By Genni Burkhart
As one of the partners at Atlanta West Dentistry, Dr. Travis Watson works closely with his wife, Dr. Cameron Watson, DMD, at their practice in Marietta, GA.
A graduate of the Dental College of Georgia, Dr. Travis Watson completed a residency in general practice at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
Among his professional organizations and affiliations are the Academy of General Dentistry (fellow), the International College of Dentists (fellow), the Pierre Fauchard Academy (fellow), the ADA, the Georgia Dental Association, the American Academy of Implant Dentistry, the Georgia Dental Practice Association, the Hinman Dental Society, the Metropolitan Atlanta Study Club, the Atlanta Dental Study Club, the Alzheimer's Association, Compassion International, the Extension (a local drug recovery center), and DOCS Education.
The Watsons have two teenage children, Baker and Vivian, and in his free time, he enjoys exercise, sports, spending time with his family, and attending concerts.
Dr. Travis Watson believes the key to success is providing quality dental care and building trusting patient relationships. He and his wife strive to create a welcoming and comfortable patient atmosphere.
As Dr. Travis Watson states, "While many dentists may loathe seeing patients with severe dental anxiety, we get excited to see these types of patients. This is because we know we can change their lives through sedation dentistry.
"Sedation dentistry has been the avenue for our practice to do the type of dentistry we want while meeting our goals and changing patients' lives. Without it, I cannot imagine what our careers would look like."
Incisor: What impact has sedation training had on your practice from your professional perspective?
Dr. Travis Watson (DTW): Our team loves meeting our business goals and making a difference in patients' lives. Sedation dentistry allows us to perform longer productive appointments, and this equates to workdays that are much less stressful.
At the same time, these patients typically pre-pay for their treatment upfront, preventing our administrative team from having ongoing financial conversations.
Another way that sedation dentistry has improved our practice is by making us better communicators. We always teach our team how to listen and empathize with anxious patients. Practicing listening skills has become a habit that improves communication with every patient, not just our nervous patients.
Finally, since we perform IV sedation, we can better serve our patients with more invasive procedures such as third molar extraction, sinus lifts, and full arch implant dentistry. Having IV access allows us to be efficient and create a safe setting for the patient.
Incisor: And from your patient's perspective?
DTW: The biggest reward we get to experience is how we can change a person's confidence in as little as one appointment, and with one, or sometimes several, positive sedation experiences, many patients will begin to trust us, and their dental anxiety lessens. This is something that these patients cannot even imagine during the exam and interview phase.
In addition to anxiety, our patients choose sedation dentistry to maximize procedures performed per appointment because of the inability to come in often.
Another reason our patients choose sedation dentistry is that a gag reflex prevents them from getting standard dental procedures. These gag reflex problems cause patients a lot of embarrassment, which leads to overall general dental anxiety.
Sedation dentistry is the answer for these patients because our primary benzodiazepines, triazolam, and midazolam, are great anti-emetics that often turn off the gag reflex entirely and contribute to a "sleep-like" state so the patient is not consumed with the fear of gagging.
Incisor: Can you share some impactful patient stories about how sedation dentistry impacted their health and wellness?
DTW: Sherri came to us in 2018 for an exam. She expressed embarrassment due to how bad she had let her smile get after years of putting off much-needed dental care. This was because of a horrible experience she had as a kid where she was not appropriately numbed for a filling appointment. After her first grandchild said something about her teeth, she knew it was time to find a way to get help, and her daughter was a patient of ours, so she sat with her during her first few visits.
Unfortunately, she faced losing all of her teeth, but we found a solution that worked for her budget and consisted of locator overdentures. After her first sedation, she was immediately thrilled with her interim dentures, so much so that she cried out of happiness at her first postop and hugged several of our team members. She was elated after we delivered her final appliances a few months later.
She went on to become a real estate agent (with a winning smile) and is prospering financially.
DTW: Kai, an ER nurse, came to us in 2010 for an exam and stated that he needed to be sedated for dental treatment. He said he was psychologically scarred from a horrible wisdom tooth experience as a teenager.
We took care of some routine restorative procedures using oral conscious sedation. Kai was pleased with his experience and became a true ambassador of our practice.
At his job in this hospital emergency room, he sees patients with toothaches very often, and he says the common denominator for these patients is fear driving them to avoid the dentist. Many of these patients know that they'll only get a prescription, which is fine because they want to avoid any dreaded procedures anyway.
Using his story, Kai has taken it upon himself to educate these patients and has referred us to dozens of patients over the years, and we've been able to help them with their pain and often also with their overall health.
Incisor: What made you decide sedation dentistry was the right choice for your practice?
DTW: I needed a way to treat anxious patients because I selfishly did not want to be the dentist involved in any horrific dental stories. It stressed me out to see patients who were flooded with dental fear.
I took a proactive approach to teaching my team sedation concepts and protocols. While they didn't go with me to my first DOCS Education course, they have since.
Once we had momentum with these types of cases, we started to see the many benefits for our patients and how much we enjoyed performing the procedures. At this time, we knew sedation dentistry would be the hallmark of our practice.
Incisor: Name some dental technology you can't live without.
DTW: We have been utilizing digital impressions for ten years but only started milling in 2018. CEREC dentistry has revolutionized our practice, and we cannot fathom practicing without it.
Preparing and delivering multiple single units in one sedation appointment is priceless because it prevents a second appointment that would either have to re-sedate the patient or risk a stressful procedure for them.
Incisor: Currently, what's the most significant obstacle your practice faces?
DTW: We are blessed with an awesome team and great leaders, so staffing issues haven't affected us like it has other practices. However, our biggest challenge is helping new patients move away from the consumer mindset and understand oral health's value.
It's so easy to see dentistry as a commodity and rely on insurance companies to dictate treatment decisions. Still, we as dental professionals must continue to remind people that dental problems are not static and that doing it correctly and early is cost-effective.
Achieving case acceptance is more about connecting with patients on an emotional level and continuing to keep them in charge. Eventually, they make the right decision, but some just are not ready when we want them to be.
Incisor: Has your practice changed post-pandemic?
DTW: We made significant changes during the pandemic that served us well. First, we needed to add more hours to maximize our facility, which made sense during COVID because this would socially distance people in our office. So, we added early morning and late afternoon hours, so now we see patients from 7 am to 7 pm except on Fridays.
Our team works in shifts, so we're essentially working "half-days" on most days.
Secondly, we grew our clinical team's ability to be true "patient advocates" by teaching them how to take payments (we put credit card machines in every operatory), present simple treatment financials, perform complete sedation pre-op appointments, and schedule procedures. This freed up our administrative team's time for important patient conversations and other tasks. It also empowered our clinical team to have more involvement in the patient experience and the practice's performance.
The Epitome of Sedation Dentistry
The Watsons embody what sedation dentistry is about – compassionate, quality dental care.
With the help of their trained, skilled, and capable staff, they help their patients reduce their anxiety so they can receive the dental care they require. For Dr. Travis Watson and his wife, Dr. Cameron Watson, this has been a tremendously rewarding experience, and they remain committed to helping as many people as possible.
As sedation dentists, the Watsons are passionate about eliminating people's fear of the dentist and providing them with the dental care they need to maintain good oral health – a driving force throughout their successful and fulfilling careers.
The Watsons have seen first-hand the positive difference sedation dentistry has made in the lives of their patients, and they are committed to serving their Marietta, GA, community. Their dedication to providing quality, compassionate dental care and improving their patients' lives through sedation dentistry is genuinely inspiring.
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Author: With over 13 years as a published journalist, editor, and writer Genni Burkhart's career has spanned politics, healthcare, law, business finance, technology, and news. She resides on the western shores of the idyllic Puget Sound, where she works as the Editor in Chief for the Incisor at DOCS Education out of Seattle, WA.