By David MacDonald
Here’s something all the college graduate millennials reading this can relate to: Remaining by pure oversight on a professor’s weekly mass email list and creeping their links to see what the new class is up to. For me, it was Literary Landmarks. It was a survey class that explored the entire canon of English literature and if I could have, I would have taken it twice. For years after graduation, I looked forward to Tuesday afternoons when my professor would supply his students – current and former, apparently – with an impressive and eclectic hyperlinked list of academic articles that touched on his lectures. One year during the latter half of the second semester when the course material crosses the Atlantic and focuses on American Literature, there was a particular link that became part of an inside joke with fellow alumni I’d forgotten until I was interviewing Dr. Anil Makkar, Managing Partner of Victoria Court Dental in Truro and Bible Hill, Nova Scotia. My long-since tenured professor included in one of his April 2010 weekly mass emails a link to an article titled “Twain tale sheds light on 19th century dentistry” by the staff at Dr. Bicuspid.com, a depository of literature pertaining to dentistry and periodontics. It was so tangential from what I remember of his Mark Twain lectures years earlier that I instantly gave him the moniker Dr. Bicuspid. I thought it was endearing considering Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, wrote under several pen names. When Dr. Makkar triggered my memory, I instantly made a note to re-read the article in hopes that it might help me dig-up a Twain gem, a maxim or moral tale on dentistry that would serve as a media-friendly mantra for Victoria Court Dental and make my own writing superfluous. But the best I could come up with was working with an obvious – and pleasant – contrast between Twain’s dentist, Dr. John M. Riggs, one of the fathers of modern periodontics in the nineteenth century, and Dr. Makkar. In his “Happy Memories of the Dental Chair,” Twain wrote that “He [Dr. Riggs] was gray and venerable, and humane of aspect; but he had the calm, possessed, surgical look of a man who could endure pain in another person.” Like Dr. Riggs, Dr. Makkar is esteemed and compassionate; but his is the look of a family man whose practice has grown from seeds of civic duty, empathy, and friendship.
The recurring theme of my conversation with Dr. Makkar was pride. He takes pride in his hometown of Truro, Nova Scotia. He takes pride in what he and Dr. Roger Daya and Dr. Ronald Rix have built. He takes pride in his seven Dental Hygienists. He takes pride in his five Practice Coordinators. He takes pride in his six Dental Assistants. He takes pride in his Dental Centre Manager, his Treatment Co-ordinator, and his Hygiene Co-ordinator. He takes pride in operating the most tech-savvy Dental Office in Colchester County. He takes pride in charging what is recommended by the Nova Scotia Dental Fee Guide. And did I mention that he takes pride in his hometown?
“I grew up in Truro, Nova Scotia. Truro is a great town. That’s why I came back to practice here,” Dr. Makkar explained with a serene certainty. “I did my Undergraduate at Dalhousie University in Halifax and graduated from the Dalhousie Dental School in 1989. I was lucky enough to do all my schooling here in Nova Scotia. But I always knew I wanted to come home to Truro. The people here are very innovative. They’re very open to the concept of collaboration here. Part of it is that we’re a small town, so everyone knows that their business is going to benefit in some way. But another part is that we like to reach out in this community. It’s part of our spirit. I love the people here – and, I think, it shows. We’ve got great patients at the Practice. They’re always friendly and some of them have become like family. I’ve now been a practising dentist for about 26 years and I’ve practised my entire career in Truro, so you can understand how close my ties are to this community and its people.”
Like a growing family, Dr. Makkar’s Practice has done its fair share of moving. He originally started a small Practice – just shy of 1200 square feet – in the Truro Mall in 1989. “I was there for 10 years and then from 1999 to 2005, I was in a place called Victoria Court, which is a strip mall in Downtown Truro. That location was around 1,400 square feet. In 2005, I developed a 5,000 square foot facility which houses three dentists and seven dental hygienists. Our neighbours operate a 2,000 square foot Medi Spa and while we’re separate tenants, we collaborate where we can.”
Dr. Makkar’s neighbourly duty goes beyond next door. His “Next Town Over” story is truly touching.
“The first time I went to the Dentist was in grade 11,” Dr. Makkar chuckled. “And I may have had one or two cavities,” he broke out in laughter. “It was in Bible Hill, a community just outside Truro, at Dr. Robert Rix’s Practice. He was very influential to me. He’s the one who told me, ?Hey, you should do this; you’d enjoy this!’ and really got me thinking about dentistry. About six years ago, he actually passed away in an ATV accident. It was a real ?Wow’ moment for everyone in the community. I remember going by his office and thinking, ?This is where it all started for me because of that man.’ So we visited his wife and told her, ?We want to buy this Practice.’ That’s our second Practice now. We’re carrying on his Dental legacy at Bible Hill Dental Practice. Every time I’m in there, it takes me back to grade 11. And the patients there are incredible – awesome, really. They’re an older crowd and they love to tell stories about Dr. Rix, Rob Rix, and how amazing he was. It always puts a smile on my face.”
Several Victoria Court Dental employees split their time between the 510 Prince Street, Truro location and the 336 Pictou Road, Bible Hill location. “It’s only a 10 minute drive between locations and it’s a beautiful country around here,” Dr. Makkar proudly pointed out. “Dr. Yasser Issa is our full-time associate at the Bible Hill practice and he’s world class.”
If you’ve up to this point formed the opinion that Dr. Makkar’s patients are getting more bedside – or chairside – manner than at your typical Dentist’s office, you’d be right.
“One thing I love about the Practice is being able to give back to the community. We have a Free Dental Day, where we give free dental to clients who can’t afford it,” Dr. Makkar explained. “That’s always very special for us. Nowadays, we see it every day. We have a Facebook site and we frequently get requests from people like single parents trying to do their best for their kids. We read them all and these stories affect you. So we decided three years ago to have our first Free Dental Day for residents of Colchester County in which we offer a choice of one of three services: a cleaning, a filling, or an extraction. Our requirement is that the patients have no dental insurance so that those most in need are seen. And it’s been incredible every year. The office opens at nine o’clock on Free Dental Day and we do it on Saturday. I’ve been told that you can drive by the office at four o’clock in the morning and that there’s people already lined up – and it’s a long lineup. The beauty of Free Dental Day is that the team, the staff, all get together and contribute without pay, which is phenomenal – everyone is working from the heart. And it affects the team, too. The gratitude from the patients really stays with you.”
There are also many behind the scenes efforts that Dr. Makkar and his team take on that make a visit to Victoria Court Dental one worth smiling about.
“We continually try to keep up with growth. One of the things we promote a lot in the practice is preventative oral care. We’ve seen our hygienist team go from three to seven, and that’s acquired a lot more patients. One thing that’s important to us is customer service, so if that means hiring more receptionists, we do. We really try to make sure the patient isn’t waiting any longer than 10 minutes in the waiting room. If they are waiting longer than that, we try and make it up to them. I know personally, for myself, I do not like sitting in waiting rooms – I know what it’s like to look at the clock and see the minutes move past your appointment time. We always want our customer service consistent so we’re going to great lengths to keep up with that.”
When Dr. Makkar says that his team is going to great lengths to keep their customer service promises, he’s not merely being figurative.
“We’re one of the few dental offices in Colchester County that embraces new technology; we’re always trying to keep ahead of the curve. In 2001, we were the first to acquire a machine called CEREC, which allows patients to come in and get a crown done in one visit. After scanning, software designs your crown and then an in-house milling station builds it for you,” he explained. “This means that you only get anesthetic once and avoid a great deal of discomfort. We now have all of our offices converted to digital X-rays. We don’t use conventional developing X-rays because that’s what really contributes to the smell in a dental office. We don’t have that smell anymore. Also, with digital X-rays, the radiation dose is so much lower. It’s good for the patients and the health of all our employees. We just acquired last year a 3D cone machine called an i-CAT. We’re the only dental office in Colchester County that presently has one of these. It gives you a 3D scan of your skull. It shows bone density, the roots of your teeth, all the detail we need. It’s great for dental implants because when you do implants, planning is the key. We bought this machine based on that fact. Another machine we bought based on that fact was the iTERO. Nowadays, dentists don’t take impressions the way we used to. Now, we use the iTERO, which scans your teeth and produces a digital image. From there, we can send that image to any dental lab in North America that can make the bridge or bite plate that the patient may need which is then sent back to us within five days. Basically, we want to provide the best customer service everywhere we can.”
“When we make an investment in technology like this, we like to see it in action first,” he continued. “We find an office in Canada where the equipment is already making an impact. We like to travel there and spend half a day observing how the machine is used, how it’s changing the visit for the patient and the practitioner, and really consider if it’s something that will work at our office. For every piece of technology there are three or four options and for the money you’re investing, you want to do your due diligence. It’s all about comparing notes, which is something we do well here in Truro. The first reason we picked this 3D cone machine is because it had the lowest radiation dose and the health of the patient is always number one in our mind. The second reason is because it’s not slow, which fits well into our customer service mission.”
“I also do a lot of travelling for continuing education. When I’m in Ontario or British Columbia and I tell people about all the technology we have in our office, they usually say something like ?And you’re from where?’ because they can’t believe how advanced the practice is. Some of the bigger offices in Toronto and Vancouver can’t compare to Victoria Court Dental when it comes to technology,” Dr. Makkar added.
Victoria Court Dental offers General and Family Dentistry, Dental Restorations, Teeth Whitening, Orthodontics, Cosmetic Dentistry, CEREC Dentistry, Dental Implants, Periodontics, Sleep Apnea Treatment, and Neuromuscular Dentistry.