Last Updated on December 10, 2023 by Laura Turner
Avi Patel, DDS, or Dr. Avi, is a dentist who leverages his dental education to educate people about clear aligners. He grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and attended dental school at NYU College of Dentistry. Upon graduation, he entered private practice and then founded his own company to advise dentists on integrating clear aligners into their practices. Dr. Avi spoke with the Student Doctor Network about his experiences becoming a dentist and building a practice and a consulting business. Below are excerpts from our discussion; the full interview is available on YouTube.
The text has been lightly edited for clarity.
Emil Chuck, PhD: What surprised you most about going to dental school? What were some of the ideas that you had coming in, preconception-wise, and what busted the various myths you had (in your head)?
Avi Patel, DDS: Yeah, so I thought that when you come outta dental school, you’re gonna know a lot. Like, I thought you were gonna know a lot to the point where you can go off and be a successful dentist, right? I thought it was like, you graduate, you know everything you need to know, you can go and do everything. It’s not the case. It’s not the case.
And that doesn’t mean dental school doesn’t teach you anything – dental school does. But I kind of summarize it as dental school teaches you enough not to cause harm to patients. It’s on you thereafter, where if you want to learn other procedures and do things like implants, veneers, and clear aligners, you have to pay for that training outside of school. So that was a huge shock. And I realized this probably in my third or fourth year of school because I was like, wait, if we’re still learning about fillings, when are we gonna get to the good stuff? <Laugh>. And then it was, oh no, we’re not learning that. <Laugh>
Emil Chuck, PhD: Well, it sort of leads to the next question – then you must have pursued a residency or gone through the process of choosing what your next step was after you graduated.
Avi Patel, DDS: So, I actually did not do a residency. And the reason was that once I had that realization that, oh, you’re not gonna be taught everything in school, then it made me go on the other side where I was like, okay, well, if I’m going to spend more time on something, I wanna make sure I know exactly what I’m gonna learn from it. So I would talk to upperclassmen who did residencies, and I talked to people who completed them. And it was good. Everyone kind of said it helps you hone in on some of your skills. So some of the basics, like fillings, ’cause you get to do more volume. At some residencies, they do allow you to do surgeries, like implants and stuff, and even some full mouth rehabs.
But what I found out was those residencies were very rare. And even then, it wasn’t a guarantee. And so, at that point, I looked myself in the mirror. I was like, all right, what do I want out of the next year of my life? Do I want to go in this hospital setting? Also, that was another thing. I did not like the hospital setting.
That was one of the main reasons why I didn’t want to do that. And I know there’s AEG DS and stuff like that, too, but at that point, I wanted some real-world experience. I wanna get out there; I wanna find a mentor. ‘Cause I asked dentists, what’s the best way to be successful? They said – find a mentor, keep learning, keep working, keep practicing. Cool.
So I thought, let me just go out. I can start getting the real-world experience. Even treatment like getting case acceptance and case presentation skills, you don’t really learn that in residency. Right? You’re essentially learning the health profession version of sales. And you only do that if you’re out practicing. So that’s what I went for. And I’m glad I did because I got a real dose of what the real life of associateship looks like. But yeah, that’s how I determined it. I could do a residency, and, yeah, I might have some better clinical skills, but my soft skills, my real life skills aren’t gonna grow. And I valued real-life skills more, which is why I decided to opt straight to practice.
Emil Chuck, PhD: Could you describe the journey to where you are now?
Avi Patel, DDS: So basically, I had a lot of associateships. I had eight in my first two years. And yeah, it’s a pretty high number, but it’s it’s actually more common than you would think.
And what it was is, each situation was a little bit different, right? I made a whole YouTube video series reflection on this. But keeping it high level: I went in hopeful, willing to learn, willing to absorb information and get better. And then something out of my control would happen to essentially cause me to not be there anymore. So, at one of the offices, after I was there for about four or five months, they realized they weren’t busy enough for two doctors. That’s not necessarily their fault. Maybe my treatment planning skills weren’t up to par, but it was multiple variables that came into it. In another office I was working there, the owner was great, but after three months, he ended up selling the practice to two dentists. And then, they didn’t need me anymore.
There were some practices where there were some false promises. A dentist said, come in, you can do whatever you want. And I was very clear about my intentions, right? What I learned is the more clarity you have at the interview, the better it is to see if it’s gonna be a fit. And not every job is a good fit. After a couple of months, he said, hey, you really need to be seeing kids; this practice is heavily focused on kids. And I said, well, you never mentioned that. And that’s not an area that I enjoy, practicing on kids. And so, you know, it was stuff like that.
But you know, I think my advice to younger dentists is always that you have to know what you want before you take a job. You have to know what you want out of it. Right? And, of course, we all want stability, but the reality is you cannot control things. You know, six months, one year, two years, three years down the line. What you can control is what you are aiming to get out of that (situation).
Always in the beginning, it’s learning; learn as much as you can. I’m a big proponent of taking less money in the beginning in terms of a daily guarantee if the opportunity is going to reward you with some type of education. Once I had that mentality, I looked at each opportunity, each associateship, as an opportunity and as a chapter. So, my book just has more chapters to it <laugh> in a shorter span. But I was able to learn.
Another takeaway that I had: I really thought that if you were a practice owner, you knew everything. You were on top of your game. You knew the ins and outs; you were the pinnacle. But after working at so many offices, I was like, wait a minute, everybody’s doing this dentistry thing differently. Some people are super organized, they have systems, very efficient, very great workplaces, and then other practices, the owner doesn’t even know what’s going on. There’s no system. There was no onboarding; there’s no nothing. So once I saw that, I realized, okay. I get it. Everybody is trying. Everybody is trying their best, and everybody is doing it differently. And that’s okay. It was another learning point.
Want to learn about other dentists and how they approached their careers? Check out these other Q&A sessions with dentists:
- 20 Questions: Robert Nadeau, DDS, MD
- Ask Me Anything: General Dentistry with Rachel Perez, DMD (YouTube)
- From Engineering to Army Dentistry: An Interview With Army Captain Pamela Cotton, DDS
- 20 Questions: Andrew Read-Fuller, DDS, MS, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
- 20 Questions: Jean Paul Schmidt, DDS
- 20 Questions: Adam C. Shisler, DDS
Emil Chuck, PhD: How did you get interested in clear aligners and educating others, including other providers, about these treatments?
Avi Patel, DDS: For me, I got interested in it because after two years of practicing, I was starting to burn out. I was doing your foundational dental procedures: fillings, crowns, root canals, simple extraction, stuff like that. And I felt like I needed to do more. I want to do more. So, I invested in myself, and I started learning. I took a course and learned how to do implants.
I re-watched all the videos online that Invisalign gives you because I was certified in school for aligners. And then I was like, okay, I’m gonna try this out. And then, I had a mentor.
I saw a free webinar. The presenter, Dr. Christina Blacher, became my mentor, and she said if you ever have any questions, let me know. So I leaned on her. I started doing the procedure, and patients started agreeing to treatment. I started something like 50 cases in six months.
So now, all of a sudden, it’s caught my attention. I’m doing this procedure that does not take that much time to do. It’s a high-ticket procedure. So I was making more money, which was nice, considering that I was always in and out of jobs. I was like, okay, this is fun. And (I also liked) being a part of a patient transformation. It wasn’t just, let’s fill a cavity. It was, let’s move your teeth and improve your oral health.
Patients were flossing more. Patients were coming in, asking me questions because they noticed stuff. And I noticed, whoa, this is a whole different dynamic, and I really like that. And so I decided, okay, I’m gonna do more of this. So, I did more.
But also, my reaction was that people need to know about this. I was working with two other dentists at the time. One of them had been practicing for 20 years. But he was open-minded, and I taught him how to do it.
See the rest of the interview on YouTube, where Dr. Avi talks about how he founded his consulting business.
Emil Chuck, Ph.D., is Director of Advising Services for the Health Professional Student Association. He brings over 15 years of experience as a health professions advisor and an admissions professional for medical, dental, and other health professions programs. In this role for HPSA, he looks forward to continuing to play a role for the next generation of diverse healthcare providers to gain confidence in themselves and to be successful members of the inter-professional healthcare community.
Previously, he served as Director of Admissions and Recruitment at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, Director of Admissions at the School of Dental Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, and as a Pre-Health Professions Advisor at George Mason University.
Dr. Chuck serves an expert resource on admissions and has been quoted by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).