Get To Know Smile Expert Dr. Sara Cummins

Dr. Sara CumminsPhoto Credit: Nathan Cornetet, Fusion Photography

My greatest achievement:

I am so thankful for two things: my children first and foremost, and the ability to provide a service to others than can truly improve their quality of life. I would say my greatest achievement has been to fulfill these two roles simultaneously and successfully. I have raised two children that I am proud to say are good people, hard-working, with kind hearts, and I have certainly tried to serve my patients with clinical excellence and an authentic desire to help. I am proud of the work I have done on both fronts.

The future of my field is:

I think we will see the continued transition from analog processes to digital, with further incorporation of cad cam software and milling into clinical practice. These are often cleaner, more efficient, and accurate methods. The drive for aesthetic enhancements also continues to grow, as social media influences and marketing have evolved our ideas of beauty and increased the demand for it. The dental office experience has come a long way also, with design and services that eliminate much of the fear and cold, sterile feel of these former environments. I hope we see these improvements continue so the negative associations historically associated with dentistry diminish even more.

The biggest misconception about my field is:

I think one of the biggest misconceptions about my field is that dentistry is a commodity and not the scientific craft that it truly is. A crown in one office may be very different from a crown in another office down the street. All dental treatments are a unique reflection of the provider’s skills, education, talent, and judgement. That may vary dramatically from one doctor to another. Therefore, when you are shopping for something as precious as your health, the individual providing it will have a significant impact on the outcome. My advice would be to choose your dentist based on those factors, balanced with the practicality of location, fees, etc.

The most requested procedures are:

The majority of patients are just seeking quality preventive care and routine dentistry to maintain optimal health. However, there are often features of their smile that have always bothered them but they don’t know what specific treatments to ask for. They may also feel intimidated or even vein if they bring up their concerns. Most complaints revolve around front teeth and may include staining, chipping, or even just size and shape. Sometimes they just know they’re not confident about their teeth but they are unsure of the specifics of why. Taking the time to have a thorough, thoughtful discussion about how they feel about various aspects of their health or smile can introduce them to what is possible. Once they realize the options, they are often excited and ready to address things that have discouraged them for years. Most people truly want teeth that look good and feel good. They just don’t want to be overwhelmed with figuring out the solution.

What surgical advancements are you most excited about?

Until recently, dental implant placement could be planned on a CT scan, and then a plastic appliance could be fabricated to “guide” the drills into place. However, this takes time and does not factor in any unexpected circumstances during the actual surgery. Now we have technology that enables the surgeon to perform implant surgery that is guided live and in 3-D, without the use of an appliance to direct the drills to the right place. The surgeries can be performed freehand, but with immediate feedback regarding the location and angulation of the drills. It will save time and improve the accuracy and predictability of the outcome.

What are you best known for?

When I reflect upon what I have done throughout my career and where I am today, I hope that I am known for a high level of clinical judgement and skill, acting genuinely in the best interest of my patients with compassion and integrity, and providing a really uniquely comfortable experience in the office. My patients know that I am obsessed with details, I have very high aesthetic standards, and I am committed to doing things the right way. We have also tried to be innovative with unexpected and appreciated comforts to improve the patient’s experience with us, and I think those little extras have become part of our brand as well.

What is your most memorable patient reaction?

The comprehensive smile makeover reveals are a bit emotional and very rewarding for all of us. However, I feel like my purpose is most affirmed when we see a sustained, long-term positive change in a person as a result of some of the work we do. We have patients who had sort of given up on their ability to feel good and look good again but giving them a new smile has inspired them to become some of our most compliant and health-driven patients. There is a powerful and life-changing effect when people can begin to feel more confident in how they express themselves. They eat better, they smile and laugh more, and they take on a renewed commitment to caring for their overall wellness.

What sets my practice apart:

I think our practice is unique because we try to permeate every layer of the patient’s experience with a very high level of care and comfort. It began as my own quest to be great at dentistry, but I quickly realized there was much more to it than that. I couldn’t do great veneers and yet be satisfied with sloppy record-keeping, dated technology, or torn upholstery in the reception area. I think it is difficult to compartmentalize a real demand for excellence. The consistent quality in all aspects of our practice are born out of an authentic philosophy of how to work and serve others. It is very important to me that every aspect of how we deliver our service is a reflection of my attention to detail, my commitment to excellence, and my aesthetic standards. Therefore, the building, the furnishings, the people, the service, and yes, the dentistry, must all reflect the same values.

What I love most about my profession is:

I love to problem-solve and work with my hands, so dentistry is a perfect fit for me. It is my ideal balance of intellectual challenge and craftmanship. I also enjoy getting to know new patients and developing long-term friendships with the ones who have been in the practice for many years. These people often become like family. While we celebrate the joyous events of their lives with them, we are also sometimes helping them through a moment of fear, pain, or sadness. It is humbling to have such a privilege on a daily basis, and I am thankful for how they inspire me and for what they continue to teach me about the human side of this profession.

Career defining procedure?

From the very beginning of my career, I knew that the aesthetic side of dentistry was my calling. I immediately began pursuing some of the best continuing education programs in the country and I kept pushing to learn and develop my skill. That experience and training helped me to evolve the technical aspects but more importantly, it enabled me to develop a deeper understanding of what makes teeth beautiful. There is a cumulative effect of working on teeth over and over for many years and appreciating the subtle nuances of contour, symmetry, and color. You begin to really connect with how to impart a lifelike authenticity into a smile that can be simultaneously bright white and close to perfect. These restorations take time, attention, and sometimes an enormous amount of diagnostic work and planning. I enjoy that work and I think it is reflected in my results. It has also become my most career-defining procedure.

What new services are you excited to offer?

The most impactful change for us and our patients in the last couple of years is how we now take most records digitally with an intraoral scanner, with on-site milling and firing of porcelain. The intraoral scans are taken with a small camera and they replace the old messy putty impressions required to make a copy of your teeth. They can be transported electronically, saved, and re-used multiple times. We have cut our Invisalign and laboratory logistics time in half by uploading scans instead of mailing physical records. Invisalign also offers an instant simulation using these scans so you can see how your teeth would look after straightening in just minutes. If we want to make a crown or veneer ourselves, it also allows us to use software to design on that digital model. We can then send that design to our milling machine, fabricate the product, and finally add our own artistic touches before firing it in the oven. The patient does not have to spend two weeks wearing a temporary restoration while we wait for an outside lab to make the permanent one. They can leave with their new tooth the same day.