Braden and his wife have three children, ages 7, 5 and 1 -- who are lucky enough to get reminders from two parents to brush after meals and limit sweets.
Listen to this slice of life from Ryan Braden:
Growing up, I had different aspirations, starting with a park ranger and firefighter. I originally went to UW-Madison thinking I was going to be a physician -- that was my ultimate goal at the time. As I kind of looked more into the business side and how things work between physicians, I saw the way medicine has changed with the big conglomerates kind of taking over, and physicians having less control over how their day-to-day business is run. So I started looking at what my dad did here in his practice. A freedom to be in control of your own destiny was a big factor in transitioning from being a physician to a dentist. I’ve had no regrets at all. It’s been a great career choice.
I have a great working relationship with my dad. It’s almost ridiculous. We work all day and then we go on vacation together. We have a good relationship both professionally and personally. We’re very fortunate.
At Marquette, I met my wife, Jaymie, who is from the state of Oregon, and I talked her into sticking around in the state of Wisconsin with me. Her dad’s a dentist as well. I think that there is a lot of family tradition in dentistry, and I think that shows to the quality of what the profession offers. I know dentistry kind of has a bad rap. They used to say dentists have the highest suicide rate and all those crazy things, but at the same time, there are a lot of children who follow in those footsteps and I think if their parents were so down on the career, you wouldn’t see this pathway.
I know the team at the Wisconsin Dental Association looked it up and they confirmed I’m the youngest president ever. I don’t know who the next youngest was -- who I kind of bumped off the list -- but I don’t think there’s been anyone ever under 40 who has been president, and I’m 37 right now. A lot of that credit goes to my dad and some of the other mentors I’ve had that showed me the value of being involved in the dental association early on.
I’m kind of the official spokesperson for the dental association, so in my first months as president, I’ve had to testify in Madison before the Assembly committee on small business regarding some pending legislation. I’ve had to travel up to Ashland, Green Bay, Manitowoc, Racine and Kenosha, meeting with local dentists.
One of our struggles is connecting with new graduates, trying to create value for being involved in the association and what it means to their profession. I’m hoping to kind of be a bridge from the traditional -- from my dad’s generation, who if you’re a dentist, you joined the dental association.
Now, they say, “Show me why I need to join.” I’m hoping that when they look at me as president of the association, they can say, “Oh, he doesn’t look like my dad. He looks more like me. If he gets it, maybe I need to pay a little more attention to why I should be involved, too.”
One of my main drives is creating relevancy for future dentists while still keeping the Baby Boomer generation engaged as well because they have value and a legacy to pass on to that next generation.
Facebook and the dentist
I would say advertising for dentists has changed dramatically. A lot of the changes really started in about 2008 when the economy went downhill for a little while. People are shopping differently than they used to. We do a lot more fliers or mailers now, which traditionally wasn’t even on the radar years ago. It was almost frowned upon to do that in our profession. And now, outside of word-of-mouth, probably our No. 1 source to get new patients is through direct mail campaigns and just getting our name out there, because that’s how you make contacts with people who aren’t familiar with you.
The Internet, as we all know, is huge. I mean everyone’s online so you have to have a website, social media. We have a Facebook page, which is an interesting social dynamic. It’s something that’s more labor-intensive, but unlike other marketing, it doesn’t cost anything. So you have to proactively try to come up with things and get the word out about what you’re doing and come up with fun topics and more personal stories -- someone who has a 50th birthday party, things about what the team or our patients are doing. We try to share that. It’s kind of the human touch, I guess you could say, and people respond to that. It still amazes me if we put up a topic that appeals to people, how quickly the responses flow in. Some topics have had over 1,000 likes on it. That’s crazy to me, how fast they respond, how connected people are to their Facebook pages.
Treating more than teeth
Physicians are the ones who make the diagnosis of sleep apnea, but dentists can screen for it and treat it, and by that I mean that we see patients generally more often than physicians do. So we are early screeners for high blood pressure, sleep apnea -- we can look at the warning signs. And if we can screen for these things, then we can work in consultation with a physician to get a diagnosis.
CPAPs -- the Darth Vader-style mask you may hear about -- they’re about the standard of care when it comes to extreme sleep apnea. That being said, about 50 percent of people who are put on a CPAP discontinue using it just because they’re not comfortable with them. That’s where we come in in the dental realm. We can make oral appliances, which will open the airway, kind of move the jaw forward to make sure things don’t collapse while you’re sleeping. They have a higher acceptance rate for patients. It’s the ideal treatment for mild to moderate sleep apnea. People are becoming more aware of the condition. I think Reggie White brought more awareness because his death was related to sleep apnea.
We also are screening kids a lot more than we used to before because a lot of children we found that are on Ritalin -- you know, for attention deficit disorder -- it’s really sleep problems. Their tonsils and adenoids are too big. You open their airway and all of a sudden, they’re off all the meds, their behavior has changed because their bodies are rested. These are all things that five years ago we weren’t even looking for and now we have a lot more knowledge of things to be aware of.
Dentistry’s changing face
My career, being only 10 years old, hasn’t changed a lot in the comfort level from what my parents grew up experiencing -- and all the horror stories. I still hear those stories, but I think it’s a lot more comfortable, just the way people talk to patients. I’m not here to beat you up. I hear people still kind of getting belittled and yelled at, like “What is wrong with you?” by their dentists. And no one responds to that. I’m here to help you and give you ideas on how to keep your mouth healthy. It’s just trying to give people the most comfortable experience in an up-to-date, modern environment, where they feel like they’re part of a team as opposed to being lectured and scolded.
The cosmetic aspect of dentistry is a big change. We haven’t used any real metal restorations in years. It’s all tooth-colored. We can make dental work look like a natural tooth now, as opposed to putting in some old amalgam in there. It worked. It’s effective. But people don’t want it to look like you’ve got a lot of dentistry in there. You want to look like you’ve got beautiful, healthy, natural teeth, and that’s what we do.
You know we still are undervalued in society, and by that I mean only about half of people in this country go to a dentist on an annual basis. Dentistry is one of those things where a lot of times it’s easy to forget until you have a problem. Then it becomes really urgent. But I think the people who value dentistry, who go to the dentist on a regular basis, have found it a more user-friendly customer experience. I know it’s a lot more comfortable than it used to be. It’s still not like going to Great America. Someone’s still got to put stuff in your mouth. Some of it doesn’t taste great. But it’s faster, more efficient and should be relatively pain-free.