Asa part of our series about healthcare leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Derek Gatta.
Dr. Derek Gatta, DMD, is a Board Certified Prosthodontist and the co-founder of RiseWell, an all-natural, science-backed oral care brand that is revolutionizing the industry with its dentist-formulated, non-toxic products. Derek is dedicated to promoting a healthy lifestyle and believes that optimal oral health is vital to achieving this. Together with his sister, Kori Estrada, and John Estrada, Derek embarked on a mission to help them create safe and effective alternatives to traditional oral care products after realizing that most products on the market were toxic.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! What is your “backstory”?
Iattended undergrad at Vanderbilt University and Nova Southeastern University School of Dental Medicine. After dental school, I decided to enter the Navy to take advantage of overseas opportunities and advanced residency training. During these eight years, I served in Camp Pendleton, Bahrain, Walter Reed, where I completed residency in Prosthodontics and Newport, RI. In 2017, I finished my Navy commitment and returned to South Florida. I met a wonderful dentist whose practice I bought in 2019.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One formative experience I had was living and working as a dentist overseas in Bahrain for the Navy. It is a small island nation in the Persian Gulf and was my first time living outside the US for so long. The opportunity gave me the chance to appreciate all that we have and take for granted here in our own country. Despite our cultural differences, I learned that all humans have a lot more in common than we think. I helped many patients and made friends from many different parts of the world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the funniest mistakes I made was a routine day when I was putting my gloves on. If you can envision me sitting next to my patient and if you ever have tried to put wet hands into gloves, you know how impossible that is. My hands were right next to my patient’s head and as I was trying to stretch into my gloves, my hand slipped and smacked the patient in the face. Luckily we are still on good terms. I am easily excitable and that experience taught me to slow down and make sure my hands are dry before trying to put gloves on!
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
With my sister and John, along with the whole RiseWell team, we are continuing to work on new product developments and research for that. We don’t have a specific project but my areas of interest are producing something to help with oral microbiome balance and helping to remineralize white spot lesions.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have had many wonderful mentors along the way. One person who does stand out is my former practice partner, Terry Max. He taught me that a patient will not let you care for them, unless they know you care about them. It may sound like a small thing but these are human beings we are treating. It is not just a dental procedure. There is a person attached to that tooth who has feelings, emotions and is usually nervous. I learned that patients want you to be competent but they care more about your warmth and how you treat them.
Is there a particular book that made an impact on you? Can you share a story?
Vanessa Van Noy’s book “Captivate” has been very helpful for me. I work with people all day and if I cannot encourage them to pursue treatment, it does not matter how good of a dentist I am. I need to be able to read people, find out what they are comfortable with and what their pain points are. I must find out how to move them towards accepting treatment. Understanding peoples’ body language is very helpful with that.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
In February, I volunteered in a free dental clinic put on by the Florida Dental association. It is very rewarding to help those who need it most. You do not realize how important a smile is until it is taken away from you. People who are not confident in their smile have a harder time finding employment and relationships. These folks feel isolated from normal activities that we take for granted, like eating.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant to you in your own life?
“This is not a dress rehearsal, you get one shot at this life.” When I transitioned out of the Navy and back into private practice, I had a very hard time. I did not have a great opportunity lined up, some I worked at a big corporate chain of offices and it was not very rewarding work. I knew I needed to put myself out there and network my butt off to find something better. I started going to all the local study clubs and getting to know all the sales reps. At one meeting, I found my future dental partner. He was the right age and we shared a similar philosophy regarding dentistry and how to treat patients and his team members. After a four year partnership, I am now a proud practice owner. Opportunities come to those who grab them. Don’t wait for them to come to you!
Can you share your top three “oral hygiene tweaks” that will help people look and feel great?
- Whenever you brush, also floss.
- Use an electric brush or water flosser.
- Make sure you breathe through your nose, not your mouth.
Ok thank you for all of that. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful Career As A Dentist” and why?
1) You need to love this career. Like anything difficult, there will be times when you want to quit. Moments will test you. If you don’t love dentistry and find passion in it, you will not last long enough to perfect your craft and enjoy all the rewards this profession offers. There were many moments in residency where I felt like quitting. It was an arduous journey to reach that finish line, but I am here now and so glad I went through that period.
2) You need a mentor. It is helpful to have someone you can look up to and say “Wow, that is the type of dental career I want to provide.” Then you can work backwards to determine the necessary steps on achieving the level of success. Social media makes that very easy today. You have visibility on what all the top people in the industry are doing. When I was coming up, that did not exist. One media outlet I remember was the show “Extreme Makeover” and I looked up to the dentists on that show. I loved how dentistry could give a depressed person their life back. A new smile opens many doors for employment, friends and relationships!
3) You need to try to develop the ability to know when to be patient. When I left the Navy, I was super excited to become a practice owner. I jumped at one opportunity and luckily the bank denied the loan because the practice was not productive enough to support two dentists. I was working for a large corporate chain that was very unfulfilling and knew I needed to jump ship. I next found an opportunity for partnership with a wonderful practice and team. The catch was that I would not be in full control for four more years. Many buyers are hesitant with this arrangement because they want to implement their style and have the autonomy to do what they want right away. This opportunity was too good to pass up so I decided it was worth it to be the secondary, junior dentist in the practice for four years, until my partner retired. I’m glad I stuck it out because it was worth it!
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would love to start a campaign to end childhood tooth decay. Tooth decay is a preventable yet very prevalent disease that affects too many children. It leads to loss of school time, loss of confidence, pain and suffering for the child and their family, and leads to lifetime apprehension of the dentist if you have a bad experience as a child: which leads to further resistance to routine dental visits. Much of this can be traced back to sugar. People need to be educated on the harm that sugar causes. I think the soft drink and energy industry is very harmful. Sugar is directly linked to caries formation. It is garbage not only for your mouth and teeth, but overall health. You need to moderate your consumption and understand the consequences of your food choices. I’m disappointed in the government for not doing more. The problem is that sugar is a powerful industry in the country and has powerful lobbyists protecting those profits. Fat has no lobbying group so it is the easy scapegoat for all things nutrition.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to sit down with Ari Emanuel. I was a huge fan of the show “Entourage” back in the day and I have always been intrigued by how deals in Hollywood get made!
What is the best way for our readers to follow you online?
Thank you so much for these wonderful insights, and for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you continued success and good health! Learn more or contact the team today at InnovativeDentalAesthetics.com, and follow their office on Instagram.com/InnovativeDentalAesthetics.