Featured Q&A: Interview with Kaveeta Channamsetty

April 29, 2024
Neil I. Park, DMD
Kaveeta Channamsetty, DDS image
Kaveeta Channamsetty, DDS
Doctor Channamsetty with coffee mug

Dr. Kaveeta Channamsetty graduated from Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine in 1998 and completed a general practice residency at St. Clare’s Hospital in Schenectady, New York. She served as a faculty member at Harvard’s AEGD program and is now the owner of Pearl Dental, which offers four practice locations in New York and Connecticut. Dr. Channamsetty was recognized as a Fellow of the Pierre Fauchard Academy in 1998 and completed Glidewell’s Guiding Leaders program in 2022. In this interview, we discuss her background, the founding of her multi-location practice, her role as a female leader in the dental industry and more.

DR. NEIL PARK: What inspired you to pursue dentistry?

DR. KAVEETA CHANNAMSETTY: When I was nine years old, I was roll­erskating and fell right on my face. I got a big, bloody lip, broke my central inci­sor and didn’t know what to do. I had previously only visited the dentist for cleanings, and I thought I was going to be stuck like that forever. The fact that I had a visibly broken tooth was really devastating for me.

When I was able to go to the dentist, it was a surprisingly pleasant experi­ence. The tooth was fixed within an hour, and there wasn’t any pain. The result was beyond what I even thought was possible. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to pursue dentistry as my career.

NP: That’s a great story. And you started your education in the New York area?

KC: I did. I went to City University of New York. Since I already knew that I wanted to be a dentist, I loaded up on my classes. It was a very targeted education. Back then, there weren’t as many combined dental programs — I don’t think there were any, actu­ally. There were medical programs that were combined, but not dental. I sort of created my own program, which ended up taking about six years.

NP: That’s really expedited. And you went to Stony Brook on Long Island?

KC: Yes, I did. It was a wonderful experience.

NP: There are quite a few dental schools in the New York area and in the northeast. How did you choose Stony Brook?

KC: Stony Brook is unique in that it offered such a small class size. When I was attending, there were only 25 of us in the program, so you really got personalized attention. I think that was really important — especially during the clinical years where personalized atten­tion really meant superior education.

NP: When I was interviewing Dr. Patricia Swanson for Chairside® magazine (Vol. 18, Iss. 1), who’s head of predoctoral prosthodontics at Stony Brook, she said, “Our students have nowhere to hide. There’s just not that many of them.” That really speaks to the level of attention stu­dents get.

KC: Exactly. I still have a relationship with some of the faculty. I know who our specialists are, and I can still call them, if needed. In school, it was easy to reach out to someone within the department or connect with one of your professors because they knew who you were. It was a wonderful experience.

NP: That is a great situation for young dental students. And how about postdoctoral training? What kind of additional training did you do?

KC: I did a general practice residency (GPR) at St. Clare’s Hospital to gain the additional experience I needed before entering general practice.

NP: That’s great. You had a lot of opportunities in front of you. Why did you decide on general practice rather than going into a specialty?

General practice offers you the ability to basically do everything.

KC: General practice offers you the abil­ity to basically do everything. You don’t have to limit the number of procedures you complete to just four or five per day. I really do enjoy all aspects of dentistry. For me, it also offered a vast patient base. Patients are not referred to me. I am the first source, so in order to really make a strong impact on a larger group of people, you have to start with the general dentist.

NP: Absolutely. Tell me about one of your first private practice experiences.

KC: My first patient was an attorney, which was very intimidating. She did her due diligence before she saw me — even before the internet. She knew that she was seeing someone who was right out of residency. As soon as she saw me, she did not believe that I was the doctor. She thought I looked really young and even asked me to show her my driver’s license. I was 23 at the time, so I actually pulled it out. I don’t get that anymore, but it was cer­tainly an interesting first experience.

NP: I think a lot of us have had sim­ilar experiences. It would happen to me a couple of times a month where somebody would say, “Well, you can’t be the doctor. You look too young.” One day, later on, I realized that nobody had said that to me for a long time, and I almost missed it! So, how did you come to own your first practice, and how did you come to own multiple practices?

KC: While my husband was train­ing to become a physician, we had to move around a lot. During that time, I worked as a dental associate in four different practices. It was one of the best things that could have happened because I saw different practice philos­ophies in action. I was able to learn what worked for me and what didn’t. When it was time for me to open my own practice, I had a good idea of how I wanted the practice to run and what I wanted it to represent.

The beauty of owning your own prac­tice is setting it up in alignment with your vision. From procedures and cul­ture to workflow, it can be customized to reflect your mission.

NP: You currently have four offices. How did you come to have this large group practice?

KC: My first office was completely new. I put my name on the door and just went to work — it wasn’t a practice I purchased with the patient base. It was definitely a riskier thing to do as my first office without really anyone backing me, but it worked out well.

Six months into opening my practice, I was pregnant with my first child. During a routine check, I was put on full bed rest for the health of the baby.

NP: So, you had just opened a new office, and then were told to go on bed rest for your full term?

KC: It was terrifying. I thought, “I already have a baby — my practice.” Out of necessity, I was forced to hire an associate in about three days. Luckily, I was able to pull that together and find one. It gave me the idea that having an associate work for you while you’re not in the practice could be useful. Years later, when it came time to grow the practice, it wasn’t such a scary or a for­eign concept to me.

NP: That’s really interesting. How many dentists do you have right now?

KC: Currently, we have nine doctors — two of them are specialists.

NP: One thing that stops a lot of people from having multiple prac­tices is staffing — particularly hiring doctors. Do you find it difficult to recruit and retain the right doctors for your offices?

KC: I am very fortunate that we have some of the most talented, skilled doc­tors in the area. I think the fact that I’m in the metro New York area may have something to do with it, but retention is still very important. I think the aver­age retention of an associate is one to two years. With our associates, we’re looking at decades of employment. You invest a lot into an associate, and you want to do as much as you can to retain them.

NP: What’s worked best for you? Do you typically hire people in the early, middle or late stages of their career?

KC: It’s really across the board. A lot of our doctors come in with at least a few years of experience. I had doctors come in with ten years of experience. Originally, I wasn’t hiring doctors straight out of school, but that changed because doctors graduating now seem to be savvier. I think they come out with a better understanding of the direction they want to take their careers, com­pared to back when I graduated. My era was very reliant on education being hands-on or in school. Now, there are so many different sources online. I think the knowledge base can be — if you’re self-motivated — a lot broader for even a very recent graduate.

Dr. Channamsetty stands outside one of the locations of Pearl Dental.

Dr. Channamsetty stands outside one of the locations of Pearl Dental.

NP: So, what about staff? How many team members do you have between your four offices?

KC: We currently employ 32 total team members.

NP: What advice can you give us, as far as your success in recruiting and retaining the right team? I would imagine that’s key to having multi­ple practices.

KC: Absolutely. Having the right team is so important. As doctors, we cannot achieve what we want on our own — we need the support of a strong team. Of course, hiring staff has been more of a challenge since COVID-19. I think across every industry, people tend to prefer remote work. This reduces the pool of eligible candidates. It also makes hiring staff and having a produc­tive team difficult, too. For me, it’s not just hiring a skilled person or someone I think is great. How well everyone gets along is one of the biggest determi­nates of whether an office culture or team is successful. As someone who hires the staff, I must be cognizant of whether an individual truly believes in what we’re doing and what our values are. It’s not enough to be a great hygienist or dental assistant. They also need to mix seamlessly with the exist­ing culture. Your culture is your brand, and that’s something I won’t com­promise on.

NP: And has your staff been fairly stable over the last few years?

KC: Once we’re committed to a new hire, we have a three-month probation­ary period. If it’s not working out during that period, things often unfold organi­cally. Once people are past that stage, it’s rare to have turnover, unless some­one relocates or retires.

NP: That does say a lot about the cul­ture of your practice. You function as the CEO and the day-to-day leader of this organization, is that right?

KC: I do, yes. I have a very strong oper­ational team that helps me — I don’t do this alone. I am the leader, in the sense that it is my vision of what I want our offices, like Pearl Dental, to repre­sent and how we should be viewed in the community. Your reputation is everything. That is a broader picture of what I focus on. But day to day, I have a big team of people that holds this all together to make sure the patients have an amazing experience.

NP: Do you still have time for clini­cal dentistry, or are you mostly in a managerial role?

KC: I do. I still have some patients that only want to see me after all these years of practicing. I’m also the cover­ing doctor for all the practices, so I take calls if there is an issue that comes up. It’s a good way for me to still inter­act with our patient base and execute our vision.

NP: You’re located in a very com­petitive area. The New York market has a lot of dentists in it, and you’ve got four offices. How do you handle this increasingly competitive environment?

KC: Yes, the metro New York area is a very competitive market, but I am also a New Yorker! In this market, there is also a lot of opportunity. We have access to a diverse group of people — both in terms of dental needs and financial status. We work very hard on staying consistent with our core values and maintain a culture that facilitates a great patient experience.

NP: Got it. And how about for your­self? You’re a mother, and you have four offices you lead. How do you maintain a work-life balance?

KC: There really is no perfect balance. I know we try to achieve that balance, but it often just leads to frustration. Sometimes, your personal life will take up most of your time, and sometimes your job needs you more. In both cir­cumstances, you must be present. The scale tips at that point. You have to be organized and know what to prioritize when it comes to your time and effort.

I have a lot of responsibilities at work, which I take very seriously, but I also have responsibilities at home. For example, I take my daughter to school every day. It’s only 20 minutes, but to me, that’s very important. So, I’ve cre­ated a lifestyle where I can work stuff like that in. I need to accommodate that to feel fulfilled. It’s important that we don’t just do one or the other.

NP: Are there times when you’ve passed on certain opportunities because you didn’t want to impinge on personal time?

KC: Yes, definitely. It’s important to know when to say “no.” Being a “yes person,” you will always end up having to give up something that may be very important to you. It’s also timing cer­tain stages of your life to really excel in what you want to do. It takes time and commitment. You have to be open to accepting support. That way, the lack of your presence in either area will not impede your growth.

While Dr. Channamsetty stays busy managing her practices, she makes a point to spend time with her family.

While Dr. Channamsetty stays busy managing her practices, she makes a point to spend time with her family.

NP: Let’s talk a little bit about digi­tal dentistry. In the years that you’ve been in practice, there have been so many new options arising in our workflow. Intraoral scanners are probably not something that you touched when you were a dental student. The whole idea of digital design, in-office milling and 3D print­ing can be daunting. How did you adopt digital dentistry, and where will it take your practices?

KC: So, I am not a doctor that wants to play with the shiniest new toy. I know a lot of the doctors in our industry just love new technology, which is wonder­ful. That’s how we’ve gotten to where we are in dental innovation. When new technology comes out, people tend to jump on it. Dentists, in general, bring new tech into their practices very early on.

For me, I focus on clinically proven technology because I do not want to experiment on our patients. It’s import­ant to me that these breakthroughs make a difference in the patient expe­rience and in our team’s workflow. I’ll take a closer look at new tech if it seems to improve things in that area. Still, technological innovation has defi­nitely made us better doctors.

NP: So, give me an example of some technology you’ve incorporated that you think has made things better.

KC: An in-office mill is something every practice should have. It’s super user-friendly, and patients love the same-day experience. They appreciate the conve­nience of having their crowns seated during the same visit — as opposed to the inconvenience of having them sit in a temporary for a few weeks. So, it has made a world of a difference, without compromising the quality of the dentistry.

An in-office mill is something every practice should have. It’s super user-friendly, and patients love the same-day experience.

NP: You’ve made some very good arguments for the benefit of digital dentistry and in-office milling. How do you get your team to come along with you?

KC: Education. My staff and I have the same vision. We believe in making sure our patients have a wonderful, convenient experience. This is what patients want. Once we have that established, we introduce the product and its benefits through education.

I also speak to many people — sales­people and clinicians — before I bring anything new into the office. I speak to doctors who have used the specific product or technology. I want to know how this new product or service has previously impacted patient experi­ences and workflows.

NP: Do you have an intraoral scanner?

KC: We actually use several iTero and Medit scanners. We don’t do analog impressions anymore — it’s all digi­tal impressions. We also have a CBCT machine. For fabrication, we regu­larly use the Glidewell fastmill.io™ In-Office Mill.

NP: You’re well-equipped! So, you’re offering same-day crowns to your patients?

KC: Yes, we’re doing same-day, zirco­nia-based crowns. We are also doing onlays with CAMouflage® NOW mill­ing blocks, which is a ceramic-filled nanohybrid resin composite material. Patients love the convenience of having it all done in one day.

NP: It’s great to hear of your success. Same-day dentistry can make your practice more attractive to patients and keep it competitive.

Dr. Channamsetty reviews the findings of an intraoral scan.

Dr. Channamsetty reviews the findings of an intraoral scan.

KC: Yes, patients talk about it when they come to our practice. Sometimes, they will even take pictures of our intra­oral scanners because they think it’s so cool. This tech definitely makes prac­tices stand out more.

NP: Ok, let’s switch topics a bit. What has your experience been as a woman leader in dentistry?

KC: While most general employees of dental practices are women, only about 10% of leadership roles are occupied by women. It’s not that anyone is holding us back, necessarily. That said, when I was in school, the image of a dentist did not look like me. I thought own­ership and leadership weren’t in my future. Today, I see that more than half of dental graduates are women, but it’s still mostly men in leadership roles. This is a very large disparity, and if it is not addressed, the ideas and opinions of women dentists may not be met or valued.

NP: How can we overcome this disparity?

KC: In every industry — not just den­tistry — there tends to be a lag in leadership positions for women. The only way to offset that is to inspire and motivate young girls to say, “Hey, we can do this.”

NP: Excellent. Can you tell me about some of the support mechanisms that you have right now that you’ve developed over the years?

KC: I’m a mentor and a member of Women in DSO — even though I do not belong to a DSO. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything like that early in my practice experience. Now, there are various resources available. For example, in 2022 I joined the Glidewell Guiding Leaders program, which is a leadership development opportunity for women dentists.

NP: Can you tell us a little bit about the Guiding Leaders program?

KC: Guiding Leaders was developed in 2019 by Stephenie Goddard, the CEO of Glidewell. She wanted to make sure that women dentists who wanted to lead were given the support, resources and empowerment to do so. I resonated with that vision immediately. Throughout the six-month program that took place at the Glidewell Southern California campus, I had access to some of the top educators on a variety of relevant topics: public speaking, brand enhancement, negotiations, practice management, case photography and building a finan­cially sound practice.

An alumni of the 2022 class of the Guiding Leaders program, Dr. Channamsetty credits the program for making her a better leader.

An alumni of the 2022 class of the Guiding Leaders program, Dr. Channamsetty credits the program for making her a better leader.

It was an amazing opportunity, and it will stay with me forever. It’s made me a better leader and a better person. Now, I know I have an entire support group of like-minded women dentists who can encourage me to pursue my career dreams.

NP: Let’s talk about the future of dentistry. You’re in a unique situa­tion — you own a group practice, you’re not in a DSO and you’re pri­vately owned. What do you think the future is? Where are you and the industry headed?

KC: Consolidation is the future of den­tistry. When you look at the lifespan of the industry, it’s considerably long, but the biggest changes have happened in the last 10–15 years. DSOs fall into that category of recent, big changes. There are many DSOs in multiple locations. Corporate dentistry hadn’t existed before that. Today, we’re nearly split 50/50 for dentists in private practice versus a corporate dentistry environ­ment. This is leading us toward more consolidation. Corporate dentistry is attractive for doctors who can partner with or sell to a DSO. That can lead to more and more conglomerates. This is nothing new in the world. We’ve seen this happen to the medical field, and I think we have a responsibility to make sure that the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship is protected. I plan to stay at the forefront of this future movement.

NP: Do you think the integrity of that doctor-patient relationship can be maintained in a corporate environment?

KC: Yes, absolutely. But it comes down to responsibility. It comes down to partnering with groups that share your vision. It comes down to being selec­tive. I think we have an absolute duty. We are shaping the industry right now. This is an amazing time to be a dentist. We have a say, and we have a voice. That voice matters — not just for the impact we’re making now, but for the industry as a whole. It will shape the direction of our future.

NP: Well, Dr. Channamsetty, it has been a pleasure to talk to you and get your insights. It sounds like we’re in for a lot of changes in the future, but you seem like you’re ready for it.

KC: Yes! I love what I do, and I want to just keep doing more of it.