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Detroit Dentist Treats Patients Like They're Family

Article

For Robert DiPilla, D.D.S., being a dentist is more than providing the right services to the best of your ability. It's also about practicing hospitality and welcoming in patients as part of your extended family.

patient care hospitality

“Make people feel good, the hospitality end of it. That’s how I treat people in my practice. It’s like they’re coming to my house, so I take care of them.” - Robert DiPilla, D.D.S.

Kathie Lee Gifford, Wayne Gretzky and Sarah Ferguson. They all have at least one thing in common. They’ve all been patients of Robert DiPilla, D.D.S. during his years as a partner at the Rosenthal Dental Group in New York City.

Robert DiPilla studied dentistry at the University of Detroit-Mercy, and shortly thereafter he was recruited to New York City, where he honed his skills that have focused, in part, on the patient experience. He calls it the “hospital end” of dentistry, which is all about helping people feel good. DiPilla still maintains an office in Manhattan, but today he focuses on the Detroit, Michigan, metropolitan area where his career began.

And it’s where he first caught the bug to pursue a career in dentistry.

“Growing up, I had an amazing orthodontist,” DiPilla recalls. “And he was like a conductor. He went around, told all his assistants what to do, and didn’t get his hands wet. And even at a young age I thought, that looks pretty good.”

DiPilla, of course, does get his hands wet. And it’s his thirst for knowledge that earned him the nickname the “dentist’s dentist.”

A DENTAL JUNKIE

DiPilla’s approach to his craft is to be the best. He likens himself to a junkie where continuing education is concerned.

“Anything that I do in my field, I always want to be the best,” he says. “I just like to be the expert.”

That mentality propelled DiPilla to teach at the University of Detroit-Mercy, School of Dentistry, his alma mater, as well as in New York. He built a reputation that fostered the aforementioned nickname from dentists countrywide.

“If they had a patient who was moving to Detroit, they would say, ‘You’ve got to go see this guy. He’s the guy who taught me,’” DiPilla says. “So, I was very fortunate. And it was very humbling.”

It also helped DiPilla earn his fourth consecutive 5 Star Diamond Award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences for the services he provides to his patients. He looks at the accomplishment as a reflection of him treating patients the way he would want to be treated.

“Most patients who come to the dentist, do they really want to be there?” he asks, rhetorically. “I always want to be treated a certain way if I’m in my doctor’s office. So, hospitality and the customer experience are very important to me.”

AESTHETIC PERSPECTIVE

DiPilla was born and raised in Detroit, but says being recruited to work in New York by Larry Rosenthal, D.D.S., an acclaimed aesthetic dentist and founder of the Rosenthal Institute at NYU, was particularly fortuitous.

“He was one of my mentors,” DiPilla says. “And for me, coming to New York City from the Midwest, it was a culture shock. And in that office, we had every celebrity, every CEO and business mogul. But Larry said to me, ‘They are the best in their field, and you are the best in your field. Just do what you do.’”

Why aesthetics? DiPilla says it was opportunity that pointed him in that direction. Being on the cutting edge of procedures that few oral health practitioners did “was amazing.” But then writing articles on the subject and teaching others what could be done took things to another level.

“It impacted not just patients’ lives, but also mine,” DiPilla says.

GIVING BACK

DiPilla believes that at the end of the day, everyone in life is blessed in some way, and as such, it’s important to give back when the opportunity presents itself. He has 22 doctors in his mentorship program, The Society of Comprehensive Dentists, where the focus is on elevating their knowledge to achieve a greater clinical level.

And he also takes frequent road trips.

“My wife is originally from the Dominican Republic, and I’ve been going down there for the last five years,” he says.

DiPilla immerses himself in the community. He is affiliated with a local orphanage, and donates his time as well as products and services. At the end of the day, he says, it’s important to give more than you take.

“There are two things in life,” DiPilla explains. “You have to grow as a professional, and you have to contribute. This is part of our contribution.”

ANOTHER LIFE

The path DiPilla took to a career in dentistry has turned out just fine. But what if that path had been blocked? He laughs at the prospect of what other avocation he might have chosen.

“I would open a restaurant, and I would be the front man,” DiPilla says. “I like people to feel good and comfortable. And if they have a good meal, everyone’s happy.”

That means a nice dessert following the meal, accompanied by a little espresso, and perhaps an after dinner cordial.

“Make people feel good, the hospitality end of it,” DiPilla says. “That’s how I treat people in my practice. It’s like they’re coming to my house, so I take care of them.”

He also takes care of his family. DiPilla has five children ranging in age from 17 to 1, and says most of his downtime is spent with them. However, he does enjoy playing tennis whenever he gets the chance.

CONVERSION PROCESS

DiPilla says one of his greatest pleasures is taking patients who are extremely nervous about visiting the dentist and helping them overcome their fears. One patient in particular, he recalls, was a prominent New York basketball player who was so afraid of going to the dentist he would repeatedly schedule and cancel appointments.

“One day he came to the office, and I brought him into my private office and just talked with him,” DiPilla says. “We talked about his career, my career, and then I said, ‘All right, we’re done for today.’”

No work. No procedures. Just planting a seed. And it worked.

“He’s an amazing patient now,” DiPilla says. “He’s very comfortable. Converting a patient from dental phobic to someone who comes in and is very comfortable, that’s the greatest joy I have in dentistry.”

For more on easing patient fears:

  • Office Design Can Impact Business Success
  • How to Address Patient Fears
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