The Dentist’s Office, but Make it Fashion: Dr. Andrea Gelinas

I often think about what a time it is to be alive – when I’m thinking about trying a new restaurant or visiting a new city, the first place I often go to for inspiration and information is Instagram.

It’s also how I found my dentist, Dr. Andrea Gelinas, when someone from my book club (which I also – surprise! – found through Instagram) posted a selfie from the bathroom in her studio. Aesop hand wash by the sink, next to an iconic 3 foot tall framed photo of Grace Jones, and monkey wallpaper the colour of a tranquil lagoon. What is this magical place? I thought. At the time, I was a new resident of Toronto and needed to find a new home for my chompers. I booked a cleaning, and it’s been a love affair ever since. Never did I think I’d be excited to go to the dentist, but through intention and detail, Dr. Gelinas and her team have done the unthinkable. Local art and photography adorn the walls, a framed photo of Stevie Nicks, rustic leather, aromatic smells, ambient hip-hop, and thriving house plants create a gorgeous aesthetic. Gelinas Dental Studio is a decor dream.

But the experience doesn’t end there. Each of the dental services they offer at this studio are handled with precision, love, and dedication, and the staff is a pleasure to interact with. This curated experience didn’t just happen by accident, and when I had the chance to interview Andrea, also known as Dr. Gelinas, I got the goods on how she managed to elevate the dental-going experience from top to bottom.

Tell me what you do and what makes your practice of dentistry different from others? 

It begins with my “reason why”. A big part of my mission is to listen and spend time with my patients. The reality is that people don’t like going to the dentist. So instead of shaming people into flossing or making sure that they’re booking their appointments, we focus on teaching them why it’s important to come in for cleanings. We could do fillings all day long, but it’s not about that; it’s about getting people to understand why they’re getting cavities in the first place, and helping them to be healthy. There’s an element of dentistry now that lends to having more of an open conversation about health and beauty and how confident you feel when you smile. There’s something so powerful in that.

I also think that what makes the studio different is my patient population. The majority of them are between the ages of 25 and 45. I think that’s an important time and age where you’ve possibly just graduated from university, you’re finally starting a career, maybe you have benefits or maybe you can afford it, and it’s the first time in your life that you’re in control of making your own decisions from a health standpoint. And there are so many options! Whitening, cleanings, explaining to people why they need their wisdom teeth out, cosmetics, – there are many different things that we can do, and truly educating someone on those decisions takes time. We spend a lot of time talking and, listening and also understanding that not everyone wants perfectly straight teeth. So it’s also about customizing treatments for the individual.

This experience, I believe, goes hand-in-hand with the design of the studio. I tried to think about what is it that makes patients feel anxious and nervous about going to the dentist. A lot of times they say a different version of the same thing: the sensory components – the smell, the noise. Then above and beyond that, it’s that patients leave feeling like they didn’t understand what the dentist was doing to them.

So that’s why I focused on every single detail. There’s a diffuser when you walk in, there’s good music that you’d want to listen to on the speakers. There aren’t old Reader’s Digest magazines from the 70s. There are good books, and patients have a place to keep their children entertained. It’s very easy to create an environment that’s welcoming. It doesn’t take much.

I agree, but I also think that it’s just an extension of your heart, right? Turning something routine into an experience. It’s not something people think about. At least I didn’t think about it until I went into your studio.

My mom is terrified of the dentist and it’s is one of the main reasons I became a dentist. When I was young, I used to go with her for moral support. She came in this week. She broke a tooth and she refused to let her dentist just fix it, and she was so scared and nervous. She’s normally like, “they have an anesthesiologist to come into the office and put me to sleep”. But this time she actually let me put a filling in. We were chatting and had the TV on. I put on Grace and Frankie and she didn’t even know that I gave her the freezing. That tactic works to take a little bit of the edge off. It makes a difference, and I’m very proud of her.

On that note, how do you go from growing up with a mother who didn’t like the dentist, to becoming one?

I think that’s one of the reasons why. I spent so much time with her at the dental office because she would need someone there to be a support system. My childhood dentist was also such a big mentor for me, he was so patient with her and so kind. Now that I’m a dentist, I remember what it was like to be the person in that chair. I think everyone can relate to that experience. I believe I’m there to do whatever it is to help my patients.

You wanted to emulate that experience, and then some.

Yeah, I also think it’s time to change our view on socialized medicine. Nobody really puts in any effort, maybe someone that’s not so friendly answers the phone, or maybe nobody gets back to you. I’ve had those experiences, and it really doesn’t take much to change that. And now I think what’s beautiful about the fact that my patient population is so young is that a reflection of how so many things now are about the experience. So my calling is to change as an industry. Obviously, some days are more stressful than others, but I enjoy that I created an environment where my patients want to come in, and the staff wants to be there. And everything is a story. I spent a lot of time collecting pieces and art that are meaningful and special and have collected over the years.

It feels like a home. Since the studio opened, have students of new dentists reached out to you for advice, guidance or mentorship?

Yeah, I had a study group of 17 dentists that I’ve brought together. We just had our third session. I’m also trying to get younger dentists to think intentionally about the way that they practice because my approach to dentistry is a bit different and is more in line with comprehensive care. So instead, we talk about the treatments you’d like to offer – but I certainly don’t want to make that decision for them. I want them to make that decision on their own. I’m trying to engage with these young dentists in a way that I never had, and I would have appreciated and valued so much.

It’s also important for me to help them understand that I didn’t just wake up one day and have this just pop-up. It was years in the making. There are dental offices on every corner. Literally. It was challenging. I was really scared; it’s scary to think about financial failure. It was nerve-wracking but I took the risk. I feel like dentistry should feel like an individual small business where the person who has their name is on the sign at the front of the building is practicing dentistry. You can’t lose the emotional connection. I want to know the patients that are coming in. I want them to know that I know them, and I want to grow with people. I think there is something about that human experience, everyone wants that human experience and I want to provide that. I think it’s important.

Yeah, for sure. How did you pick your staff to make sure they share the same vision as you do? 

It’s so important. Michelle and Priscilla, I would die without them. I feel like it’s not so much about the amount of experience that a candidate has but, about if they’re a culture fit. For interviews, I go for a coffee or sit with someone for an hour and have a conversation about shared life experiences. Then, you can teach anyone anything. So that’s just as important to me because I want to make sure that when I’m not around, there’s someone that’s going to pick up the phone and listen to your concerns and make you feel comfortable.

That’s so great. You have such an engaged online community, which is how I found out about your studio. 

That’s the nice thing about Instagram is that you can basically explain who you are on this platform for everyone to see, and then decide if they want in or not.

How do you balance it all? 

I don’t know. With so much change in my life, it’s forced me to start putting myself first. I’ve organized my schedule so that I can actually go to see my trainer and drop Nico [my son] off at daycare, and then go to the office and get ready and start my day. I’ve tried to take alternating Fridays off so that I won’t be rushed going to the grocery store or maybe go get my nails done. I never did stuff like that before; I was constantly either working or planning some family thing, and I’ve slowed down a lot, Nico and I spent a lot of time together and that’s important. It’s nice to be able to come home and prepare a meal together and sit down and eat. I evaluate the things that are important and why they’re important.

Because you’re prioritizing differently.

You know, both my parents worked, but I don’t ever remember feeling like either of them missed anything for me, you know? So I want Nico to have all of those same things.

It’s amazing. You’re doing this for him as well.

I can’t take care of my patients if I can’t take care of me, you know.

Tell us a secret about your job?

Oh my God, I’m nervous to go to the dentist, myself. I had these fillings to do and I put them off and finally got them done and I’m like, “actually?!”

You don’t like the dentist. That is the best. Anything exciting coming up for you in 2020?

I would love to brainstorm ideas for a little kid’s book about going to the dentist. When I opened, my mom got me all the “going to the dentist” books and none of them were diverse, and often there isn’t a female dentist. We need to change this a little bit. So I feel like it would be cool to collaborate with an OCAD student illustrator and come up with a book.

That’s amazing. You should do it. What’s the best advice that you’ve ever been given? 

Oh, follow your intuition. Oh my God, I wish that I would have followed it. You always have a little burning feeling inside, whether it’s decisions about personal things or professional matters. I feel like every time that I doubt myself and I don’t trust my gut, it comes back to bite me in the ass.

It’s so true. Sometimes all we need to do is listen. Thanks, Andrea.