Words of Wisdom with Dr. Kenneth Magid DDS FICD
I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Kenneth Magid, DDS FICD. Dr. Magid is a cosmetic dentist and has practiced dentistry for over 40 years. He is known for his “Magidisms” by the hundreds of students at NYU College of Dentistry, where he is the Director of Pre-Doctoral Laser Dentistry and the Assistant Director of Honors Esthetics. Magid has been recognized internationally for his contribution to dentistry through induction to The International College of Dentists and selection for Fellowship in The American College of Dentists. He created the drill illumination system as well as one of the first composite curing lights ever used for bleaching teeth. He also helped bring digital X-Ray to the USA from France and guided it through the FDA. He has been published in every major dental textbook, and his methods and techniques are widely used by dentists today.
Yitzi: Thank you so much for your time, Dr. Magid. I know that you are a very busy person. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I’ve always had two primary interests: cosmetic enhancement (a Pygmalion complex) and technology. I had considered plastic surgery but didn’t want to do reconstructive surgery. I also came from very modest circumstances and really couldn’t do the number of years of training without income. After completing my schooling and military service including a rotating internship in the Navy, I opened a private dental practice (Advanced Dentistry of Westchester) in Harrison, NY. A couple of years after opening the practice, I became friends with a fellow who was an engineer. My “inventiveness” caused me to look at devices that would improve dentistry and together we started a company to design, patent, and manufacture those devices. One of the inventions was one of the first lights used to “cure” composite dental materials…the basis for all cosmetic dentistry.
Yitzi: How did you get involved in cosmetic dentistry?
What made cosmetic dentistry possible was light-cured composite materials. Since my company was one of the pioneers in the device and materials for this facet of dentistry and my interest was in cosmetics, it was natural for me to combine these factors to do cosmetic dentistry. This was before the invention of the porcelain veneer (laminate), which also requires light cured composites and which was invented by one of the people I teach with.
Yitzi: What are you most proud of?
It is difficult to say what I am most proud of. The students I have taught and influenced that have gone on to become the superstars of dentistry and tell me they still hear my voice in their ears is something I am extremely proud of. There are too many to count — many have become household names that are stars of dentistry today (you may have seen them on Instagram). I think I have helped motivate a number of young dentists to constantly strive for the highest levels in dentistry. I am proud that I have been selected for recognition and Fellowship in the International College of Dentists, The American College of Dentists and the Omicron Kappa Upsilon honor society, the most prestigious societies in my profession afforded to a very small number of dentists in the world. I am also very proud that I have served and helped improve the lives of thousands of patients over the 40+ years I have been in practice. I have patients that have been with me for my entire career and have treated many families that have been with my practice for 3 or 4 generations.
Yitzi: Do you think the dental industry has changed over the past 30 years? How?
Dentistry has changed completely. If someone had told me when I graduated (47 years ago) that I would be practicing the way I do now I would think they were living in a fantasy world. No more silver amalgam fillings, crowns and inlays done with CAD-CAM technology without impressions or an outside laboratory in one visit, implants instead of bridges completed with computer-guided technology, dramatic cosmetic makeovers and so much more.
The other most significant change is from the single practitioner or partnership practicing in a fee for service environment to large practices and even huge practice “rollups” with hundreds of practices functioning in an insurance dominated environment. My practice is a “dinosaur” in today’s dental world. We are not on any insurance panels and the only criteria for our treatment is what is best for the patient. Because of that difference, the clinical side of dentistry has changed completely for me.
Yitzi: What drives you?
I love what I do, but every day I want to be better. Not better than someone else…better than I was yesterday. I constantly ask myself, “How can I make the patient experience better and the treatment better?” Every day I look forward to meeting new clinical challenges. What keeps me going is incorporating the next great technology or learning the next great technique that revolutionizes dentistry.
Yitzi: Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in dentistry?
For those considering a career in dentistry, find a dentist that practices in a way that interests you and spend time with them to understand the realities of being in the profession. Make sure you are going to love what you do, and if you do you will never work a day. For a young dentist, find a mentor that practices the way you see yourself practicing and spend the time and effort to emulate them. Keep learning for your entire career and practice with passion.
Yitzi: What is your secret to running a successful dental practice?
Keeping people happy. I have also created a team environment and culture that employees want to be part of. I have employees that have been with me for over 25 years. The average employee retention rate in most dental practices is typically between 5 and 10 years. Replacing staff is the most expensive and disruptive part of practice administration. Patients are also much more comfortable with an excellent staff they have known for years. People don’t like constant turnover in any business they deal with. The staff in our office are essential parts of our team. They are treated with respect and they are paid well due to their valuable contribution. Each of my team members is a dental professional and values working in a state of the art practice where only the finest dentistry is done.
Yitzi: What advice do you have for people that find it hard to keep up with all of these technology changes? Many are afraid of changing technology, how did you overcome that fear to stay competitive?
When computers were first introduced to dental practice, I was one of the first to incorporate them. My first computer had 8 megs of memory, was the size of a dishwasher, ran at 8 Hz and cost $30,000. Five years later, I paid someone $200 to dispose of it when personal computers were introduced. I brought the first computerized cosmetic preview system to dentistry from plastic surgery and helped bring digital x-ray to The United States. The best advice for someone that is afraid of changing technology is education and familiarization. Spend the time to learn the equipment and systems. When I bought my Mother a computer she was afraid of it. I had to explain that the only way she could hurt it was to pour her coffee into the machine.
Yitzi: What is the one thing that you can’t stand?
I have always had a major problem with anything or anyone controlling what I do. In the sixth grade, I constantly got in trouble in school by sneaking out of class and going to another teacher’s class because he taught science and my teacher wouldn’t. In the Navy, I received the highest evaluation on the clinical review and the lowest on military deportment (following orders). My commanding officer wrote in my final evaluation, “The finest young dentist I have had under my command…I do NOT recommend his retention or reenlistment under any circumstance.” This aversion to being controlled by others carried over into my dental practice. As the profession moved towards insurance companies dictating what procedures they would approve independent of what is best for the patient and determining what I would be paid to accomplish each treatment, I knew that I could not function in that environment.
Being a successful practitioner not on insurance panels demands that I provide a higher level of service than a patient can get in those offices and I have to market that difference to my patients and the public. The way I practice requires that I constantly evolve on the clinical side with new, better and more sophisticated treatment and on the marketing side by effectively using social media to get my message out.
Yitzi: Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in dentistry?
The one factor that separates the successful dentists I have taught from the others is passion. The successful dentists are passionate about their work and the profession. That passion makes them work harder to be the absolute best they can be. This passion comes through when they meet people and on social media which they use to great advantage in marketing themselves. It was famously said that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.
Yitzi: You are known as a master and beloved teacher by your students. Why is teaching so important to you?
I lecture to all of the students at NYU College of Dentistry- about 300 students per year and hands-on teaching with 15 students per year. Every Friday, I head from Westchester, NY to Manhattan to do this. I have been doing this for the past 12 years and find tremendous satisfaction in teaching. Teaching at the level that I do in the Honors Esthetics program at NYU is about continually learning…for me! As part of our program, we do literature review every week, analyzing the best and latest literature on esthetics, dental materials, and restorative dentistry. In our program, I teach with leaders in cosmetic dentistry and we constantly learn from each other. Every treatment case is presented by the students to the entire group and sometimes to the entire university. The options and considerations are discussed and debated to arrive at the best treatment plan. Motivating the young dentists that have the desire to be the best they can be is tremendously rewarding. In my lecture to the first-year dental students which includes case presentations from my best fourth-year students, I challenge the audience that “If they want to play in my playground of Honors Esthetics they need to bring their A game.”
Yitzi: What skills do you think are most important to becoming a successful dentist?
First, you have to define what “success” means to you. For some, it may mean financial success which can come from owning multiple practices and producing volumes of dentistry and defining a well-spent day by the receipts. For myself and the students I influence, “success” is completing an amazing makeover and literally changing the life of the patient. To be successful by my definition is loving the profession of dentistry and practicing with passion.
Yitzi: Did you have a mentor? What did they teach you?
My mentors taught me the same message I try to convey to my students. They taught me to love my profession and practice with passion. They taught me the life lesson that I am in control of my destiny and that the difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do. The bottom line is that effort, perseverance and passion are what makes successful people rise to the top.
Yitzi: You are also an inventor. Tell us about some of the things you have invented.
I innovated and patented many products in dentistry that are still used today. I invented the Kinetic “Sunlight” curing system- one of the first visible curing lights. I also manufactured curing guns sold by many companies including Teledyne, SS White, Den-Mat, Henry Schein. I am the Inventor and Patent holder on handpiece illumination systems. This is licensed or manufactured optics for companies such as Midwest, Adec, Schein, Marus, DCI, Pelton and Crane, Proma, Star, Sabra, and Kinetic Instruments. I also manufactured one of the original devices for “diagnostic transillumination” and wrote the technique manual widely used to teach the technique to dentists.
Yitzi: What role do you think social media has played in dentistry?
All of what I’ve said about success and loving dentistry is irrelevant if there are no patients to treat. Social media is the most amazing method of communicating with patients and prospective patients. Social media educates the public on the possibilities of a cosmetic makeover that they probably had no idea existed. On social media, we can show the amazing cosmetic makeovers we have accomplished. Social media communicates with the frightened patient that hasn’t been to a state of the art dental practice to understand that implants can be done computer guided without opening up the tissues, completely safely, and with no pain or healing time. Social media allows us to show our personal side and have patients and prospective patients see us as whole people and allows them to determine whether we are the type of dentist they would like to trust with their health. Social media also allows dentists to market our practices economically.
Yitzi: You are in a position of influence. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Through teaching the students I have motivated and trained to carry on this passion for creating health and wellness after I am gone.
Yitzi: What is the most exciting thing you are working on right now?
Some might think that it is the entirely new type of laser for dentistry that I helped create and continue to refine, but I think the most exciting thing I am working on right now is the new crop of young minds that started this academic year in Honors Esthetics and the new first-year students that I will help shape and motivate.
Yitzi: What are 5 things you wish someone told you where you first started your dental practice?
I don’t know if I could pick five things and I don’t know if someone else could have told me them or I would have listened or understood.
1. Find your vision of what a dental practice means to you and be true to that vision throughout your career.
2. To practice the way I do requires learning and redefining dental practice throughout your career….and that is the amazing part of dentistry.
3. When I started my practice, “marketing” was limited to a white sign with 2 ½ inch black letters with your name on it. Today, it is necessary to market a practice through all means necessary, especially on social media. This is essential for the success of your practice.
4. Like life, dentistry is a journey. It’s not about reaching a destination; it’s about the trip getting there.
5. If someone had told me I would be practicing for 47 years and looking forward to the next 10 or more years, I would not have believed them.