What Does a Confident Dentist Look Like in Uncertain Times?

By Lexi Marino December 28, 2020

In this episode, we met with Dr. Arezoo Bahar, DDS and member of Annapolis Prosthodontic Associates to discuss her journey of becoming a more confident dentist since we first spoke with her in March 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch this video to learn the following:

  • How a terrified dentist hit her stride in July 2020
  • What the future looks like for dentistry
  • How certain technology’s help bring enjoyment back to practicing dentistry
  • The importance of dental networking within your community

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 assess differing views across the nation. In Season 2, we’re focused on, “What’s Working and What’s Not”, where we’re debunking myths by assessing trial and error since the start of Covid-19.


Rolando Mia: Good day, everybody. Welcome to Dental Voice, Season Two with Zyris. My name is Rolando Mia. And today we have Dr. Arezoo Bahar. Are you smiling? First of all-

We met Dr. Bahar almost four and a half months ago at the beginning of this entire COVID process. Now four or five months later, we’re following up with Dr. Bahar to see what’s going on. What’s real, what’s not, and also how things are going. Thank you for joining us and, Oh my goodness. What are you wearing? Well, that’s all your PPE, is that correct?

Who’s Behind this Mask…and All of This Other PPE?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: Yeah, that is what we’re wearing these days, since COVID, since we came back. So I’m going to take them off one at a time, so you can see, but I have a face shield on, and that has a hole for the loop, for my loop to go through so that comes off. And then, I have my surgical loop and then underneath this, I take that off.

I wear two surgical… I wear a surgical level one mask over my KN95 mask. We change this for every patient. I go to a patient with a new surgical level one mask, and with a clean new shield for every patient. That gets changed. And then I wear this, which is for barber’s, the hairdressers they use this, and I put a new one of these for each patient, and then that comes off.

And then I have my lab coat that gets changed at the end of, depending on what each patient procedure is. And that gets changed. Then we wear scrubs underneath. That’s basically me. And then since I’m in my office, I can take my mask off and I can breathe and I can take my hoodie off and I can fix my hair and I need lipstick now, but no I’m kidding.

Rolando Mia: Oh my goodness. Thank you for that. We’ve heard so much about PPE, but on our show, we haven’t really seen it. What’s your experience? How does that feel? Are you comfortable? Are you acclimating to it? How is it feeling for you right now?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: It was definitely an adjustment and definitely breathing is difficult when you have two masks on, but when we walk into the practice, to the exam room, operatories, the patients actually, they like to see us, taking all these precautions. It’s really front and center that I’m a different person than I was post COVID.

Post COVID we would have the mask and the shield and the eye goggles and our lab jackets. But six months ago I may have gone in with nice street clothes and my high heels and totally a different look. But now I’m always in scrubs and always in lab coats and the patients can see that we’ve made that extra effort.

Rolando Mia: And how is the rest of your team acclimating to all that extra PPE and all the things that have to happen there?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: They really were on board right away and it’s hard for them too. But they were the same head caps, they use the face shield masks. They wear either surgical level three mask or the KN95 with a surgical level one mask, so they’ve done tremendously well. I’m really proud of them. They have really stepped up and really done a great job.

Rolando Mia: That is awesome. We’ve heard a lot from practices across the country where the team has actually felt uncomfortable and struggled with coming back into the office to the point where some of the team have actually decided not to. How was that with your practice?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: We were really fortunate. Every single team member came back. Every single team member has come back. Our hygiene department has come back. Our assistants, obviously all the doctors, our front desk, but we implemented so many other things into the office.

We put iWave technology into our HVAC air docks. We have five of them. We put in surgical, clean air units for every operatory. And they are really one of the best, I think air purifiers. And of course we got our Isolites and I can’t live without that. That has been really a game changer.

Using Isolite® to Build Team Confidence in Safety

Rolando Mia: So before, when we last talked, four or five months ago, you had never used the Isolite® had you?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: No, I had never used the Isolite, I was told many times, how wonderful it was and I came close to ordering it and then didn’t. And then I think in February, I had met you in the Midwinter meeting in Chicago.

Dr. Paul Bylis had been telling me to use it and how wonderful it was. And I just am not a good listener. So, but this COVID thing made me really do it. And I really love it. When I got it the first case I used it on, was a crown prep on number 15 on a long-term patient of mine who was a little nervous, about, this person just is always generally nervous about dentistry, but I thought, “Well let me try it.” And he did tremendously well with it.

And it was just really great to be able to have cheek retraction, to protect his airway and also to have the suction so that it would help with any aerosols. All in all…and I’ve used it over and over again every day I use it multiple times.

Rolando Mia: That’s so cool. So you originally got it because of the aerosols, this issue of aerosols, are you seeing that’s being eliminated or that’s decreasing or what’s your experience with it? And with regard to that and the spray and splatter, all that type of thing?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: It’s definitely, you can just see you’re not struggling with keeping your mirror always… like defogging your mirror and you’re cleaning it and just the whole environment looks…I see a lot less splatter than I do when I don’t have the Isolite. I have a lot more control of the oral environment that I’m working in.

Channeling Confidence During the Pandemic

Rolando Mia: That’s so cool. So are you personally, how do you feel? There was definitely apprehension about, “Oh, goodness gracious are we going to get infected here? There’s so much information.” How are you personally feeling now that you’ve been open for several months?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: Yeah, you’re absolutely right when this happened, like March 17th, when we were out and about, and then I had family over, it was, St. Patrick’s Day and then we came in and within a week we had our office to basically shut down.

And I remember coming in a week later to see an emergency patient, and he was a physician and he had been a patient of mine for 20 years. And I was almost hyperventilating treating him, because I was so nervous about COVID. And he turned around to me and he say, “Arezoo what’s going on?” And I said, “Look, I’m just so worried about this COVID thing.” And here he is a physician, delivering babies and stuff. But then we shut down for two months.

Then when we came back, we had implemented everything and touch wood every… None of our patients are sick, I’m not sick my staff, my assistant is hygiene. And I think it just shows that if you implement all these precautions, then we can remain… We feel a lot more secure in treating our patients.

Rolando Mia: Thank you for that. I had heard that hygiene was one of the areas that people, clinicians were feeling the most angst. Did you experience that or did you feel that your hygiene team was feeling that?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: The hygienists were at first, really, really worried and, concerned. And rightly so because all the media was focusing on like, “Don’t go to the dentist, go to the hygiene and that’s going to be COVID central kind of thing.” We had lots of meetings with the dental community, ADA, CDC we try to really listen to their guidelines and their recommendations, and then share that with our hygiene department.

And, then we said to them, “These are things we’re implementing. How do you feel? Are you comfortable returning to work? And then would you then go to their old schedule right away?” We gave them longer time, so that they could get used to wearing their PPE, what it took to transition, and gradually they got more and more comfortable.

And as the weeks went by, they were like, “Okay, if we do all of this…” And we screen our patients, obviously that’s another element of this. We have the questionnaire, we take their temperature and I think patients are also conscious if they have symptoms or they have any thought that they might be infectious, they consider it and they don’t just come into the office. So far, it has worked.

Rolando Mia: That’s so cool. And it’s nice to see that with the communications you had mentioned when last talked that during the course of this, you reached out and you were talking to the community, do you continue to do that? And how helpful, or how has that been?

Importance of Networking Within Your Dental Community

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: Yeah. We continue to do that. We really had so many meetings. I always I’m on Zoom meetings. Like everybody else, more on Zoom and phone calls and meeting with everybody in April, May, June, July. And then I think we really got into a rhythm back again in July. And people started taking August off and taking a breather. And now we’re back in September. Yeah.

But now we’re back into meeting with the triple…the Seattle study club members, with the Spear study club members and with the Annapolis study club members, we really are reconnecting again and doing what we’re doing with you. We’re going to meet back as a group and say, “How are we doing? How are we connecting? Is everything okay?”

Rolando Mia: You mentioned earlier on that you’re loving our system and we’re appreciated that. Did you also put the Isolite in hygiene?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: Oh, we put it in every single operative. We have eight operatories, so we got five Isolites and we got three Isovacs.

Rolando Mia: And how has hygiene been with regard to using it? Any issues there?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: They like it. I think they also have the leaf, but they really like the Isolite. I try to encourage them to use it more and more, but I think they…they definitely, at the beginning, we were not using Cavitron, until we got our Isolite. So they know that if they’re going to use the Cavitron, then that’s what they need to use, is to be able to do that procedure for patients.

Key Learnings Since Re-Opening

Rolando Mia: That’s awesome. So what have you learned now you’re backing and you’ve been working for several months, a couple of months here. What are some of the biggest things that you’ve observed or learned that have surprised you about coming back in this whole pandemic?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: We really learned that as bad as things can get, if we put our heads together, we can figure it out and we can come back and it’s not the end of the world, because the media was blowing it up so bad that like, it was going to be the end of dentistry or end of dental hygiene. And we were like, no, this is a very important part of healthcare and patients need, we need to continue to provide dental care.

So I was joking… I joke with my patients and I go, “This is like, to me, it’s like a pregnancy we’ve just finished a second trimester.” So you have to still find ways to connect and finding humor in it, but also show patients that we’re taking this seriously. But we still humans, we still taking care of their needs, our needs and the community’s needs, and also our our staff members.

Rolando Mia: We’re in the second trimester. Boy, I’m really curious to see what this baby’s going to look like.

I notice, or I can feel, I went back and watched our discussion, final four or five months ago. And now I don’t know what it is, but there’s a, you seem happier or I guess, less stressed. Would you say that?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: Yeah, absolutely. We were really worried what it was going to look like coming back, and I think it was good to worry. We had to have a certain amount of fear, but we also have to face those fears. And I think I said that last time when we had to say, “Okay, we’re worried about X, Y, and Z, but this is A, B, C, D, E to Z that we’re going to put in place to deal with our X, Y, and Z worries.”

And, I’m really just proud of the whole community. Our dental team, our patients everybody has done everything we asked and more. They day they didn’t say, “Oh, we are not going to wear the PPE, or we’re not going to screen the patients, etc.” They just really stepped up.

Rolando Mia: That is so cool. And it’s so nice. It’s so great. There are practices out there, Dr. Arezoo, who are still struggling and still haven’t opened yet. Are you seeing any of that in your area?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: I had heard that. We’re big community of dentists and I’ve only heard of one dentist who had not returned to work, but everybody else I know in our community, from our…we work with a lot of different specialists. We have an endodontist practice next door to us. We work with pediatric also perio oral surgeons. And everybody that I know in our community has returned back to seeing patients. I think patients appreciate that, because they realize that we’re taking a certain amount of risk, but we’re taking calculated risks. We’re doing everything to mitigate the risk for them and for us and our team members and the community.

Dealing with Apprehensive Patients

Rolando Mia: Have you had any experience with patients who are really apprehensive or patients who don’t want to comply with what you’re asking them to do?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: We’ve had only maybe a handful of patients who’ve said, “We’re not quite ready to come back.” I can count them in one hand for the patients who haven’t come back, but they said, “We are going to come back, but maybe we wait till January or spring of next year.” And we say to them, “We totally understand, you know, you can come back when you are ready at your own pace.”

But I want to say that 99% of our patients have come back. And once they come back, it’s been fine. The one thing that I get a lot is they say to me, “We can’t hear you, or we can understand what you’re saying.” Because I have so many, I have the mask and I have two masks and I have the shield and sometimes breathing can be hard.

So then they turn around to my assistant and they say, “Do you understand what she’s saying?” And my assistant says, “Yes, I do.” So she has to translate. So I tell them my Iranian accent and my masks and everything, but that’s been, one of the challenges. Also, I hear from dentists that and I experienced it sometimes too. We get fogged up. So we have to readjust our mask it’s an adjustment for sure. But you know, it’s life we had to adjust. We have to, it is what it is.

Rolando Mia: I love the advice that you provided us, last time we talked about recognizing that are here together, that it’s important to speak to each other. It’s important to communicate. And that resonated very strongly with me. Now that we’ve been in this now for a couple of months, this is not going to go away. Is it?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: No.

Rolando Mia: What advice would you give or what message would you like to give people with regard to the future and kind of around that?

COVID-19 Has Made Our Industry Stronger

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: I think, like you said, this is not going to go away. When HIV happened, we had to change. We had a paradigm shift, “Okay. Now everybody, we treat everybody as if they were HIV and hepatitis B positive.” Now we just say, “Okay, we just assume that all of us have COVID and all the patients have COVID.” If you take that level and you say, “Okay, can I treat this patient? What can I…what are the precautions I can take?”

And then you just then ask yourself and your team members, “Are you comfortable to do this procedure?” And if the answer is, yes, you move forward and you do it. And if the answer is no, then you sit back and you go, “What else can I do to get to a yes. Or should it be a no, should we ask to reschedule the patient?”

Again, sharing our concerns with other dentists and the community and saying, “Okay, you want to come and see how I do it?” Or saying, “This works, do you want to try doing it this way?” And helping each other, we are a very good community of, helping each other and getting through it. So I hope in six month’s time, I’m still here. And I don’t have COVID, and my patients don’t have COVID and we can celebrate. And we can say, “Okay, we all got through it.”

Rolando Mia: That’s so cool. And thank you for that. I suspect down the road, there are going to be other things that we’re going to, come into. Do you feel that COVID has prepared us to do that? Or do you think it’s just made us more crazy?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: No, I think it’s made us stronger. It’s made us realize, “Okay, we can face whatever is brought our way.” I really believe in the human spirit and the human, ingenuity to find out, “Okay, we are going to deal with whatever problem is going to be presented to us.” We are always going to have problems. Life is, ups and downs but you get stronger. You deal with one problem. You go, “Hey, I got it. I can deal with this.”

I was reading on, some Facebook page somebody had posted, we’ve had SARS, we’ve had the bird flu, we’ve had HIV, we’ve had wars and depressions and whatever it is, we got to pick it up. You deal with it, pick up, move on and try to get better. So we will get through this. I know we will.

Rolando Mia: That’s so cool. Like I did during our last session, I asked you. And now based on what you’ve learned over the past four months, based on what you’ve experienced, the feedback you’ve received from your patients, from your colleagues, and then also based on what you personally learned in this. How would you bring that together, and at this point four or five months later, what’s the sentiment that you’d like to share personally, with people who are going to view this with your colleagues, with your team, with your patient, with your family, what would that be?

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: You know that, this has been a humbling experience that you realize that your health and everyone’s health is the most important thing. And as long as we stay healthy, we have to be grateful for our health first, and then that we can deal with problems. I really feel a stronger person now than I did before COVID. I really do. I feel like it has given me another tool in my toolbox that has made me, does that make sense? We have a COVID tool now, so yeah.

Rolando Mia: Yeah. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: Exactly. And it has it really has. And I do love my Isolite. So if anybody doesn’t have Isolite, you should take the Isolite. Or you can come to my office and try it out.

Rolando Mia: Well, I’m glad. I’m thrilled that it worked out for you. If it hadn’t, I would have accepted that. That’s important to know too. So I appreciate you sharing that. And it’s also, it sounds like the other things you’ve put in place in your practice have also been very helpful in making sure you, your team, your patients are safe, and that it continues.

Dr. Arezoo Bahar: I’m really grateful for you helping us get the Isolite. It really has made…without COVID I would have loved to have had it and it just makes everyday dentistry better and more enjoyable.

Rolando Mia: Thank you so much for taking the time.