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Greg Vigoren says that patients are his passion, and he has pioneered the use of digital magnification photography and lifetime cavity prevention for children. Now he is spreading the word on why basic X-rays are a thing of the past while learning everything he can get his hands on. Continue below to find out about this pioneering dental professional.
Greg Vigoren has overcome dyslexia and a speech impediment to become one of the most innovative dentists in the industry.
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Growing up, D.D.S. Greg Vigoren seemed to have the odds stacked against him. He was dyslexic, stuttered when he spoke, did not know the alphabet and could not do simple math.
He was also a sugar junkie who had a lot of tooth decay, and he spent a lot of time in dental offices. Visits to the dentist, he says, were never an unpleasant experience for him.
“But I’m sure it was for the dentist,” Vigoren recalls. “After I left, I’m sure none of his equipment worked, because I fiddled with every knob, button and switch on one of those old crane units to see what they would do.”
Vigoren also had a lot of things working in his favor. When he took the dental aptitude tests, he finished in the 99th percentile, and he had extraordinary vision—20/10—which he didn’t realize at the time gave him a tremendous advantage. He also never lost his inquisitiveness.
“They called me Dr. Destructo in dental school because I would take everything apart and examine it,” he says. “That’s how you figure out how to reverse engineer things. You have to break them.”
Today, Vigoren has a leading edge practice in Newport Beach, California, where he is a crusader for dental innovation and patient comfort.
PASSION FOR PATIENTS
Vigoren has lectured nationally and internationally on his approach to patient comfort, correcting poorly done or failed restorative dentistry from outdated methods and avoiding catastrophic failures. It is an approach, he says, that he began cultivating in dental school when he handled seven full-mouth cases during his senior year.
“All of my first patients were family and friends,” he says. “And I didn’t realize it, but that made me want to intuitively do my best work because I was going to have to do it over again the rest of my life if I didn’t.”
It helped Vigoren learn how to treat every patient like family. It also drove him to take an interest in health-related areas outside of dentistry. For example, Vigoren explains that his wife was a head and neck patient, so he took many hours of head and neck temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder courses.
“She was the most important person in my life,” he says. “So I’ve always been driven by those things outside dentistry that I thought were going to help people.”
While in dental school, he was also driven by the words of John Ingle, whom Vigoren calls the father of endodontics, during a short lecture. Ingle told Vigoren and his dental school colleagues that they would be expected to learn a great deal in the coming four years, but that in 10 years, half of that information will be outright wrong or right for the wrong reason. He added that he could not identify the 50 percent in question, so they would have to learn everything.
“Being the heretic that I am, I decided that I was going to prove him wrong, and I was not going to lose sleep or social life or travel to learn information that was going to be disproven,” Vigoren says. “Instead, I decided I would become a continual student and therefore look for the changes in information.”
Following dental school, Vigoren served as a U.S. Air Force Captain in Japan with six-month rotating internships in endodontics, oral surgery, periodontal surgery and pedodontics. He recalls working on clinics ranging from those considered the bottom of the barrel to some of the most sophisticated clinics in the world — but at no time did the venue affect his psyche or quality of care.
“I always did the same work,” he says. “It’s like a young kid with a car. It doesn’t matter what the car looks like, as long as it drives. It’s wheels.”
In his 60s, Vigoren says he prefers to drive a nice car. But when first starting out, anything you drive, or any office that works, or any patient who has needs fills the same requirement.
“I think the challenge of dentistry, the complexity of dentistry, was what made me happy,” Vigoren says.
Vigoren served for 25 years as an expert witness in dental litigation, something he refers to as 90 percent defense and 10 percent offense. He also says that most cases in dentistry are communication and emotional cases. In other words, there isn’t a basis for the case as actual malpractice.
“On the flip side, it’s extremely hard to win, even when there is outright, blatant bad dentistry,” he said. “And right now our reimbursement systems tend to benefit the worst dentists and make them the most profitable businesses. There are dynamics here that need to be corrected.”
That, Vigoren says, is where high-definition computer screens and photography come into play. The role of photography in the past has been to show patients what is wrong and close the sale. But Vigoren says that use of digital magnification and dental photography enables a dentist to show all the intermediate steps while explaining what they did, why it was done, and why it is to the patient’s benefit.
“I believe it should be the new standard,” Vigoren says. “It’s a paradigm shift or a shift in orthodoxies that rewards those people who do the most attention to detail work.”
THE NEXT 10 YEARS
Vigoren says he’s a slow learner, pointing out that it took him 10 years before he realized he was getting different results from other dentists.
“I was getting long-term results that weren’t failing catastrophically, which is the norm in dentistry,” he says.
In the next phase of his career, Vigoren plans to share his methods for avoiding catastrophic failures on the Internet. Why?
“So people in the profession, in dental education, in litigation, and in consumerism can make choices based on benefits that are in their own best interests.”