Then I met a dentist who claimed that his work was anxiety and pain free. A couple of months later I met his fiancée, Raheema. They are two very fascinating people.
I didn’t meet Engin Aksoy on his turf; rather he sought me out for private English lessons. He was born in İstanbul but raised in Germany, where he built up a successful dental practice. Two years ago, he decided to move back to his birthplace to build his dental practice here from scratch.
We clicked right away, because my philosophy of teaching is to be student-centered and his philosophy of dentistry is to be patient-centered. As we worked on building his dental vocabulary in English and on phrases he could use with his patients, I learned more and more about how he works.
I loved his concept of spending lots of time getting to know patients before doing any work. I liked it when he showed me his office design ideas -- the pristine whiteness of it all, the waiting room made to feel as comfortable as a hotel lobby. I liked that he worked tirelessly to train his staff in advanced methods of patient care long before he opened his clinic.
But, honestly, I couldn’t really buy the “pain free” part of his philosophy. The only time in my 40-plus years of visiting dentists that I didn’t feel pain was when I had all four wisdom teeth taken out at the same time -- and for that, the only thing I remember is counting backwards from 10 (and only getting to eight) lying on a gurney in a hospital. Subsequently, every dentist has told me they are “pain free,” but when they got me in the chair I had had to listen to “hold on, just a little bit more to go” way too many times, as I gripped the chair and tried to focus my mind on deep, yogic breathing to help reduce the pain.
Meeting Raheema on YouTube
Engin first introduced me to his fiancée, Raheema, an expat from Germany, through a YouTube video during one of our lessons. He said: “I’m going to show you a video of my girlfriend. Guess where she’s from.” Well, to me it was obvious that she was an American -- probably a New Yorker. But it turns out that she was born and raised in Germany by parents of Turkish descent and that she learned how to rap phonetically. I was impressed.
Since she’s been here, she’s flown to Switzerland, where she recorded a Salt-n-Pepa cover; she made it to the top three in the charts. I asked her when she would be recording her music in Turkey and she said she wasn’t quite ready. Raheema is very modest about her music and a very private person -- she said that a year ago she had suffered the loss of a close family member and that she was just now getting over it. She also said that soon her DJ brother would be coming to İstanbul and that she would probably start working on her music again with him. After all, it was he who encouraged her to start in the first place.
I asked Raheema what she thought about İstanbul and she replied, “I still feel like a stranger here.” She told an amazing story of growing up in Germany and facing alienation from those who told her that she didn’t really belong there. Many people intimated that she should “go back home,” even though the only home she had known was Germany. Here, she says, even though she speaks flawless Turkish, most accuse her of being foreign -- German, in fact. Lately, for fun, she’s been telling people that she’s Dutch. They seem to buy it and then move on.
Engin, after many trials and tribulations and a baptism by fire of the Turkish bureaucracy that one must wade through to start one’s own business, finally opened his clinic in Nişantaşı. Despite the problems inherent in opening a business, he’s taken to İstanbul like a fish to water. He stopped taking lessons last November so that he could work on his business full time, but called me from time to time to check in and say hello. Two weeks ago, however, he called to invite me to see his new office.
I jumped at the chance to meet with him and Raheema again, and was amazed that the pristine clinic was nearly identical to the drawings he had shown me earlier. There was a huge fish tank in the waiting room housing various types of blue and yellow saltwater fish (including an eel), demonstrating Engin’s support of Fenerbahçe, a cappuccino machine that was calling my name and friendly staff who greeted me at the door.
My visit started cordially enough. We caught up on what we were doing. Engin showed me the clinic, Raheema talked about her music. Then, after Engin had showed me his space, he said: “How about letting me give you a check-up? You can experience my clinic first-hand.” I froze, and I think I even shook a little. It was one thing to visit my friend at his workplace, but quite another to be a dental patient. I hesitantly gave in and am glad that I did.
The first step was to have X-rays taken. Next, he looked into my mouth, barely touching each tooth as he made comments and his assistant wrote down what he said. I was expecting him to wrestle with the fillings, to poke and prod and wiggle and really get to know my mouth, but no. Just lightly touching and commenting.
He then took out his digital camera and took pictures of my mouth. After that, we went back to the office, where he displayed my X-rays and the pictures of my mouth on a computer monitor mounted on the wall, showing me what he had seen and what needed to be done. It was the least invasive check-up I have ever had.
Then came the actual work. I had to have all of my silver fillings removed; they were more than 30 years old and needed to be replaced with porcelain. In addition, there was one deep cavity that needed filling right away.
And the dentist chair…
He did the work in only two visits. He asked me what kind of music I liked and then gave me a headset, which streamed relaxing lounge music into my ears while he worked. He gave me some Novocain shots and started in. I took deep breaths, expecting to feel something at any moment, but he kept his promise. In fact, the two or three times that I started to feel anything, I told him, and he stopped what he was doing and gave me another shot in a different part of the gum. After that I didn’t feel a thing.
I asked Engin to explain the philosophy behind his dental practice. He said that it wasn’t based on his professional knowledge of aesthetics, prosthetics or root canal treatment, or as an implant specialist. Rather, the philosophy of his office is dental care. It begins with educating the patient about dental hygiene, whether the patient is 4 years old or 100. He explained that teeth are like a car: If you clean your car only once a year, the car will rust fast. If you clean the car every week, the car will still rust, but not as fast. We can’t stop it; we can just slow it down. In the same way, he went on, we can extend the life of our teeth, and that’s where dental hygiene comes in. “When I treat a child, I always tell him that he’ll never have a problem. And he might, but I usually find it very early, and then it’s small and easily taken care of. I teach them how to take care of their teeth.”
One aspect of his business about which he is strict is keeping himself and his assistants abreast of the latest technology. He continually educates his staff. In fact, he trained his staff for a full six weeks before he opened his doors to the public. Although his assistants had a lot of experience in the field, one of them seven years, he lamented their lack of theoretical knowledge, so to educate them he used his model head, “Charlie,” and delivered 20 different presentations.
Raheema and Engin are two fascinating people who are making a go of it in İstanbul. I love their energy, their drive and their friendly dispositions. It’s a pleasure to spend time with them and I look forward to witnessing their success in their chosen fields.
Brooks Emerson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org