For Patients: What Is an Endodontist, Anyway?May 12, 2023
Preventing Root Canal Failure with the GentleWave Root Canal ProcedureMay 14, 2023
It’s been a while since I introduced myself on the blog, so I thought I’d take this week to say hello. If you’re new to my community, welcome! My name is Dr. Sonia Chopra, course creator, speaker, and board-certified endodontist with over 15 years of experience.
I am honored to do the work that I do, and it’s exciting to share my message about the importance of saving teeth. Recently, I was interviewed by Greta Bajrami on the Rootless Learning YouTube channel about my mission, and I’d love to share that video with you.
My roots as an endodontist
Greta: Talk to us about your roots, Sonia. (1:12)
It all started when I was born, because I was missing eight teeth. I was always at the dentist’s office, dealing with everything from cavities to bridges to veneers.
When I was getting ready to go to college, my mom wanted to make sure I had a full smile, so I spent that summer getting a lot of dental work done. Soon after, I started experiencing pain.
I saw half a dozen doctors, and no one could tell where my referred pain was coming from. This went on for about nine months, and at one point, my dentist suggested that it was all in my head. I can’t tell you how awful that felt, to think that I was imagining my pain.
I kept having to come home from college because of this awful, debilitating toothache. The pain got so bad that I swelled up like a chipmunk. My dentist said they would need to take my tooth out, because they didn’t know how to fix it. I could tell the oral surgeon was uncertain about the extraction, but I was in so much pain that he went ahead.
After the anesthesia wore off, I was still in massive pain, and my infection was still in full force. They had extracted the wrong tooth. Now I was missing nine teeth.
Finally, I was referred to an endodontist. He was so patient and kind; he listened to me, and he explained exactly what was going on. He performed a root canal, and that fully addressed my pain and infection. Best of all, he assured me I really could trust my body.
That experience made a huge impression on me. When I went back to school, I decided to become a dentist. Once I earned my DDS, I kept seeing my story in my patients, who didn’t know where their pain was coming from. I realized our dental education system is missing something important.
From that point forward, I was obsessed with endodontics. I completed my endodontic residency, became the first board-certified female endodontist in Charlotte, North Carolina, opened my practice, and decided to educate other dentists on everything I’d learned.
My journey to becoming a practice founder
Greta: I want to go back and make the connection from coming out of school to running your own practice. A lot of dentists want to do it, but some end up either collaborating with others or joining other people’s practices. But your approach was a little bit different. (6:34)
I remember the anxiety that I had during my fourth year of dental school, feeling that I wasn’t ready. I was worried about losing the safety umbrella of school—if I made a mistake, I would be in trouble.
I wanted to do the next step, which was a general practice residency. So I did a GPR in New York and continued my education for another year under a hospital umbrella, learning a ton. During that time, I started to notice I was really drawn to endodontics. I would swap cases with my co-residents; I’d give them my dentures case so I could get a root canal.
After that residency, it was time for the real world, but I didn’t start my practice right away. I was a general dentist associate in several offices. I was still living in New York City, and I had three part-time jobs at once, spread out across Queens, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. In fact, in two years, I had nine different jobs. Despite that, I was barely scraping by.
One time, I had a job where I was the only person in the office! I was the dentist, I was the assistant, I was the hygienist, and I answered the phone and manned the front desk.
These experiences helped me see what I liked and didn’t like, both about being a general dentist, and about being an associate. I discovered what I wanted to emulate in my own practice and what I wanted to do away with. I learned the huge value of having a great team, and I started to think about leadership and patient experience in more detail.
I turned endodontics into my career
I kept loving doing root canals, and that procedure differentiated me from other dentists. I paid attention to the feeling inside me when I was practicing endodontics; I loved getting patients out of pain, and I started gaining confidence as I performed more root canals.
I decided I didn’t want to be just okay at everything. Instead, I wanted to be really good at one thing. My brain is designed to be a specialist. So I took a little time off to backpack around Asia, then applied to a program in South Florida and completed my endodontic residency.
From there, I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, because that’s where my fiancé (now husband, who is also a dentist; yes, we met in our dental residency) was. I didn’t know anyone except him and his family, and I started looking for a job. But it was 2008, and the economy tanked. Nobody was busy enough to hire an associate.
So I thought, “Okay, I can either be unemployed, or I can start my own practice.”
Greta: Your big moment was born out of necessity. Do you think you would have taken that road regardless at some point? (12:56)
I would have done it regardless. One of my core values is growth, and I saw how stunted my opportunities were in my other jobs. It helped me understand that I need to be my own boss.
Greta: What are some traits that are necessary to be your own boss? (13:24)
Resilience and perseverance. But most importantly, commitment. The more I can commit to something, the more I can see that it gets done, it gets done well, and it continues my growth.
Here’s how I became a practice owner
Greta: How does one even start to build a practice? (13:53)
I got very lucky, because my husband was already in a practice here, so I was able to make some connections.
Plus, I followed a system that is already built in. I found commercial real estate, got a banker so I could get a loan, and my husband helped me with my business plan. I picked my dental supply company, who helped me create the design and flow of my practice.
After that, I spent a lot of time cultivating relationships with general dentists so they knew they could refer patients to me. From the beginning, almost all of my patients came through word-of-mouth.
If you want to start your own practice, you could do what I did and start one from scratch, or you could buy an existing practice, or join a group.
There are a lot of elements of your own life that you need to consider when you’re making these decisions. For example, I could not afford to take a paycheck my first year, but I was fortunate that I had the financial support of my husband. Not everyone can do that! If you can’t, you may want to buy a practice that already has a patient flow, a team, and existing workflows. Or perhaps you want to be an associate at a practice for a while and then buy into it later. There are so many options.
Building your career and practice requires building a brand
What does establishing a brand mean in dentistry? (16:15)
The important thing is to figure out what services are really your niche. Even as a general dentist, you could specialize in certain skills or procedures within your own practice. Perhaps you focus on sleep apnea, implants, or Invisalign. You can create anything because it’s your office, your career, and your brand.
If you have a story to tell, like I do, you can share that story. The more you do, the more people will connect with you. For me, everything I do now is built around my story. I’m a tooth saver to the max, and I don’t want any patient to take out their tooth unless they really need to. That’s born out of my own belief that teeth are invaluable, so I always want to give teeth a chance.
To be honest, I think that my niche is still being developed even now, over a decade in. We are all continuously evolving and growing.
I’ve learned more about who I want my patient base to be, too. For instance, if someone’s a price shopper, they aren’t in my niche. If they don’t value endodontic technology that we invest in, they aren’t in my niche. I’ve had to learn to be okay with giving a compassionate goodbye and referral to folks who aren’t as well-served by me, so that I can see patients who are a good fit.
How do you create patient loyalty with your brand? (20:05)
For me, it has always been about doing the right thing, and creating an amazing experience, from the moment a patient walks in the door and my front desk staff say hello, to the consult and the treatment.
For example, I don’t let people ask me for a refund; instead, I let them know that, if they still have pain in their tooth within the first year after treatment, I will do it again at no charge, no questions asked. I don’t even want the patient to feel the need to ask me! But, the patient does have to do their part; they can’t still be sitting in their temporary filling without a permanent restoration to protect their newly-treated tooth. This helps create a sense of empowerment, accountability, and responsibility, for both me and the patient.
I’ve always said, “So long as I do the right thing, the money will come.” It was never about the money in the first place, and I think this is key. It’s about taking care of my patient, listening to them, and doing my best by them. And I’ve been right; I’ve stayed true to that value, and I now have a booming practice with two partners and a constant stream of patients.
I’ve hard-earned my experiences so you don’t have to
Greta: Talk to us about the educational aspect of what you do. (24:07)
Dental school is four years long, but only about two weeks of that time is a crash course in endodontics. By the time most of us graduate, we’ve completed about four root canals. That’s it.
I remember one of those early root canals I did. Looking back on it, I know that I missed a canal, which means I didn’t treat the entire tooth. But totally innocently, I thought I had done a good job. The patient called me a few days later saying that her tooth was still bothering her. My advice? “Oh, give it some time.” I moved away from New York before I found out what happened with her, but I know that she needed a retreatment, based on my current level of experience.
I tell you this to normalize the fact that none of us are truly proficient in endodontics when we finish dental school. But just because it’s normal, that doesn’t make it okay. We really need to change our education system—but because I can’t change every dental school curriculum in the country, I have created my own continuing education course.
When I became a board-certified endodontist in 2014, I had to go back and re-study everything I’d learned in my endodontic residency because I had to pass my oral examination. When I went through that journey of re-studying everything, I learned even more. That’s because I had a foundation of experience and knowledge, and the amount I learned the second time around was astronomical.
As you continue advancing in your career, you’re gaining more experience and confidence. You’re building a foundation of tooth stories, competency with technology, and a solid gut about what is good dentistry and what isn’t. Now that you have been out of school, taking the opportunity to re-learn what you studied in school before you had practical experience is a game changer.
E-School is a mini-residency in endodontics
Greta: Tell us about your course, Dr. Sonia Chopra. (26:38)
My course is called E-School: Everyday Endo Made Easy. It includes everything that I do in my practice—every template, every trick, every hack, everything that has gotten me to where I am 15 years later. Hundreds of dentists have used it to fast-track their success, endo confidence, and ability to save patients’ teeth. Because of my amazing, dedicated students, there are more successful root canals out there, and there are more saved teeth for patients.
When you join at the E-School with Coaching level, you’ll get access to my award-winning curriculum, 8 weeks of small group coaching and mentorship from me, as well as access to a private Facebook group where you can share your cases and ask questions between calls.
E-School can net you 10-26 CE credits, and Coaching makes you eligible for E-School LIVE, my unique, 4-day, hands-on, in-person, live patient training program that takes place at my practice in North Carolina.
Or you can join E-School Independent, a DIY self-paced version of the curriculum, where you’ll gain lifetime access to over 10 hours of comprehensive video lessons and 40 downloads and resources—all designed to give you confidence with endo, reduce your chair time, increase your profits, and improve your outcomes.
It’s my life’s passion to teach dentists how to become more confident, profitable, and successful with endodontics. If you’re interested in learning more and joining E-School, enrollment is open now. Click here to take the next step in your continuing education journey.