“We don’t only improve the health of patients’ teeth; if we do it well, we can also change their lives”. Hamburg-based fit dentist Neda Rahimian: “You have to do sports if you want to be fit at a higher age as a dentist”

The name of her dental practice is FITDENTIST, because she truly is a fit dentist. Meet Dr. Neda Rahimian, a Hamburg-based stomatologist who has found a meaningful way to merge her many passions – sports, dentistry, education and creativity – into a dental office people love to visit.

Why did you decide to become a dentist, and what path did you follow to get here

The first thing I studied after school was design, but then I realized: Although I was very creative and I felt working with my hands was great fun, I missed science! I also longed for the sense of purpose of doing something good for society, and that’s how I found dentistry. In this field, you have to be creative, to work with your hands, and you can put a lot of passion into it. But at the same time you need to work sensibly. Many different elements are required to achieve all that, and that fascinated me so much that I applied for dentistry and was accepted straight away. So I switched from communication design to dentistry.

Do you use that creativity and design experience in your dental practice now?

‘I think when you enter this office, everything you see – it’s a reflection of me. It’s very unique, not like every other dental office. When you step in, there is a different atmosphere, one that’s more welcoming than serious. It conveys: ‘Welcome to this place, feel free to look around, we’re here to make your visit with us a nice one.’

You call your practice “FITDENTIST”.  What inspired you to name it that?

I am a fit dentist. Many people said, “How can you use this name for your office? This is very daring.” But I thought, “Why not?” I feel the name makes a statement about the lifestyle that I live. It’s also helps me to attract customers who are a little bit different from the people that go to regular dentists.

“We treat a lot of athletes here that realize the strong connection that exists between the teeth and the rest of the body and want to utilize my expertise.”

What kind of patient represents the majority of your client base… athletes or non-athletes?

Many of my patients come to the office for good dental care, but they also realize that good dentistry takes time. Such patients are very welcome here. We treat a lot of athletes that realize the strong connection that exists between their teeth and the rest of the body and want to take advantage of my expertise.

How many people are on your team?

There are four people who work with me. They all are very active; one rides a motorcycle, practices martial arts and fitness, another practices yoga… Everybody here is keen on some sort of physical activity. My team consists of strong people that really have their lives together, that care about dentistry, and are fascinated by the diversity here. Of course, we also have great patients! This practice is like my second home; it’s a part of me.

What’s so unique about the services you offer and the way your practice works?

To me, it’s really important that my patients receive honest and truthful advice here. We’re always straight in letting the patient know what they are dealing with. What is good, what is bad – the patient is always kept informed and involved, both in the decision-making process and in taking their dental health into their own hands. It is important to me for the patient to be involved in the treatment. I need to be working with them as part of a team; I cannot just repair something only to have the same problem return a few years later. We work together with the patient and tell them what they need to do to take responsibility for their dental health.

How do you motivate patients to take responsibility for their health?

I think the most important factor is the empowerment of other people. By empowering them to do things that are good for their health, you assign them a part of the responsibility. Of course, as their dentist, I am responsible for everything I do, for the advice I give and for the treatments I offer. But because I can’t be with them every day, I have to teach them how to take care of their teeth even when I am not there to guide them.

“To me it’s really important that my patients receive honest and truthful advice here.”

The idea behind this open communication with patients stems from my own belief and experience. Because when I was employed, the boss would get angry with me for instructing patients in prevention methods to help them avoid undergoing big treatments. They’d be angry at me for ’destroying the business’. But I don’t believe I am destroying the business. Actually, patients really appreciate the fact that they are treated as unique here, and so they come regularly to their treatments, both for cleaning and other appointments. I usually tell my patients everything – what they need to do at home, what my role is, what I do during the treatment, how long it takes, how much it costs – to make sure that everything is clear. And sometimes I can see after a few weeks that those patients will have a new hairstyle, or new glasses; they start to care more for themselves, and that’s the whole point. We don’t only improve the health of patients’ teeth, if we do it well, we can also change their lives.

On the website for your practice, it states that you treat your patients with empathy and take their anxiety or fear of dental treatments very seriously. Did you have any special training for communicating with the patients in this way? What is the magic behind it?

The magic behind it is simply to see the patient for how they actually are. I think it’s a personal thing. It’s just how I am, and you can’t just learn it from somewhere; it depends on you. Some dentists don’t like to talk a lot to their patients; that’s their natural approach. And the people that go to this kind of dentist are okay with that. But my patients want to tell me what the problem is, and they want me to listen to them. They see me not only as their dentist, but kind of like a good friend who also happens to be a dentist.

“We don’t only improve the health of patients’ teeth; if we do it well, we can also change their lives.”

So you are trying to build trust and closer relationships with your patients?

Yes! I believe if you’re too focused on money, the money won’t come. If you focus on doing a good job, money will follow as a side product of that. My approach is simple – when you do a good job, everything else will fall into place. You’ll have confident patients, the people that work for you will be confident, and you will be happy as well.

If you had to define the core values of your dental practice, what would they be

Cordiality, time, quality, beauty, and individuality.

In your practice, you focus also on sports dentistry, which is kind of a new term. Can you tell us more about this emerging field?

Sports dentistry is something very new in Germany. I think it is something that has been around longer in England, the USA, and maybe in some other countries. A few schools are trying to educate and develop sports dentists, but I think it is a question of experience as well – not only the certification. Sports dentistry is simply specialized dentistry for athletes, because people who do a lot of sports, they eat and drink differently. They sleep differently, they regenerate differently, and factors like these can affect the whole body. And when athletes have mouth inflammation, it can prevent them from performing their sport to the best of their ability. Hidden inflammation in the mouth can actually be dangerous for the entire body, because the body can’t properly allocate resources to fight the inflammation and to support the athletic performance at the same time. Accordingly, this is often overlooked.

“In addition, athletes – especially triathletes and runners that frequently rely on isotonic drinks and various additives to push the body – often have a lot of cavities.”

In addition, athletes – especially triathletes and runners that often use isotonic drinks and various additives to push the body – often have a lot of cavities. As documented in a study by Professor Ian Needleman, a large cohort of athletes had to be treated for acute dental problems during the 2012 Olympic Games. It was the first time this type of data had been recorded, and it made clear the fact that the oral health of athletes was worse than we had known. From that point on, it became obvious that sports dentistry needed to become an integral part of sports medicine. When we look at different countries, we can see that many of them have already integrated sports dentistry into sports medicine to a much greater degree, especially for football and soccer players.

Has the introduction of proper sports dentistry into the overall healthcare regime of the professional athlete led to better performance in sport as well as better physical condition?

The athletes get sick less often. Although it’s an investment made in the moment, sports dentistry makes the athlete less susceptible to future sports injuries and diseases, and those are the obvious benefits that make it so important. For example, when someone is assessed for sport suitability, the heart is examined, orthopedics is a concern, but hardly anyone looks into the mouth. Sometimes the mouth health of the athlete is already in such a bad state that there is a real concern that it could lead to disqualification, but at some point we have to start taking care of them. Just look at body builders; many of them have such unhealthy teeth. They’re grinding them all the time. That’s why their teeth are so small and worn down, and their muscles are very hard. They need to get work done on their teeth all the time. After a few years, they can develop real problems – with their back, with their legs, with everything – because of this area. The imbalance carries over to every other muscle in the body.

Beside the sports dentistry aspect, there is something else that is quite special about you. You are a dentist who is really into social media. You have thousands of followers on Instagram and you show yourself as a person passionate about dentistry and also sports. What inspired you to start a professional profile on Instagram?

My Instagram exists because I love sports. It’s me. I think the people who follow me are there for motivation and inspiration. I’ve asked them, and most of them say they feel motivated when they visit my Instagram account. I love helping people to lead a healthier and happier life. Not only for the teeth, but also for the whole body. I educate people on my Instagram account about mindset, about how to brush, about how to be a good runner, and sometimes I post funny things or even just a poem. It’s all inspired by my creativity. So my Instagram combines me as a dentist, me as a creative person and me as a sport-loving person. I think diversity like this is important if you want to inspire people. That`s why I am often imitated never duplicated, being me is my superpower.

You have also written a book: Das große Lexikon der Zahnpflege Irrtümer (The Great Encyclopedia of Dental Care Errors). What was your motivation for writing this book?

I started to write the book in 2018 – every weekend, every night – and it was very hard work in addition to my day jobs. I would sit there and write this book because I know that informing people, educating them on how to brush their teeth and how to take care of their health, really helps them to move forward.

So the idea behind the book was to help more people understand how to enjoy the treatment experience, how to lose their fear of dentists, and how to take responsibility for their own dental care. This is a very important aspect. There are many bad ideas on the internet, false information about how to get whiter teeth or how to avoid having to go to the dentist by self-treating with different home remedies, etc. So I wrote down all these bad ideas and also the ideas that could actually help – good advice that could help people avoid destroying their teeth. Because many times I’ve treated young people who have destroyed the surfaces of their teeth through trying things like this.

You mentioned that you found it challenging to write a book while running your dental office at the same time. How do you achieve a work-life balance that allows you to take care of yourself and also your patients?

First of all, you have to do sports in order to stay fit enough to continue your practice as an older dentist. Because when you work 10 hours a day, it’s not only working with your brain, you also have to work with your arms and with your whole body. If you don’t have a strong body, you’ll end up with back pain or something even more serious. I think it’s a question of mindset. I love my life, and life loves me back. As long as you wake up and you love what you are doing, and the things that you are doing make sense, you will have endless energy.

What activities do you keep yourself in shape with?

You already know I run; last year I ran the Berlin marathon. I run all the time, but that was my biggest run last year. I even have a place reserved for this year! Running really frees my mind. If I’m very deep into something I can use running to reset. I need to do different sports as well though. I do climbing, I do boxing, go to the gym of course, and at the moment I’m trying yoga, because my mobility these days is not the best.

“I hope for the future that our society will pay more attention to oral health, because oral health is a gateway and a key to general health. This has been overlooked for many years and I see it as my responsibility to change it.”

Let’s get back to dentistry. Looking into the future, what kind of changes do you see coming in dentistry? What would you like to see?

I hope that all people will eventually understand that their oral health is their own responsibility. Most people with dental problems just have a problem with care, because no one has properly explained it to them. This has nothing to do with their intellect, social status or anything else. It is a social problem. I hope for the future that our society will pay much more attention to oral health, because oral health is a gateway and a key to general health. Unfortunately, this has been overlooked for many years and I see it as my responsibility to change it.

Other dental professionals, including Curaden’s head of education, say that people often blame genetics for their poor oral health. Have you experienced this? 

We aren’t victims of genetics. Sure, there are anomalies that lead to problems, but they are not as common as everyone thinks: “Mom and Dad have bad teeth too.” But when I look into a patient’s mouth, I usually see that there are no tooth form anomalies — they’ve just inherited poor oral hygiene, because mom and dad never demonstrated proper care. I am not a pediatric dentist. But I see it as my duty to inform parents that the time to take responsibility for their child’s oral health is now. Ideally, even before the child is born, so that the gums and teeth of the mother to be are already being monitored during pregnancy and even before planning the pregnancy. People should stand in front of the mirror together with their kids and brush their teeth with the right technique. In our society we have to get a driver’s license, fishing license, sailing license, but we don’t need one to brush our teeth, and I think that’s quite damaging. That’s why I wrote my book, and why I have so much passion for my practice.
Photography by Welin Nagyová