences that they’re having and have them talk to us about their perceptions. Today, we have a very special guest, Dr. Maria Sebastian, DDS from “Dentistry With A Smile” in New Jersey.

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

Hi. How are you, Ro?

Rolando Mia:

I’m well, thank you. And thank you for taking the time to join us.

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

Thanks very much for having me here. I’m looking forward to a great time as all the questions you want me to answer today. I’m excited.

What’s Happened After Re-Opening Dental Doors

Rolando Mia:

Okay, cool. I’m going to get right into this. When you consider what’s happening in dentistry, 4-5 months ago we had no idea that life would be the way it is today. Now that we’ve come back, there are so many things that we were freaking out about. When you look at how you’re doing dentistry, now that we’ve come back from quarantine and COVID-19, what’s different between what you thought was going to happen and what’s actually happening with you right now?

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

Oh, that’s a great question. Before Covid-19, I thought that actually my patients would be more scared to come and get their dental treatment, but as we progress day-to-day, I can sense that there’s a need for the people to come in and that they actually miss doing their dental appointments. So, that is one of the biggest revelations. I thought they would be scared, and I’m talking about this in my office, but they’re actually excited to come. Some of them actually said they miss coming here. I thought it’s going to be like, we’re going to be having a hard time getting them in for their cleaning, but so far, they just really miss coming here.

Rolando Mia:

It may be a testament to you and your team, but did they express any fear? Was there any initially because of all the talk about how this virus spreads and the things that can happen in a dental setting?

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

Some of them would ask you know, what we’re doing to actually ensure their safety. But most of them actually, because before we opened the practice fully, we actually sends out a lot of emails. I sent out my video telling them what we’ve been doing and how we are trying to give them the safest possible dental experience. So, most of them except for the ones that didn’t get our emails or watch our videos, would just want to come in and their apprehension would go away quickly. I think we’re very lucky.

Rolando Mia:   

That’s awesome. Did you, did you get any feedback or fear, or did you feel any of that with your team?

Team Anxiety and Fear Relating to Covid-19

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

With my team? Some of them, yes. Yes. But you know, during the time that we are in lockdown, I was in constant communication with the team. So, they knew I was doing all the research and that I really wanted take care of them. There are a couple of them that cannot come back and it’s not because that they think that it’s unsafe here. It’s just for other reasons. Other than that, my team is willing to work and they actually work hard cause they know they’re very protected in this office.

Rolando Mia:

Awesome. Thank you.

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

I’m lucky to be surrounded by this.

Rolando Mia:

When you look at the guidelines from the CDC, WHO, ADA, OSHA, all that, nobody really had anything definitive to say. So, how did you make your decisions regarding what you were going to do to keep them safe? How did you come to those decisions?

Making Decisions Based on Research

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

So you are very true. Everything is new, everything is fluid, everything is evolving. That was my main concern because today is a different news then tomorrow. So, it was a constant study for me, but in terms of me relating to my team, to my patients, how did they go through it? I based everything from what I learned and I based everything from my heart, actually, what is the best that I can deliver? What is the best that I can, you know, keep my team safe? They have their families, they have their children, they have their parents. So I base all my decisions actually from my heart and not just my mind, you know, like my mind knows because I do a lot of research, but I have to base it from my heart so that I would be able to actually give them the most controlled environment.

Also, for my patients, you know I based everything because I see them not just as patients, but I see them as family. I see them as people that have their jobs that don’t want to get anything a virus from their dental appointment. So, I see it from my heart and of course from my mind when I research, so that’s how I got by every day is a struggle. Every day was a different decision. Then I always go back to being like, how do I care for them? What is the best that I can do for them? Everything is based on that and that perception and then everything else flows really well.

Rolando Mia:

That is so cool. And I love the way you would marry kind of the, what I’m going to call the science and the technical with your heart and make a decision based on that. It sounds like it’s working really well. That’s great to hear.

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

Yes, because if you use your mind and your heart, you don’t regret anything.

Rolando Mia:

So, the big thing that everyone has been talking about is aerosols. Are you seeing an issue now that you’ve been back into practice now?

Controlling Aerosols and Droplet Spatter

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

I’m glad you asked the question; you know that was also my biggest fear and my biggest concern. Before we reopened the practice fully, I did a lot of research on that. We have the best possible control in terms of aerosol. So am I seeing a problem with that? Right now, I really don’t, and this is my honest opinion.

The way that we control the aerosol in the office, we have implemented extraoral vacuums, right in front of the patient. We also have surgically clean air filtration systems in place, which has 6 levels of filtration. So anything that escapes the extra oral vacuum also gets filtered from the air with the surgical surgically clean air filtration system.

Plus, we have implemented the Isolite® and the Isovac® because with this product, when we put it in our patient’s mouth, we notice control of splatter and aerosol coming from a patient’s mouth. Patients actually appreciate it too. They know they’re so protected. When they first walk in, even with everything that we assure them, they would not want to remove their mask and some would actually put their mask on their nose. Once we start showing them what we have and what we’re doing, and we put the Isolite in their mouth and they see the surgically clean air filtration system. Then they remove their mask and then become comfortable. They actually thank us after the procedure for keeping, keeping them safe. And we really appreciate it.

Rolando Mia:

So, you’ve got redundancies in the systems and you hadn’t used our dental isolation systems, like the Isolite and Isovac, before this had you?

Reducing Team Stress With Isolite®

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

No, I wish. I should have used it before. It’s really amazing technology for me and my team. It reduces a lot of stress from the patient’s point of view and that reduces a lot of stress from our point of view, using the Isolite or even the Isovac, with the amount of isolation they give us, we don’t have to struggle with the tongue. We don’t have to struggle with the cheeks. It’s just that easy. It makes everything easier. The procedures get done faster, more efficiently. The patient actually really thanks us and not saying this just to say it, but they really thank us. I have an experience from yesterday. There was a patient, he thought he would not be able to put it in his mouth. He said, “Oh, I think I’m going to have a hard time breathing.” But then we said to him, “Let’s just try it and see if you’re comfortable and if you really don’t like it, we’ll take it out.” We were able to do an upper right all the way back with a big cavity. And then after that, he said, “You know what? I love this tool and I’m not exaggerating.” He was a new patient. So he said, he’s so confident and he’s happy that he came here. So yeah, we gained a friend yesterday.

Rolando Mia:

Thank you for that. So, with that, the layering of the different devices, if anything were to be missed, it would be captured here. Then you have, I noticed here your PPE and all of that.  From a communication standpoint, it sounds like you basically let all of your patients know all of these different layers of protection and all of these different technologies you’re using, correct?

Building Team Trust With Safety

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

Yes, because I want them to feel safe. I want them to feel comfortable. It’s not just for us, it’s also for them. So, when they walk in, we tell them how safe they are. Then, of course, we tell them that we have to put on all of this enhanced PPE. So, for us to be safe, from, you know, so it works both ways.

Rolando Mia:

Awesome. So, there are still dentists right now who are struggling. Also, there are, I don’t know if you’ve heard, there are offices that aren’t open yet or they aren’t going to make it. On the flip side, there are clinicians out there like you who were clearly ahead of the game and were able to put things in place. What advice would you give those dentists who are still struggling and trying to figure out how to move forward?

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

For the dentists that are struggling right now with this pandemic, I think, go back to what you know, okay? What you do best is protecting the public. We’ve come a long way and dental school is no joke. If you put your heart in it, and if you do your research, don’t be afraid. You have to control what you can control, give your patients the safest possible experience. You have to actually invest in yourself, invest in your staff, and then invest in the patients. So, it’s no joke to set up all this, but I believe your best investment is yourself, your staff, and your patients. If you invest in it, everything else will flow.

Also, find other things to do that make you happy when you’re not working. Then work will translate to happiness when you’re inside the office. Also, surround yourself with people that accept your point of view. You don’t need negative people with you every day. So, if something is bothering you, you have to get to the point, get it straight, and get it over with. So just take it easy, go back to what you know, go do everything that is correct. The patients will come if they know that they are protected. Your staff will actually appreciate it. So, don’t be discouraged. You’ve come a long way.

Rolando Mia:

There’s a huge message of caring. I can see why your patients adore you and feel comfortable when they’re in your practice. Also, you know, your team, they’re rock stars.

Gaining Patient Trust With Comfort

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

They can’t be in this office if they’re not rock star material.

Rolando Mia:

You emphasize communication. You talk about connecting, you make sure you’re listening and that the sentiment gets through your entire team. One of the things that I definitely notice with your practice is how you communicate. You don’t just communicate with traditional means.

So, consider this, dentistry as we know it has changed. You know, COVID-19 is not the one and only, there are other viruses and COVID-19 is one of many. So from your perspective, what are your thoughts about the future? How do you see COVID affecting the future of dentistry and then affecting how you are going to be doing your craft and delivering the service and care to your patients?

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

Hmm. Well, you know what I think, I mean don’t get me wrong. COVID-19 it’s not the nicest thing that can happen. Okay. But I think all right, going forward, the dental office will be more careful. We will be more precise. We have to be more innovative now and go with the trends. What is out there to streamline our operations, what is out there to actually enhance protection?

So, from this point, I actually see dentistry to get bigger in the sense that all dentists are nerds. We will be doing our homework. I would say that everybody else would be doing their little steps to actually get everybody more protected. I know it’s a scary future, but I think it would be fine because there will always be new technologies. There will always be new learnings and there will always be new techniques to protect your staff and the public. So, I think that it will be a great time for everybody to go back to being more careful, more precise and that’s the streamline of it. Also, it will be less stressful actually, once you put everything in place. I think that’s the future.

Rolando Mia:

Wow. Thank you for that. Thank you for the, thank you for the message. There are those who have doom and gloom and say to themselves, “Oh, what are we going to do?”, and then there’s what you’re saying, which is, “Hey you know, we’re going to be okay.” We have a lot of guests on our show and one of them, Dr. Paul Goodman shared, “focus on the positive, not the negative.”, and then take that and you run with it. It’s a phenomenal mindset because it doesn’t get you freaked out about what you can’t control.

Learning and Adapting to New Technology

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

Right? Once you know what you’re dealing with, then you know what to do. So, if you don’t do your research, if you’re just staying in your house and cooking or baking and not doing anything to actually research, I mean, I mean, if you, if you run a practice, you have to learn, you have to learn how to adapt. You have to learn what is out there. So you cannot just stay in your house and expect everything to flow. If you run a practice, that’s what you have to do. I also bake and cook during the lockdown, but I also learned, so baking and cooking is not that bad, but you have the learn and then adapt. And then yeah. You’ll, you’ll be fine. You have to know what you’re dealing with.

Rolando Mia:

How did you get here? Where did you get the confidence and the mindset of pushing through? Do you have a mentor or how did Dr. Maria come to be?

Building Trust By Being Motivated

 

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

Well, I think it’s not a mentor, but I have great motivation. I mean I have four children and that motivates me to do well every day. I have the staff that motivates me to do my best every day. So, I have a lot of I have a lot of motivation from my family and my staff who becomes my family too. My passion to actually do well for other people, especially to my patients, because I know that they rely on me to have a healthy mouth. That’s just my passion and I’m committed to that. So that is probably my greatest motivation, not mentor, but motivation.

Rolando Mia:

So, you also like do other things outside of work. What else do you do?

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

Aside from doing dentistry, I dance. I compete in Latin dances. I go to the beach. That’s my goodness. My advice is, find something you love to do when you’re not at work. When you do that, you’ll be more thankful about what you’re doing in your work. So that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s the thing.

Rolando Mia:

Yeah. I like that. I’m looking at these incredible comments that we’re getting right now. Not all heroes wear capes. The sentiment that you have is so cool. So, what’s the message that you want to get out to our viewers, to other clinicians, to patients that will be seeing this as time goes on?

Dr. Maria Sebastian:

For my patients, we genuinely care for your welfare, as well as your family’s welfare. Some of you have been with me since I started my practice, which was not long ago and some of you haven’t been with me through these changes. Some of you have been new with me through moving my office, some are new patients, and some are just getting to know the practice. I would just like to let you know that I am here, and I will answer all of your concerns regarding your fears surrounding COVID-19. You can just call me. I can make you feel comfortable and give you scientific facts of what we have, if you need it to just make you feel comfortable. Also, I would like to thank my patients for just continuing their trust and support to the office. Thank you for coming here and actually being part of our lives. You make our lives easier. You make our lives more wonderful. And that’s just, thank you for, thank you so much for that. 

For other patients, your best resource is your dentist. Whatever you’ve see on the news, whatever you see on the internet, if you trust your dentist, go call them. For those that are so scared, one of your best resources is your dentist, ask them what they’re doing. Talk to the staff, make yourself comfortable and then weigh it out. When you don’t come, there’s more risk in health problems, you need to have a good immunity to fight this pandemic. If you have a lot of problems in your mouth your immunity is going to be lower. This also goes to the immune compromised patients. The more immune compromised you are, the better should be your oral environment. You shouldn’t have gum problems. You should have no cavities in there. So, the risk versus the benefits, actually the benefit is more to talk to your dentist, ask them, tell them your fears, and then they will guide you.

You’re better off really going and seeing your dentist than having a low immune system because you have a bad mouth. Okay.

For my staff, I just would like to thank you guys. Thank you for making my workday easier every day. These people, they know what they’re doing. They are the pros in their own ways. I am just the dentist here. I just do the dentistry. They’re my boss. You know, they tell me what to do and everything is good. I’d like to thank them because they make my life easier and yeah, that’s about it.

Rolando Mia:

Well, excellent. Our viewers, thank you for joining Dental Voice with Dr. Maria Sebastian, and thank you for taking the time. Clearly you and your office, Dentistry With a Smile, the sentiment is right there. Have a great rest of your week. Please be safe.

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