Amanda Sheehan, D.D.S., likes fixing things. She also likes seeing the results of her work. In medicine, she says, physicians may hand out a prescription or recommend a treatment regimen, but donâ€™t necessarily see the â€œimmediate gratificationâ€ of what they done to help them. Her comprehensive approach, therefore, is to treat patients from start to finish.
“If I can make a retainer out of a paperclip, I can teach [staff] to do anything in dentistry." - Amanda Sheehan, D.D.S.
Amanda Sheehan’s first experience with a retainer was a little different than that of most adolescents.
“I was around 12 or 13, and I didn’t have straight teeth, which was something that bothered me,” Sheehan recalls. And my friends were starting to get braces at the time and had retainers. So I said, I’ll make my own retainer.”
And she did—out of paperclips. She bent them into the shape of a retainer and wore them when she got home from school.
Sheehan would eventually get a more traditional set of braces and accompanying retainer, but her initiative was part of a developing interest in the medical field, and a personality that liked to take things apart and put them back together again. And when a female dentist visited her high school class on Career Day and delivered the message, “If you want to be a doctor and you want to have a family, then you want to be a dentist,” that set things in motion.
“It was a natural fit from the beginning,” says Sheehan, who today is the lead dentist at Oakland Family Dental in Waterford, Michigan.
Sheehan’s approach to dentistry is simple. She recognizes that the oral cavity is the gateway to her patients’ health. As such, her philosophy when treating patients is to treat the person, not just their teeth.
“We want to make sure we’re not missing anything that can be potentially harmful to them,” she explains. “Someone may have diabetes, or heart disease, or sleep apnea—all of these we’re screening and looking for because they’re life threatening.”
That’s the culture Sheehan has cultivated at her practice. It starts with a conversation—what are the patient’s hopes? What do they want to accomplish? Sheehan then aligns that from a medical standpoint for what can realistically be achieved. Her entire dental team, she says, has the same mentality.
“If I can make a retainer out of a paperclip, I can teach [staff] to do anything in dentistry,” Sheehan says. “But you can’t teach people skills. Everyone here knows how to comfort people. Knows how to be empathetic and sympathetic. And knows that the patient always comes first, above anything else.”
It’s the same on the patient side of the ledger. Sheehan explains that from the start she has “only included patients that have the right attitude and fit our culture and personality.” That means bringing in patients who understand what she and her staff are trying to accomplish.
At least once each year, sometimes more frequently, Sheehan travels to the Dominican Republic and other locations where much of the population lacks access to, or the ability to obtain, quality dental care. It started during her second year in dental school, and opened her eyes to the problems that exist for children who have never seen a dentist.
“The whole reason I went into dentistry was to help people,” says Sheehan, emotion in her voice. “It makes me feel fortunate because we have so many opportunities here that other people don’t. I’m able to donate my time, and time is free. I’m able to go down there and really impact their lives.”
The experience has carried over to her Michigan practice.
“If somebody really needs something and they can’t afford it, I just take care of it,” Sheehan says. “I don’t want them to get sick from having an abscess, or anything that could be potentially harmful to their health.”
As a fringe benefit, Sheehan met her husband during one of her early trips to the Dominican. Her soon-to-be husband, originally from Germany, was on vacation when Sheehan was finishing five days of work. They met one evening at a club at the hotel the day before she was scheduled to leave.
“I always say fate brought us together,” Sheehan says. “It was my good karma. I put such good faith in what I was doing, and that’s why I met my husband.”
True to her philosophy of treating the person, not just their teeth, Sheehan has demonstrated a relentless dedication to remaining on the cutting edge of dental care practices. She is a member of all five major dental associations, and continuously strives to be completely up-to-date on new developments in dentistry, specifically in dental implants and prosthetics. She calls it being comprehensive.
“I want to be able to treat the patient from start to finish,” she explains.
If Sheehan sends a patient elsewhere for related dental work, she then has to rely on someone who may not always “see what the end game is” for the patient. Sheehan already has a vision of what she and the patient want to accomplish, which is why she has invested time learning surgery, and learning restorative.
“I know what I’m trying to achieve,” she says. “When you get too many people involved, sometimes they don’t see the vision. If I was already getting a patient numb to extract an infected tooth, why wouldn’t I already just finish the procedure for them? Why am I going to make them wait and go somewhere else to have it done, or make them susceptible to getting another shot? Nobody likes that.”
Sheehan laughs when asked how she likes to spend her time away from dentistry, because “my life is immersed in dentistry almost full time.” During a normal week she practices Tuesday through Thursday, then hits the road on Friday and Saturday to teach implants to other doctors, or take partake of a continuing education class.
“I’m usually home on Sunday,” she says. That means catching up with her husband, niece and nephew, and sleep.
But she still finds time to encourage others, such as a young woman Sheehan would love to see attend dental school because of how much she has to offer patients.
“That’s what is most rewarding, being able to show people that dentistry is so amazing,” Sheehan says. “And how you can come to work, really enjoy what you’re doing, and be able to help people.”