Edward Zuckerberg is most famous for being the father of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. But in his hometown, he's known for being "Painless Dr. Z."
When Edward Zuckerberg, DDS, FAGD first entered dental school, he did so without much exposure to the field of dentistry.
“I think I’d had one filling up to that point,” Zuckerberg recalls.
So when he heard some of the upper classmen talking about a bridge, he didn’t know if the reference was to the Brooklyn Bridge or the Verrazano-Narrows.
“It turned out they were talking about neither,” Zuckerberg laughs. “But then again, I didn’t take the most traditional route to dental school.”
Zuckerberg’s father was a letter carrier, his mother a homemaker. But an aptitude test in high school revealed an affinity for math and science. He was also good with his hands and enjoyed working with people. But when he entered dental school at New York University he found he was an anomaly.
“There were about 200 fellow students in my class, and almost 100 of them had parents who were dentists,” he says. “I guess I went into dental school pretty blind.”
But as a career, he says it has turned out “tremendously well. I’ve loved every minute of it.”
Carving a Niche
As a practicing dentist, Zuckerberg carved what he calls “a nice little niche out of my practice.”
Zuckerberg initially commuted from New York’s Westchester County to a practice in Brooklyn several days a week, but would eventually spend most of his career in a home-based practice. That proved beneficial for he and his wife, a trained psychiatrist, to build a close bond with their four children—one of whom is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
With his home-based practice “on the verge of exploding” and his wife very unhappy professionally due in large part to how “turned off she was by how managed care had ruined the type of practice she envisioned,” Zuckerberg threw an offer on the table. He needed someone with people skills to help oversee his staff and deal with patients. He also wanted to tackle a problem that had long frustrated him: patients’ fears about coming to the dentist.
“Was I doing everything I possibly could to conquer that barrier and get patients to overcome their phobias and pursue the care they needed?” Zuckerberg wondered.
His wife took him up on the offer, and was put in charge of “everything non-clinical.” Changes were immediate. They knocked down a wall, added more space, and put a 200-pound saltwater aquarium in the wall between two of the main treatment rooms. It proved tremendously relaxing for the patients.
“We would get calls from people, not asking, you know, ‘I’m a potential new patient, is this Dr. Zuckerman’s office?’ They would ask, ‘Is this the office with the fish?’” he laughs.
If a patient had a phobia of noise, they were given noise-cancelling headphones. Zuckerberg made sure the office didn’t smell like dental chemicals. He perfected his craft of giving as painless an anesthetic delivery as possible. And nobody on staff wore a white coat.
“We become known as the dentist that catered to cowards,” he says. “And people with agoraphobia that wouldn’t leave their house or were terrified of the dentist, would often spend two and three phone calls with my wife getting counseling over the phone before they came into the office. She assured them that we would take care of their needs in a comfortable manner.”
Doing so, Zuckerberg explains, made the practiced both recession-proof, and insurance-proof. Patients who were terrified to go to the dentist and then found someone with whom they were comfortable were not going to suddenly leave because their new job had dental insurance that wasn’t on the PPO list.
“I didn’t have to worry about those kinds of issues like a lot of other of my colleagues did,” he says.
Social Media Specialist
Zuckerberg says his practice probably had one of the first office-based social networks. It was the mid-1990s, and fatigued by fighting with his four kids for Internet access on one phone line, Zuckerberg had the entire house wired for high-speed cable. His son Mark then took over.
“He said, ‘Well, you already have everything networked together in the house. I can build you a network,’” Zuckerberg recalls of the conversation with his son. “And in a few days, he threw it all together. We called it ZuckNet, and it allowed my front desk and my other exam rooms to communicate with each other through our own little network.”
Zuckerberg has since become quite the social media aficionado—no surprise there. It began around 2008 when Facebook first rolled out pages for businesses. A colleague complained that he had 5,000 dentists who were his friends and Facebook informed him that he was at his limit.
“I immediately realized that he had set up his dental office or business page as a personal profile, because most people still were not aware what the difference between a business page and a personal page was,” Zuckerberg says. “Facebook did have a 5,000-friend limit for a personal page, but there’s never been a limit for businesses.”
Zuckerberg lectures at dental conventions and to dental societies about how dentists can maximize the benefits of social media for their practices and improve their marketing presence.
Today, Zuckerberg limits his hands-on dental work to several days a month, focusing instead on outside interests—including photography and scuba diving—as well as giving back to his colleagues.
“I consider myself to be a very competent clinical dentist,” he says. “But my expertise is really in everything non-clinical—running the business end of a practice and integrating technology.”
But he still labels the lifelong relationships he has built with patients to be the most rewarding aspect of his career.
“Being the first dentist to get my hands on a young patient and making them a patient for life, not fearful of going to the dentist, that’s probably the biggest thrill,” he says. “And then watching them grow up and have kids and then bring their kids to me. That is incredibly rewarding.”