If there was one path Andrew Zucker did not see himself pursuing, it was the one that led to dentistry.
Growing up with two parents in the dental profession (his mother Maribeth worked as a dental hygienist and his father Dr. William J. Zucker, DDS, a general dentist) Andrew experienced a fair amount of time with the dental chair.
Instead, he pursued a degree in chemical engineering. However, when he neared graduation he realized that maybe he couldn’t ditch dentistry after all.
Today, Dr. Andrew Zucker, DDS, operates his own practice, Sandusky Dental, located in Sandusky, Ohio, and says he can’t imagine where he would be now if it were not for dentistry. For that, he thanks his parents.
“My father was gracious enough to let me spend some time in his office, but he never pressured me to go into dentistry. He helped me understand exactly what a practicing dentist does each day, and it was then that I realized how many principles related to math, science and engineering are required to perform excellent dentistry.
“My mother was also integral in helping me realize how important interpersonal skills are, and how much a good practitioner can help patients overcome their fear of dentistry.”
Free to Smile Foundation
As someone who was born with a cleft lip, the 2018 Incisal Edge 40 Under 40 honoree realized that it was easier for Americans to seek medical treatment for facial deformities such as a cleft lip or palate than for those in underdeveloped countries.
As a member of the Free to Smile Foundation, Dr. Zucker dedicates himself to bringing high-quality dental services underserved children who suffer from these facial deformities.
The Free to Smile Foundation is a nonprofit organization that serves the impoverished and underserved communities throughout the world. Voluntary doctors and other medical professionals donate to provide all forms of services at no charge to the patient.
As a general dentist, Dr. Zucker volunteered for many of the mission trips provided by the Free to Smile Foundation.
“First, I went on dental trips to Guatemala, where we provided emergency and comprehensive dental treatment to the indigenous population. Then, I was fortunate enough to join a cleft team in Guatemala, where I provided more administrative support. I served as someone who could communicate to families what a repaired cleft can look like. I also was able to discuss what it was like growing up with a cleft.
“After that, I led a dental team to Cambodia, where we partnered with the Angkor Hospital for Children and provided comprehensive dental treatment from their on-site dental clinic. Most recently, I was blessed to experience one of the highlights of my life when I led a dental team to Guatemala with my mother by my side helping provide treatment to the impoverished population there.”
According to Dr. Zucker, mission trips through the Free to Smile Foundation are usually weeklong ventures with four to five days dedicated to patient treatment. Dr. Zucker said that each volunteer is usually treating more than 100 patients each day.
Even though the days are quite taxing, Dr. Zucker says that there is, “no greater feeling on earth than knowing he was able to positively affect someone’s life.”
Disconnect Equals Discontent
Dr. Zucker said he’s noticed that a lot of younger dentists aren’t exercising their philanthropic muscle enough.
“It’s disheartening to see so many professional societies and local humanitarian organizations struggling to survive because the younger generation doesn’t value their services,” Dr. Zucker said. “We should be leading our local communities, providing charitable donations and serving others, but we aren’t doing a good enough job.
“I encourage any dentist reading this: Challenge yourself to commit a specific percentage of your income to a charity next year. I don’t care what the organization is, or what their mission is. Find something you’re passionate about and support it.”
In Dr. Zucker’s opinion, younger dentists should also seek out the mentorship of more experienced dentists, because most high-tech advancements are based on old-fashioned techniques.
“At a younger age, watching my father and his partner take denture impressions was like watching an artist at work. You can’t learn that from a webinar! I spent the first few years of my career standing outside of their operatories and listening to them have the delicate conversations, explaining optimal treatment, acceptable treatment, the costs of each option and then adjusting the eventual treatment plan so that it could fit within the patient’s budget. Those are extremely difficult conversations to navigate in an empathetic fashion, and someone who’s been doing it for 40 years is going to be infinitely better than those of us who are fresh into dentistry.
“I also think newer dentists have a tendency to get caught up in smartphones and social media presence and they forget how important their actual presence is. Older dentists don’t run out of the room to check their phone or their e-mail. They stay in the room and enjoy real human interaction with their patients. This is something that we should all strive for: Be cognizant of being present in our patient’s overall dental experience.”
It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like…Sailing?
Dr. Zucker and his wife welcomed their son into the world last Christmas.
“I absolutely love spending as much time as possible with my wife and our son. I can’t wait to include him in all sorts of fun family traditions,” Dr. Zucker said. “I long for next summer, so I can take him out on our boat with my father and we can teach him proper boat handling skills.”