Today Jana Denzel speaks to Sam Saleh about his journey in dentistry, how to overcome challenges and his advice to younger dentists.
Dr Sam Saleh is a world-renowned cosmetic dentist. He is licensed and practises in both southern California and London. He aims to provide exceptional dental work using state-of-the-art technology to bring out the best in every smile.
Dr Saleh was educated at the prestigious King’s College of London, where he gained an acute eye for cosmetic dentistry. He is a pioneer in no-prep veneers and conservative facial aesthetic dentistry.
Dr Saleh is a former faculty member at UCLA School of Dentistry and a member of ADA and LADS. He was awarded one of America’s best dentists with recognition in leadership of aesthetic dentistry.
What’s your personal favourite smile makeover?
Sam Saleh: I’ve really been fortunate enough to see patients from such a massive spectrum. There’s just been so many cases that it’s very difficult for me to pinpoint a particular individual.
What I can say is that when you see a case, when you make a connection with that patient and when you first meet them, you get a sense of what their insecurities are and what the condition of their teeth is and how their smile has impacted their lives. You get a sense of the ramifications that it has had in this person’s life in terms of the quality of their life or what limitations they’ve had in a professional world or in their social life.
Then to see that turn around and seeing the positive impact of feeling the confidence of being able to smile, speak and function well again, that, to me, is always the most rewarding.
We’ve had numerous cases like that. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is. It’s not just their smile, you just see it in their whole presence. They walk a little different, they talk a little different. They feel stronger. And they feel like the better version of themselves. That’s a magnificent journey to go through with somebody. You see them on the other end, and see that you created this lifelong connection with someone because they’re clearly never going to forget you, and vice versa.
So those changes are the most gratifying for me and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of them.
What would you say has been the most challenging thing you’ve had to overcome?
Sam Saleh: I like to think that my philosophy, generally in terms of my professional and personal life, is to take a place of positivity. So when something presents itself, I try not to look at it as a challenge. That, to me, makes it something that’s difficult to pass.
Obviously, right now we’re going through incredibly challenging times. But I think the key is to see any particular challenging moment and try to find the light and positivity in there.
A simple example is that, right now, we can’t do dentistry, we can’t work. So that could potentially be devastating. As somebody who enjoys and is passionate about dentistry — like you said I’ve been doing it for 20 years — what am I going to do now?
But you can take this moment and you can do a lot of self-reflection. You can go in and review all the cases of work that have been done and critique them. See how things could have been done differently, and how things could have been improved.
Now is a great opportunity for me to have these Zoom meetings with my team on a daily basis. We can talk about where we want to take the level of care to, what we want to do. Strategising in terms of how to work with or how to coexist with coronavirus. How we’re going to manage our patients, what are we going to do to take things to the next level?
On a personal level, I’m spending quality time with the children and spending quality time with my wife.
So here we have this incredibly challenging time that one could take as a time to just sit down and completely break down. But if you look at all the avenues that this challenging time has and what one can take from it, you can turn it into something beneficial. Now you’ve removed the barrier.
Creating barriers for yourself is why I feel you don’t reach limits and don’t reach the goals you set for yourself. If you focus on the barrier, then you can’t get past the barrier.
In life, you’re always going to have barriers, so it’s just a matter of not allowing this to get in the way of the next thing. Find out how you can bypass that and how to utilise your time in the most productive manner.
If there’s an issue in the distance, there’s a treatment for the problem. What I’ll do is I’ll take that and I’ll learn from it. I’ll say: ‘Okay, well if this happens, we know this doesn’t get the right result. Therefore we have to modify how we’re going to do this so that it doesn’t repeat itself.’
In preparation of opening up our dental clinics in the UK, what can dentists be doing to get ready and make use of their down time?
Sam Saleh: I feel that now is a magnificent time for reflection. On the business side of things, you have this magnificent opportunity to sit down and reflect. When you’re in the moment and you’re just working and working, it’s really hard to take time to sit back and relax. You’re more in it, you’re in the trenches. So now that you have the time, you can sit back and really think about how your operations are in place.
Think about what works and what needs applauding. Then think about what needs reinforcing or needs improvement. Then you’re also going to find things that don’t work or that generally lead you to a place that’s unproductive, time-consuming, and takes you off track.
Now’s the time to focus on where those areas are and come up with alternative methods of getting back on track. If you have an ongoing problem, for example, it might just be communication between you and one of your staff members.
I always tell dentists: ‘You are the team leader, so you have to be the one who sets the tone of what your whole team is projecting out. They’re working for you there.’ You guys are a team but you’re the leader of that and you need to set exactly what the voice of your team is and put it in writing. ‘This is what we stand for. We offer these treatments in this format’.
Then you all speak the same language and that makes you a cohesive team. It also makes you very attractive to your patients, because your patients feed into that. You can’t do it all by yourself. Your whole team has to be on board with you. Now is this great time to be able to make sure they are all on board.
What’s one piece of advice you have for those dentists starting their career now?
Sam Saleh: Perseverance. I would say perseverance is the most important factor in terms of being successful in anything that you do in life.
If you’re a true entrepreneur, then you’re going to want to do things that are different, things that haven’t been done before. Whenever you go into uncharted territory, you’ve got to realise that human beings are creatures of habit. So when they hear something that’s not the norm, they’re going to meet it with negativity. You have to be the one who believes in yourself.
If you truly believe in yourself, then you have to persevere and you have to be the one who goes against the odds. The difference between those who do make it to the other end and those who don’t, is the one who says: ‘Oh, well, you’re right, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea’. And there goes their opportunity.
If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Sam Saleh: I’m a big fan of the English royal family. I think if I could have the Queen over for dinner that would be very special.
I just feel that her life has been so rich with so much history. There’s so much that sees from a particular set of eyes that we’re not all privy to.
I think she knows a lot of very interesting things and I think she would be fascinating to have dinner with.
When you woke up today, what did you feel grateful for?
Sam Saleh: When I woke up today, it was good to be here in Los Angeles. It’s my favourite time of year, where you feel the warmth in the air. And I’m a big fan of coffee.
So, waking up and having my coffee while sitting there looking out at the view, I felt really grateful. Then my little boy walked in and I hung out with him for a bit. There are all these little moments that I missed out on before the coronavirus. I was already out of the house before the kids woke up. So I do feel grateful in this moment to be able to spend that quality time. These kids are going to grow up and I’m going to miss these moments.
I feel that we have a really beautiful craft that we’re able to deliver to our patients. As a profession, we need to be as unified as possible and really be there for one another. You can look out for me and I can look out for you. If we all have that mindset, that would make me really happy. Then you feel like a part of this beautiful community. Especially in these difficult times, it’s nice to know that you’re a part of a bigger community.
You can find more about Dr Sam Saleh on www.drsamsaleh.com or Instagram.com/drrsamsaleh.