When entering Dr. Katherine Manning’s dental practice — called Grin and Bear It — you’re promptly greeted by a wooden statue of a bear, currently dressed in summer beachwear.
Paintings of bears adorn the walls. The front desk and much of the trimming in the room is wood. It almost gives the feel of someone’s well-kept cabin. But, of course, going to the dentist isn’t what most people think of for a getaway.
However, keeping patients at ease is a high priority for Manning, who has owned the practice since 2001.
“Yeah, (anxiety is) a big thing. I’ve always been a little needle-phobic myself, so I always treat my patients as if I’m the one sitting in the chair,” she said.
Originally from Laguna Hills, Calif., Manning, 66, describes her practice as traditional.
“I’m a smaller practice, I’m an older practitioner. We kind of do a variety of things but we’re not like those big, high-gear dental practices,” she said. “They’ll do the implants themselves. I’m just your little basic, mom-and-pop, drill-and-fill kind of practice. But there’s still a need just for that.”
However, that doesn’t mean the practice isn’t up to date. She and her employees are in the process of setting up digital radiography, having upgraded their computer system over the last several months. They’ll abandon the old way of using film X-rays.
“That’s the next big step for us. Especially me, since I wasn’t raised in the computer generation,” Manning said.
The Columbian caught up with Manning, who prides herself on being an ethical dentist during a time when she has observed more “molar mills” in the business landscape.
What was your journey to get here?
My journey was long. I’d always gone to school and most of the time I didn’t know what I was going to do. I think what started me on the journey to dentistry was I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to find a career where I could support myself. I started out working part time in a dental laboratory. I kind of knew I didn’t want to stay there. I lived in Laguna Hills, Calif. I went to dental assisting school then. I finished that trade program and went to work for my personal dentist in Laguna Hills. As time went on I talked to some of the hygienists at my own dentist’s office and decided that maybe I’d like to get into dental hygiene. I applied and went to hygiene school. I thought I’d take it one step further and I went to Oregon Health & Science University, and graduated in 1990. It was two years of hygiene school and four years of dental school. I met my husband in dental school then stayed here in Vancouver and set up practice.
I noticed you have an all-female staff. Is that unusual for a practice?
Not necessarily. I think it’s just that there tends to be more women involved in dentistry as far as assisting physicians and hygiene; it’s a field that’s still dominated by women. I do see some men. I teach at the hygiene school on Fridays when they’re in session. I’ve seen some men come through there but it’s still mostly women. Even the medical dental field has changed over the years. It used to be that it was all dominated by men.
Working in people’s mouths seems like it could be pretty gross. Did that ever bother you?
I’ve heard people say to me, “That’s an awful place to be working.” My comment to them is that I can think of worse places on the body to work! So no, it isn’t. With everything we have today with gloves, masks and everything else — no.
Have you had many cases of someone coming in and their mouth was totally messed up?
Yeah, we still see that, even today. It’s amazing. People that really could use full-mouth reconstruction. You would think in this day and age that almost everybody has their bacteria and gum tissue under control. But there are still people that come through that door — it’s like “Wow, what happened here, this is a train wreck.” Most people we can treat, but there’s a few cases bad enough that we have to refer out to a specialist. It’s still pretty rampant out there.
What types of procedures are you performing most often?
We kind of do a variety of things but we’re not like those big high-gear dental practices. I’m not going to do anything on anybody when I don’t think it really needs to be done. It’s real upsetting to me that I see people sometimes come through my door that had work done other places that didn’t really need to be done. I think for me it’s a double-edged sword. I can go home and look at myself in the mirror and know I did a good job; I didn’t cheat anybody just because I wanted to make a couple bucks more. At the same time I wish that I did do some of the bigger cases because of some changes we’re going to start making in the practice. Without those kinds of funds, we can’t do some things.
I’ve heard some of my friends talk about this in the sense of if they take their car to a mechanic, they may be worried that they’re getting stiffed because they don’t know a lot about cars. Is that kind of similar?
The general public doesn’t really know our language. They’re not educated in dentistry so they don’t really know what they need, so they’re depending on that person to hopefully be truthful with them and evaluate things in a reasonable way. I was just thinking about this the other day. I had a woman come in and she had a three-unit bridge (a procedure that helps replace missing teeth). She came to me for a second opinion. She goes, “They wanted to take the whole bridge off and redo it.” It was going to be X number of dollars — basically all she needed was a little filling. She was just ecstatic. So things like that you know that we can do but there are doctors out there that choose not to do those because they want that extra income. They want those bucks.
How rampant do you think dentists behaving this way is?
I know the practices out there that they call “molar mills,” so to speak. They advertise to get people in cheaper but what they’ll try and do is beef up their treatment plans. They’ll come and they’ll open and you’ll find they don’t stay around too long. I think there’s even a good percentage of that goes on in some of the good private practices.
What can people do to combat that?
I think second opinions, and maybe even a third opinion if they need to, is probably the way to go.
Grin and Bear it Dental
9513 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd., Vancouver
Number of employees: Six.
Bureau of Labor Statistics job outlook: Employment of dentists is projected to grow 19 percent through 2026 — much faster than the average for all occupations. “The demand for dental services will increase as the population ages and as research continues to link oral health to overall health,” the bureau reports. The average wage for dentists in the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro metro area is $81.95 an hour, or $170,450 per year.
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