Other than the time it took to get his degree in dentistry, Dr. Alex Pappas has lived and practiced in Brandon. A proud father of three children, Pappas is also a big fan of his home town, saying frequently during a conversation that Brandon is a great place to live and to work. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD)
So you were born and raised in Brandon?
I was — born in 1964. Yikes! I did all my schooling here — went to Brandon University and got my undergraduate degree — actually I got my Bachelor’s degree and pre-dentistry courses in there. Got into U of M dentistry, graduated in 1991.
And you’ve been practicing here ever since?
I came back a week after I graduated and joined Jim Bonar. I became a partner in 1992 and Jim had a satellite office in Deloraine during those years, and I helped him down there for the first 15 years as well. I worked a few days a month down there — he worked more than I did down there — that was his practice — but I helped him. Then when he retired that practice — oh, geez, maybe ten years ago, eight years ago — then that just ceased. But I always was in Brandon full-time.
Has it always been called Chancellor Dental Group or is that just a new incarnation of the practice?
Chancellor Dental Group began in 1995 when we built the building at 343 - 18th Street. Prior to that, we were just under our names.
And it was just you and Jim?
Correct. And then since 1995, we’ve had some associates come and go and we’ve had two associates as of late.
The big question I’d like you to answer is ‘why dentistry?’ Because not everybody has perfect teeth, not everybody has perfect hygiene. I can’t imagine somebody growing up saying ‘I want to be a dentist.’ But did you always want to do this? Did something turn you on to the profession?
Probably in Grade 9 or 10, I pretty much knew I was going into a health-related field.
Just it looked like a rewarding job — I always envisioned working with the public. You know, I don’t’ want this to sound cheesy or anything, but I like working with my hands. I grew up in a shoe store/shoe repair business. And I witnessed my father, over the years, taking a lot of pride in what he did. And when he did a job, he did it really well. And it was his reward when he saw his customers very happy with the work that he did. I think that when I saw the customers that were returning, loyal — I grew up in an atmosphere where I saw things being fixed. So I just look at myself now, and I’m fixing things — just at the other end!
So you derive a lot of satisfaction from helping people?
Absolutely. I always thought that I could see myself working in a hospital or clinic-type environment. And of all the jobs, dentistry just was a light-bulb that went off. I liked the interaction of working with people, on people — I liked how fast-moving of a pace it is. Something intrigued me about it.
So at that time, my father had a couple of friends who were dentists and he asked if I could go spend time with them at work. And when I did that, I couldn’t sleep that night when I went home. I knew I had to go to dental school, heck or high water.
It was quite early, really — maybe about Grade 10 — but I just said, ‘That’s it.’ I think the biggest thing about dentistry is that I just really liked the interaction with people. I’ve always thought of myself as a people person — helping others. I knew it was a really intense field where a lot of people who come to you are nervous, are a little bit anxious. And I thought my personality type would work in that field — I feel very comfortable with people one-on-one. I just think that’s my gift.
Why dentistry as opposed to another one-on-one profession?
Good question. Great question. It’s just that I couldn’t imagine doing anything other than this. I know. It’s crazy.
Do you ever spend nights awake wondering why?
No. I’m doing my dream job. It’s as simple as that. Really. I think it’s just rewarding looking after all age groups. I think I’m very good with the younger crowd — the kids.
I’ve heard that.
And I think the most rewarding thing is when a family refers other people who maybe haven’t had good experiences to you, and you get them through it. So for me, it’s not that I want to be the type of dentist that every nervous person comes to, but I think I’m suited for that. And I do my best. So when someone says, ‘I’m coming to you because so-and-so said you were really good with kids, so I’m bringing my kids to you,’ it’s rewarding when you do have success. Because you do have a lot of failures, too.
Is that right?
Absolutely. You can’t have success with everyone. But you do your best, and I think when you turn things around, people become very loyal. It’s really great when people trust you and only you. And it’s so rewarding when someone brings their 90-year-old father to you because they know you’re compassionate, you’re empathetic, and you care.
So I have to ask you about the pain component. Because a lot of people are afraid of dentists or dentistry because it can hurt.
I think dentistry’s changed over the years, where maybe in the past, in our parents’ day, it was on a ‘need’ basis rather than on a ‘preventative’ basis. I think that’s where maybe the bad rap has come with our profession. Whereas in the last 25 years, it’s really changed and become more about preventative. And the best example is orthodontics.
Even in our day, Diane, in high school, how many kids had braces? Well some did, but it was less common. Whereas now, kids at 12 years old say, ‘When am I getting my braces?’ And we say, ‘You don’t need braces.’ ‘Oh, but my friends are getting braces — I need braces.’
So really, nowadays, dentistry’s become — and the same with cosmetic dentistry, whether it’s bleaching or veneers or the straightening orthodontics that we talked about — a mainstream, expected health standard. I think the dental standard has improved or increased. So we have a lot of middle-aged people who HAVE their own teeth now, compared to if it was the old way, they might be missing lots of teeth. It’s healthier to digest your food properly if you have your own teeth, period.
By the same token, though, I’d imagine very few people get up in the morning and go, ‘Yippee — I have a dental appointment today!’ Because the needle hurts going in sometimes and the drilling is not always fun. But you’re feeling that your role is preventative and that you can help people feel at ease or at least less stressed about the experience?
Absolutely. A lot of it is just your chair-side manner — your relationship with the patient. And I think it starts right there, where if you’re confident in someone, you trust them. And we explain our procedures rather than just getting in there and doing what we have to do. We use a lot of the topical anesthetic. And in some ways, I think it has improved. I don’t know why — whether it’s the topical anesthetics — I mean, we have it here — there are different ways to give freezing now where the patient feels a lot less. And especially with the younger people, that’s the big hurdle right there, especially with children, is the ‘sleepy juice machine.’ That’s all it’s called.
For a long time, people were afraid of dentists, or going to the dentist, because there used to be a lot pain involved. Are kids less freaked out about the experience now because there’ve been so many strides in making procedures if not pain free, at least far less painful than they used to be?
That’s a good question. I don’t know if kids are less fearful. I think generally, dentistry isn’t as big a deal. The negative stories associated with pain and dentistry have improved, so I think kids nowadays probably aren’t as fearful about the dentist as maybe we were as kids.
And if their parents aren’t either, there wouldn’t be a passed-on fear.
That’s right. So it starts at the top down. So we are having better experiences, so if we have kids, we’ll pass that positivity to the kids.
I wanted to ask just a little bit about your assistants, Steina and Maxine, because you said they’ve been with you right from the get-go.
Yes — we’ve been pretty fortunate to have the right staff, and we have, right now in our office, three girls at the front desk and five or six hygienists. But ultimately, I do work with two assistants 99 per cent of the time, all day long. Not only do you work with them, but they’re your friends, too. And I’ve been very fortunate to have the same ones pretty much since I started back in ’91, other than a couple of maternity leaves for them. And they’ve come back, so they’re very loyal. And we work as a team. I wouldn’t be, in my opinion, as successful without them. Period. There are days that things get a little hairy around here and we rely on each other and we make it through it. When you have good staff, everybody wins, and ultimately the patient, because we’re pretty slick, getting the patients in and out on time.
You mentioned earlier that you enjoyed the fast pace of it — is it fast just because you need to see as many people as you can in a day? I suppose there’s no point lingering or dallying over folks unless they really need some extra time …
I think our society’s become so busy that people really do want to get in and get out. So we try our best to make procedures quick, painless and uneventful, and just for the patient to leave with a smile on their face. Our goal is to have the patient saying, ‘That was no big deal, going to the dentist.’ That’s success, is that for people, going to the dentist is like going for a haircut — it should be uneventful, it should be something you just do. And like I said, the biggest reward is when they refer their family and friends to you. It doesn’t get better than that!
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 7, 2013