Christian Coachman: My journey in Digital Smile Design
I am in the privileged position to be able to interview many world-class dentists and thought leaders in the world of dentistry, as guests on my popular series: Coffee Break with Coachman series. I love a good conversation and there’s nothing better than talking to people you admire professionally and asking them about their career paths; how they got started, their passions, life lessons and innovations.
But I often get asked, what about my own story? As founder and CEO of Digital Smile Design, and with a unique pathway as a technician and dentist, people often ask me to talk about my own journey, the adventures and the lessons. To put it all down in one place, I have compiled this blog post adapted from an interview in 2018 with Incisal Edge Magazine, which can be read here.
Dentistry: a family tradition
I am proud to come from a long line of dentists. My family is featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest sequence of generations to have had the profession of dentist: My brother, Francis, and I are the 6th generation of dentists. The first of this lineage was my great great great grandfather, who graduated in 1848 in Cleveland. 2019 is the year we celebrate 170 years of dentistry in the family.
In 1994, I was already in the first year of Dental School, and my father gave the inspiration that would really change my career; that I study Dental Technology in parallel, to become a Dental Technician and work for him. This is also a tradition in my family; working in a dental lab before becoming a dentist. The only difference for me was that when I graduated in dentistry, I was already really involved with lab work and decided to continue working as a technician. So instead of becoming a dentist who used to be a technician, I became a dental lab technician who was also a dentist. This opened so many doors for me and allowed me to work for great dentists all over the world.
Mentors are everything in dentistry
My father was my first great mentor and inspiration and then I was lucky to have other great mentors, such as Brazilian dentists Marcelo Calamita, Dario Adolfi and Paulo Kano. When I moved to the USA to work for Team Atlanta, I was inspired by Drs Goldstein, Garber and Salama and also by the CDT Pinhas Adar. After the USA, I moved to Europe to work with great mentors such as Eric Van Dooren, Nitzan Bichacho, Galip Gurel and Mauro Fradeani. More recently, I’ve been much more involved in the business/marketing side of our profession and have found new great mentors related to these areas. In every stage of my career, mentors have been key to me growing and developing as a professional.
Finding fulfilment in Smile Design
My dream as a teenager was actually to become an Architect or a Designer. I found the beginning of dental school very tough because the basic disciplines were so completely removed from my passion. When I realised as a Dentist/Technician I could become a Smile Architect and a Smile Designer, that is when I found my path. Dental Technology saved my dental career because I was about to quit before I realised this.
Through dentistry, I have now found fulfilment in another great passion of mine; marketing through the Digital Smile Design methodology that I have developed. The DSD Company is focused on my three professional passions:
- projecting beautiful smiles (like a designer),
- developing treatment plans (like an architect)
- and creating differentiation and great stories (like a marketer).
Dentistry is all about challenges
We have challenges every single day. For me, everything I have achieved is just the beginning, the bigger challenges are still yet to come. But I love challenges and problems because they keep you moving and away from your comfort zone.
You need to create a clear vision of where you want to be in 5-10 years. That helps me a lot to have the strength to go through the tough moments. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. This is my number one motto! When very bad things happen, it’s a test to keep believing; it starts to make sense and you become stronger. Accepting that absolutely everything that happens to you is in fact for your own benefit, even when everything looks like a complete disaster, is powerful.
When you are in the business of changing people’s behaviour you need that strength because people don’t like change! I have been aggressively attacked on social media because of my ideas. People can try to make fun of you or destroy your reputation, but you have to believe in a bigger purpose to keep going. Having an internal spiritual path is the key for me.
The Key to my Success
If I could attribute one belief as being key to my success, to creating the respect and reputation that meant I was named one of the 32 most influential people in dentistry in 2018, it is: putting others before you. But with no BS, really living this idea that you always need to think about others before thinking about yourself. And actually, being genuinely a good person, is, at the end, a selfish behaviour. Because when you really think about others, the universe will take care of you. So at the end, you are the biggest beneficiary.
Making an impact in dentistry
At each key moment of my professional life, I had the feeling I was creating an impact. Of course the impact is relative to your evolution. I remember making the first ceramic crown for a real patient of my father’s. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was just a premolar single unit, but I felt so special and useful. I also remember when my lab grew a little and I had a few employees. I felt special for being able to give people an opportunity and teach them the little I knew at that time.
When they started to call me an ambassador of Brazilian dentistry, I was aware I was making an impact and I saw doors start to open when I left Brazil and was working overseas. At that time very few Brazilian dentists were known abroad.
Every time I see an opportunity, my natural reaction is: “how many people I can bring on board to take advantage of that opportunity together?” I see absolutely no fun of taking advantage of a situation alone. I may be able to do better financially or succeed easier on my own, but I prefer to bring as many people as possible together. Even if people sometimes let you down, I still believe that the benefits of trusting, opening doors, bringing people together are always bigger.
Getting your priorities right
Honestly, organising myself and prioritising tasks are not my greatest skills! I’m passionate and impulsive and as the DSD Company grows, I’m learning how to become a better CEO for my organisation which means becoming organised, creating systems and improving prioritisation.
My main advice is: Do what you do best, and then create a top team to do all you are not good at. The short cut is finding the right people. It's all about your team, creating a purpose that people are proud to support and that will motivate each team member to do their best.
I’ve come to learn that it’s more important for me to be a great leader, motivator and believer that people are proud to follow; then to have proper executive officers to run the show alongside me.
Embracing digital dentistry
Digital Technology is a key factor to enable dental clinics to provide quality and efficiency whilst becoming more competitive, to succeed in this new aggressive market forming ahead of us. Corporate dentistry will drastically change the landscape and dentists that own their offices need to be prepared. I believe that the people jumping right now into digital dentistry will get the first mover advantages and will be ahead of others when digital solutions becomes the obvious way to go.
The major advantage of Digital Dentistry for me are:
- Creating more perceived value
- Simplifying and improving the patient documentation process
- Improving team communication for better decision making processes
- Simulating treatment ideas before performing them in the patient's mouth
- Presenting the treatment project in a more educational and attractive way
- Being able to deliver guided dentistry - final outcomes that are more similar to initial projects
- Incorporating Quality Control into clinical procedures
- More efficiency in clinical procedures such as bite registration and tooth preparation
There is no doubt that the dental clinic of the future will be completely digitalised. We don’t know if this ideal future will take 3 years or 10 years, but it will come. In my opinion, the clinics who start now will be ahead when that day comes. Corporations are already going there and will dictate the move. The consumers will demand the change and the pressure will come from outside in.
Maintaining my passion for dentistry
Dentistry is going through an exciting moment. Technology is finally ready to really help us. Corporations are bringing great business concepts into our field. Consumer behaviour is changing. Marketing strategies are now part of the dental world. Dentistry is finally getting the credit that it deserves. We change people's lives! In the past, people would ask me what I do for a living, and I would give a boring answer: I’m a dentist. Usually the conversation would be over at this point. Today, when I am asked the same question, I say with pride and excitement: I’m a holistic OroFacial Expert, using the latest technologies to profoundly change people’s lives by creating healthy and confident smiles!
Don’t get left behind
The future of modern dentistry is digital; that’s why we invite dentists to jump on board with Digital Smile Design.
Find out more about DSD, our intensive Residency program is the best introduction to becoming part of dentistry’s exciting future.