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Would You Rave About Your Last Root Canal?
by Jackie & Kevin Freiberg

UNBELIEVABLE! That’s what I said when my dentist informed me that I was headed to the Endodontist for a possible root canal. UNBELIEVABLE! That’s what I thought when I walked out of Endodontist Jack Pawlak’s office after having an incredibly positive experience. How many people do you know who rave about getting a root canal?

Pawlak, whom I met for the first time during this visit, is a certifiable “nut” who loves his work. It shows in his remarkable approach to the patient. While my tooth was extremely sensitive to cold and gave me some discomfort at night, this was not a throbbing emergency. Yet, Pawlak’s office was able to get me in for a consult within an hour of my dentist’s referral—this is a busy Endodontist with a successful practice.

After a five-minute wait in the reception area (remember the guy fit me in on an emergency basis) I was escorted into the dental chair where Pawlak was already waiting for me. Before I could even sit down he started firing questions at break-neck speed. “So is it hot or cold that bothers it?” he asked. “Cold.” “Is it upper or lower?” he continued. “Feels like both.” I replied. “Does it wake you up at night?” “Sometimes.” His demeanor exemplified a cross between the comedic routines of the quick-witted Robin Williams and the sarcastic, in-your-face Don Rickels. When he asked me if the tooth in question had a crown, I said “yes.” He said, “Is it porcelain or gold?” “Porcelain.” “Ahhh!” he said, “That’s why I came to practice in California. Everyone wants those nice white porcelain crowns. In the Midwest where I grew up it’s always gold crowns. Why? Less long-term problems. Sixty-five percent of the porcelain crowns need a root canal within 7-10 years you know. That’s why I came to California—big bucks!” I thought to myself, “Who is this guy?”

Jack Pawlak is brash, irreverent, unafraid to editorialize about other patients and very direct all in a charming sort of way. He immediately put me at ease and made me laugh. His stories were captivating and memorable—each designed to make a point that would educate and guide me. Three or four times during the course of our conversation he pulled out a chart showing me the anatomy of a tooth. Each time he explained possible scenarios causing my pain. I quickly grew comfortable with his knowledge and confidence.

It was obvious that he was interested in thoroughly diagnosing the situation because the questions kept coming and each time I answered he would pick up on little nuances. When I told him the pain was more evident when I was mountain biking he said, “That’s because you’re pumping more blood into the sensitive area, causing more throbbing to occur.” When I told him it felt like both top and bottom molars hurt, he told me that was due to a nerve that wrapped around the back of my mouth. He analogized, “If I stick a knife in the back of your neck, you feel it in your toe. Why? Because the nerve goes from your neck to your toe!”

At the end of the initial consultation Pawlak said, “Look, it’s up to you, but if it were me I wouldn’t do this root canal right away. I’d take some heavier-than-usual doses of IBUPROFEN and see if we can get the tooth calmed down. You’re a bright guy, in a couple of days you’ll know. If it still hurts call me. I’ll see you Saturday, I’ll see you Sunday morning, I’ll see you whenever you want, I’m here seven days a week. Just don’t call me five hours before you get on an airplane, you’ll need some time to let the tooth calm down before exposing it to high altitude.” Trying to match his wit and sarcasm I said, “What kind of “nut” works seven days a week?” He said, “Hey man what can I say, I love what I do. Besides, I only work with four dentists and I like yours. If I didn’t like him and I didn’t like you it would take you six months to get in and see me, and even then I might refer you to someone else.”

Unfortunately, three days later the pain was still there so I made an appointment to have the root canal. Again, the wait in the reception area was less than five minutes. When I sat down in the chair Jack Pawlak explained exactly what he was hoping to find when he got inside the tooth. Then he grabbed my cheek and gave it a little jolt as he inserted the needle for the Novocain shot—I didn’t feel a thing. From that point until the procedure was complete, Pawlak explained exactly what he was doing and how long it would take. He said, “I’m in the first canal and we’ve got two more minutes to finish it.” Sure enough, at the end of two minutes he was done and we were on to the next phase of the procedure. The whole process was very educational and very reassuring. When the procedure was complete Pawlak demanded, “I want to hear from you by 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning to see how you’re doing.”

Now I assure you, I’m a tough critic of mediocre or “satisfactory” service. I expect a lot, I certainly don’t make a habit of writing about my Endodontist. But in this case I think we could all take a few lessons from Dr. Jack Pawlak:
  • Make it Convenient
    Dr. Pawlak had built enough flexibility in his schedule to see me right away and once I was there he didn’t make me wait. He obviously respected my time and valued it as much as his own time.
  • Find the Person Behind the Customer
    Pawlak listened aggressively to learn about me as well as my symptoms. Root canals may be a dime-a-dozen, but not every patient is the same. “One size fits all” objectifies and ultimately alienates the customer, I am NOT the “upper molar” in room three. Jack Pawlack treated me like I was the most important person in his portfolio of patients.
  • Put the Customer in the Driver’s Seat
    Pawlak consulted with me like a colleague, gave me options, told me what he would do if it were his tooth and then put me in the driver’s seat. Not once did he talk down to me, ignore me by becoming engrossed in his procedure or confuse me with medical terminology I couldn’t comprehend. In fact, he affirmed my intelligence.
  • Be Trustworthy
    Trust is based on two things: Integrity (will you be honest, ethical and fair?) and competence (Can you actually do the job at the level I expect?). Pawlak told me that many Endodontists do root canals in one visit while he never does one in less than two—even though he could see more patients and make more money. This is because the research shows that the tooth needs time to heal. Violating this law of nature often means a redo down the road. Pawlak’s unwillingness to compromise, even though it would’ve been more convenient in the sort-term, significantly increased my perception of his integrity. He also explained the probable cause of my pain with the knowledge and expertise of a physician who has been doing this for 40 years. I didn’t question whether or not he could do a good job.
  • Educate Me
    Through charts and stories Pawlak cut through the noise with the simplicity and clarity of a true expert who knows his field. Rather than give me a lecture from one of his dental school professors, his explanations were thorough and easy to follow. I never felt rushed as he led me through the decision making process. During the procedure he talked me through everything he was doing and the time it would take. At the end, he let me know exactly what to expect and told me to call if I experienced anything different.
  • Be Accessible
    Pawlak was willing to see me when I wanted to come in—including Saturday or Sunday.
  • Do Something Remarkable
    I don’t know what your average wait for a physician has been recently, but in my experience less than five minutes is nothing short of a miracle. And, when was the last time you entered an exam room only to have the doctor waiting for YOU? These are little things that have big impact—at least big enough for me to tell you.
  • Make it Fun
    Pawlak is one of those rare individuals who could easily do stand up at the Comedy Club. His wit and passion make him stand out. I was also entertained to the point where the time went by faster. Maybe you don’t have the gift of humor to make customers laugh, but what could you do to make the process of acquiring your product or service more fun?
Copyright Jackie & Kevin Freiberg. All Rights Reserved.

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