Chatting with the chairman – Ervin Weiss and Michal Dekel-Steinkeller

chatting with the chairmanDiana Spencer talks to Ervin Weiss and Michal Dekel-Steinkeller about working in harmony.

Professor Ervin Weiss has served in numerous academic roles. This includes five years as head of the school of dental medicine in Tel Aviv University. He is a past chairman of both the Israeli Society of Oral Rehabilitation and the Israeli division of the International Association for Dental Research (IADR).

He is the founder, CTO and chairman of Nobio, a company focused on innovation in antimicrobial protection.

Dr Michal Dekel-Steinkeller is treasurer of the Israeli Society of Oral Rehabilitation. He currently serves as the coordinator of cariology and operative dentistry at the department of prosthodontics in Tel Aviv University.

Professor Weiss and Dr Dekel-Steinkeller run a private practice together in Tel Aviv.

Diana Spencer: Why did you choose dentistry?

Ervin Weiss (EW): This is easy to answer: my father was a dentist. I grew up in a house where there was a surgery, and watched my father since I was three years old… There was no real choice! I went straight to Hadassah University in Jerusalem after school, aged 18, without going to the army. I absolutely love this profession

Michal Dekel-Steinkeller (MDS): Well, I was young and I thought it was a good profession for a woman. I attended a scientific programme at high school, and loved computers as well, so it seemed to be a natural choice.

What excites you most about dentistry?

EW: From day one, I never looked at dentistry as a business. I believed that if I did the best I could for my patients, making a living would follow. Careful treatment planning is key. Organising all the specialists and hygienists together at the highest level of professional care with no compromise.

For both of us, there is much less stress from working with another specialist all the time, as we understand and are learning from each other constantly.

MDS: I’ve been really involved ever since Ervin and I built a unique way of treating patients, which is nothing like the normal ‘solo practitioner’ type of dentistry. We focus our dentistry on complex projects. I am left-handed, Ervin is right-handed – we work well together.

We have a fully holistic approach and we are able to offer all the specialities in one place. I’m looking forward to talking about this more in our lecture later this month. It is the heart of our type of practice.

How do you unwind?

MDS: I’m so done with Netflix! I have three children aged between eight and 12 and I have very little time for myself. Fortunately, my husband cooks. After this conversation, I think I need to find myself some hobbies… I do play the piano, so there is one activity for you!

EW: I have four grandchildren within walking distance from home, who keep me occupied. I am deeply involved in Nobio (my start-up company) three days a week and it’s so completely different from the practice of dentistry.

I do enjoy a glass of wine but rarely manage to listen to music without disruption. To be honest, I think we both feel very lucky that our hobbies are our jobs… how amazing is that?

What advice would you offer an upcoming dental student? 

EW: My father gave me several pieces of advice, one of which was to say: ‘When we extract a tooth, the tooth will come out in the direction it wants to come, not the way you want it.’ In other words, surgery can be unpredictable so pre-planning and observation is key!

MDS: I teach students in dental school and the thing I recommend most is to assist as many other dentists as possible: watch them work and learn from them as an adjunct to going to lectures, looking at slides, reading books and so on.

Ervin and I are both lucky – we have the chance to watch each other so, we learn continuously.

Where do you see dentistry in five or 10 years?

MDS: I think it will become fully digital, although our way of working in our practice is a few years ahead of the time. I understand that we are in the minority at the moment, but I do believe that dentistry is heading into this cutting edge territory.

EW: The global trend is multi-disciplinary group practising – for example, working with all the specialists with the patient at the centre. My passion is with my company, Nobio, which concentrates on creating materials which are biocompatible, promote health and prevent disease. In my opinion, this is the future.

What’s been your greatest challenge to date?

EW: To my mind, the only thing that comes up is that neither of us are active enough on social media. Change is part of life – most people want stability, but we feel that we should doing more in that area. That will be our lecture in three years’ time when we have taken the plunge!

What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you?

EW: A patient of mine, a well-known artist, really drives me crazy. It takes at least 30 to 40 minutes before I can treat her, and that’s when she turns up – she generally misses four out of five appointments. One day she really pushed me to the edge.

I put down my instruments and said: ‘My dear this is what I know… please find yourself another dentist.’  She stood up with her back to me, spoke to my assistant and said: ‘I see Professor Weiss is very nervous today. I will return another day.’ Needless to say, she is still my patient today!

Who was your mentor?

MDS: My mentor is sitting next to me in this interview!

EW: I have had many mentors over the years and learned from all of them, but one sentence has stucks in my mind very strongly and kept me going over the last 40 years.

My prosthodontic teacher in my last year at university, Professor Julius Michman, said: ‘Dentistry, at its best, is a controlled deterioration of the dentition.’ I have been trying to fight this observation all my professional life and you know what? I’m losing!

MDS: When I was in the specialist programme, and one of the residents presented a finished case, he would say: ‘Now the countdown starts!’

What’s been the funniest thing that happened to you in a dental surgery?

EW/MDS: Once we hired a professional photographer with a video camera to film a surgical procedure (which you will see at the lecture). In the middle of the procedure, she fainted and landed on the patient in the chair! So we stopped and had to treat her… fortunately, no major issues ensued!

What advice would you give to someone setting up their own surgery?

EW/MDS: Simply put, don’t do it by yourself!

Do you have any regrets?

EW/MDS: We started working together about 16 years ago, and it took far too long to realise how to work together and make it work properly for each other and for the patient.

Deep into 21st century: will technology change your practice?

25 May 2021

This article first appeared in Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.

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