3 Decades Later, I've Finally Found The Perfect Dentist

BY Anum Bashir

I think I hit the dental lottery last year when I was invited to the luxurious Apa Cosmetic Dental Center here in Dubai to meet Dr. Michael Apa himself. Like many people, there are fewer things I loathe more than a visit to the dentist, and admittedly, for that very reason, I hadn't been to one in years. Embarrassing, but true! Walking in I felt relaxed, and not the least bit anxious; the clinic felt more like a spa than a medical facility, with dozens of fresh white hydrangeas blooming around the reception desk. I was greeted by warm perfect smiles all around, and a well-trained staff who helped me register. Moments later, having quenched my thirst with a chilled bottle of Evian, I replied to a few quick emails, posted a couple Insta-stories, and was escorted up by a staff member to meet Dr. Apa. Upon first glance I instantly saw why he's often referred to as the charming and charismatic "Rockstar" of Cosmetic Dentistry. Boy was I suddenly excited about getting my teeth sorted by the suavest of dentists out there. For those wondering, "Yes, he is THAT good looking!" I leapt on to that (once dreaded) chair, put on the noise-cancellation headphones given to me, and got lost in the world of Ocean's 8 playing on a flatscreen embedded in the ceiling. It was the perfect distraction. 2 hours later, with a deep clean, multiple rounds of whitening, and a fixed chip under my belt, I knew I had experienced the type of visit to the dentist's office everyone should. Stigma be gone... I was hooked. I caught a glimpse of my upgraded smile in a mirror handed to me by one of the hygienists, and from what I've been told, I couldn't stop smiling. Dr. Apa then walked me through the importance of a good dental routine, told me my teeth were in great condition (unbeknownst to me), but that I had to step up my dental game if I wanted to keep my whites pearly and young. We then sat down to discuss his life, childhood, and everything that's led him to becoming a truly sought after name, with his tailor-made, unique approach to all things dental.

AB: Where were you born and raised?

MA: I was born in upstate New York, which was pretty much suburbia, where I grew up, and spent many years. It was a small town, but it was nice.

AB: What was growing up like?

MA: I had a very normal, happy and stable childhood, with an older brother, and parents who are still together. I throughly enjoyed skateboarding as a kid. We lived in a charming neighborhood where everyone knew everyone. I hung out with friends who all lived close by. It was what you would imagine growing up in a small town would be like.

AB: Did you always know you wanted to be a dentist? What influenced that decision?

MA: I was always very artistic and creative from quite a young age. I spent hours drawing Garfield, and had actually gotten good enough to the point where Jim Davis (the comic) had accepted some of my illustrations into his comic strips. I was only 9, so that was cool.
Given that no 5 year old kid really knows what they want to be when they grow up, I somehow thought that I was destined to be a doctor; more specifically a Pediatrician, until I got very sick (from some rare liver disease), and remember my mother being on a call weeping to my doctor at 3AM, wondering what was going on, and whether I would ever get cured. It was hard to see, but I distinctly remember the sound of her voice thinking to myself at 5 years of age that I would never want to be at the other end of that phone call.

I was a child in an adult's body. I always felt that way. I knew how I wanted to live my life. I had a sense of purpose and direction from early on.

And at the same time, my grandmother worked at a dental office which always seemed to be such an upbeat and happier place. I would go in and she would show me toothpaste with my favorite Yankees on it. The atmosphere in there made me realize I wanted to be a dentist.

AB: Wait, so do you think dentist's are the least hated medical practitioners? No one's dying on your watch. 

MA: No, I actually think we're the most hated! You hear about dentist's in horror or thriller movies. I think dentists may also have one of the highest suicide rates!

But with dentists typically being so disliked, that's why we opted to take the path that we've taken in creating a comfortable, luxurious, and bespoke experience for our patients, by hopefully diminishing some of those stigmas that exist. The traditional thought about going in for a dental visit is to have a someone work in an area like the mouth (which is personal and sensitive) with sharp instruments, which can be quite an unnerving and unpleasant. With Apa, we've eliminated all that.

AB: When did you decide that that's what you would pursue?

MA: Going back to when I was very young, I always knew how to talk to people, level with them, and convey my ideas and thoughts. As I said, there was always a sense of purpose and intent there. I have this very vivid memory as a child when I had gotten injured on my forehead and my parents had rushed me to the hospital to get stitched up. Even at the time I was trying to negotiate with my doctor that I would let him do his thing and not make a fuss if only they allowed my mother in to be with me which he falsely promised. I remember not being taken seriously because again, it felt like a grown adult in a little person's body. Though I was 5, I had experienced and endured enough, which made me more certain of where I wanted to go.

As I grew I realized I wanted to live my life a certain way, and that pursuing dentistry would help me do that and achieve my goals.

AB: What sets the Apa way apart from other celebrated cosmetic dentists? Unique practices that you guys may have?

MA: I think what's happening is that we're pioneering a global brand of this type and caliber of cosmetic dentistry. It's hard to ask that question, and for me to give an answer that is real. With Apa is not just a matter of coming in, getting a procedure done and leaving. Every patient is part of our brand, and this tailor-made very deliberate and methodical atmosphere that we craft. For example I've seen a number of dentists copy our exact formula when it comes to social media, our language, and our digital presence. To the average person it might all seem the same, unless you really get up close and oriented with the finesse of everything that we put out. Same holds true for our product and services, and the way in which our ceramists would to create each and every veneer.

AB: That surely has become apparent when you go out there and listen to what people have to say when discussing good cosmetic dentistry. Apa has become synonymous with supremely good work that's natural and durable. 

MA: At the end of the day, we have our own ceramic which gives it a very very distinct color. If you liken it to fashion designers for example, one can argue that Brunello Cucinelli and Loro Piana are very similar in design and aesthetic, but for those who frequent a particular brand will understand certain nuances that work better for them, that's why I personally buy Brunello Cucinelli.

AB: 5 things everyone should do to get a better smile?

MA: The most important thing which is no secret is to be a regular at brushing with an electric tooth brush, and flossing on a daily basis. A large part of tooth health depends on it, and that's really all it is. Of course being a dentist I highly advise regular cleanings, check-ups, and the occasional whitening session. It's cumulative.

If you've worn braces, you need to be consistent with wearing a retainer. Avoid certain foods that stain. 

AB: Tell us about veneers! Do's, don'ts? Who should get them?

MA: I think veneers are really great and at times important when constructed and implanted correctly in a patient. Yes, I do believe they're not for everyone (especially if not needed), but can be just the right solution for someone who wants to change something about their smile, which makes it more of a cosmetic procedure, or requires some serious restoration work from perhaps years of smoking, or poor dental care. 

At Apa, our veneers don't look like veneers. That's what makes them unique.

Veneers can be quite expensive to maintain and they are a lifelong commitment, which can be viewed as a downside. 

AB: How has the presence of social media changed the way you do business?

MA: It has had a tremendous impact. Social media is such a powerful tool and connector of people. Like most growing businesses, going digital made a lot of sense for us, and we have created a very signature way in which we publish content and manage our social media presence. 

With that being said, when I started my career 16 years ago, PR was very different. We pitched to the most revered/ relevant fashion magazines, and respected journalists in the hopes to get maybe a single feature a year - that too if you had something very interesting to say or were pioneering something someone wasn't. There was a true authenticity to that, which I really admired and appreciated. The process entailed vetting which social media doesn't today. There was a certain prestige to the old-school methods of marketing which earned people and businesses a type of gravitas. That's not to say that the evolution hasn't boded well for us. Things have definitely evolved a lot and we've adjusted and adapted accordingly. It's worked very well for us. Business is growing.

AB: Biggest challenges you face as a cosmetic dentist?

MA: The dentistry part is easy, and what I know and enjoy. It's building the business and brand that can pose its own challenges. 

AB: Dental trends you're seeing in your practice?

MA: Sure, like everywhere else, there are trends here too. Social media is propelling a lot (be it for the good or bad). Everyone wants to be famous on Instagram or other social platforms. 

I remember in the early 2000s there was the Pam Anderson craze - everyone wanted that tanned skin, bleached hair, giant breast augmentations, and super white veneered teeth.

The trends now might have changed but they're still rampant with people face-tuning, using filters, whitening their teeth, getting lip and cheek injections, etc. We see that in cosmetic dentistry too, but more so people wanting a more natural set in their mouths which is something we do very well. We talk to our patients seriously about what is achievable and recommended and what is not. 

There aren't really any trendy procedures or services that we offer per se. Certain products sure have come onto the market like Invisalign which has become more popular because people view it as a better alternative to braces. But again, these procedures need to be done by orthodontists and not dentists. 

AB: Vices?

MA: Diet Coke, Netflix, lack of sleep.

AB: Dr. Apa drinks Diet Coke, you heard it here first!

AB: Pet Peeves?

MA: I don't really have any pet peeves, but a lot of things tend to frustrate me from an intelligence perspective. I'm not a big fan of the simplified age that we live in where incompetence is at times rewarded. I've always supported and gotten behind intellectual, authentic people and businesses; I feel that our social environment today is flooded with a lot of less than deserving individuals and initiatives. 

AB: First thing you do in the morning?

MA: Coffee, even before I brush my teeth.

AB: Last thing you do at night?

MA: Brush my teeth.

AB: Best piece of advice anyone ever gave you?

MA: It's not as hard to get to the top as it is to stay there.

AB: What's next for Apa?

MA: LA! That's where we're headed. We're hoping to take Apa global with more locations, and in effect change the landscape of how you can receive our services. 

AB: A fun fact about you no one knows?

MA: I actually don't know. Hmmm, pretty much an open book. I have OCD.

AB: Oh, me too!

Here's my Apa smile :)

To book your consultation, call: +974 (0)4 709 1000

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