As a General Dentist, Dr. Sophia Nichols not only enjoys addressing the dental needs of her patients, but she also recently earned the designation of “Master” from the Academy of General Dentistry. To receive this award she completed over 1000 hours of continuing education that included 400 hours of hands-on-courses as well as a comprehensive written examination.
Dr. Nichols deals with preventing diseases of the teeth, jaw and gums; maintaining the health of the oral cavity; improving the esthetics of the dentition as well as restoring missing, damaged or diseased teeth to normal form and function. As she says, “The mouth is the gateway to the rest of the body.”
Monmouth County Woman recently caught up with Dr. Nichols to learn more about her.
MCW: Congratulations on winning the Mastership Award! Please tell us a little more about this.
SN: The Mastership Award is the highest honor available at the AGD and one of the most respected designations within the dental profession. Dentists who have earned Mastership from the AGD make up a distinct group — they represent less than six percent of all general dentists practicing in the United States and Canada. Masters have accepted the charge to keep abreast of advances in dentistry for the benefit of patients and the betterment of dentistry.
MCW: How did you become involved in this field?
SN: My favorite subject in school was biology and I wanted very much to go into healthcare. When I was 16 years old I began visiting dental offices and volunteering as a dental assistant. It didn’t take long for me to realize that dentistry was a good fit for me.
MCW: What do you think sets your practice apart from others like it?
SN: If I had to describe my office and staff using just one word it would have to be “Philanthropic.” To be philanthropic in the dental setting means to put the needs of the patient first, to show them hospitality, respect and empathy. It means to do what’s in the best interest of the patient at all times.
MCW: How do you handle over-anxious first time patients?
SN: When someone is what we call a “dental phobic,” we baby them. The most significant thing we do is earn their trust and make them realize that they are in control. This can’t be done by giving them a pill that will sedate them or by sticking an I.V. in their arm. It takes patience and time and it is well worth it because when we help them overcome their fear, they have coping skills that will be useful to them with their dental needs for life.
MCW: What is the most rewarding part about your profession?
SN: It’s highly rewarding to give someone a smile that restores their confidence and promotes their dental health. Cosmetic dentistry has changed people’s lives for the better. Combining art and science to help others gives me an enormous amount of satisfaction.
MCW: What is the most challenging?
SN: It’s challenging dealing with and trying to educate patients about dental insurance. Unlike medical insurance, dental insurance pays a specific dollar amount per year per patient. It doesn’t pay a percentage of the overall treatment like medical insurance. Most dental insurances typically give a maximum of $1000.00- $1500.00 per year and that’s it! This amount has been the same for over 25 years and has not gone up with inflation. Some patients only want to do the treatment that the insurance will pay for and put the rest off for the following year. This is an unfortunate decision because by putting off needed dental treatment, it ends up costing them more in the long run and they risk losing teeth.
MCW: What are a few of the most common issues you see in your profession?
SN: The first is dental cavities, more commonly known as tooth decay. Tooth decay is caused by a breakdown of the tooth enamel. This breakdown is the result of bacteria on teeth that breakdown foods and produce acid that destroys tooth enamel and results in tooth decay. Although dental cavities are largely preventable, they remain the most common chronic disease of children and adolescents.
We also see a lot of periodontal disease. This is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the gum tissue and bone supporting the teeth. If left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss. Research has shown that periodontal disease is associated with other chronic inflammatory diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. One out of every two American adults aged 30 and over has periodontal disease according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.