By Joanna Bender
Being a doctor was the earliest dream Cuenca dentist Daniela Ordoñez can remember.
“Ever since I was very small, I loved medicine and wanted to be a plastic surgeon,” she recalled. “When I graduated high school, there was no doubt I would enter medical school.”
Two years into medical school, Daniela married and had a son. She made the decision to leave school for a year to connect with her new husband and baby. But going back to medical school was complicated — how could she study and work all day and half the night with a family?
“I started looking at other areas that might be similar to medicine, and I decided on dentistry,” Daniela said, “From the moment I started the program, I loved it and had no regrets. I’ve always been good with my hands, and dentistry has this artistic side where I can be detailed and meticulous and creative all at the same time.”
After five years of study and hard practice, Daniela completed the dentistry program at Cuenca’s Catholic University. She then traveled to Colombia to study advanced cosmetic and aesthetic dentistry before returning to Cuenca to accept a government job as a dentist with the Ministry of Public Health.
Her area of expertise is prosthetics — basically any dental service that could be listed under cosmetics. She is now in private practice in an office on Paucarbamba Avenue and serves mostly older expat clients from Europe, Canada, and the U.S. Her most-requested services are bridges, crowns, and implants, although she is equipped to handle all dental needs.
“I can do everything here in my office,” Daniela said. “I work with other specialists such as endodontists and periodontists to offer complete care. If my patient needs a specialist, I contact that person and schedule them to come to my office. They have offices elsewhere but come here to do the work. Together we ensure all patient needs are met.”
Daniela is a native Cuencana and speaks excellent English. She learned the language when her family moved to New York. She was two years old at the time and lived in the United States until she was 11. According to Daniela, English was more like her first language than Spanish — what she learned as a child definitely stuck with her. And, since she’s always speaking English with her patients, English is definitely an everyday part of her life.
She believes the ability to speak English does give her an advantage over other dentists in Cuenca. “If I travel to China and my stomach hurts and I need a doctor, it will be hard for the doctor to understand me no matter how much I point to my stomach,” she laughed. “I think expats feel the same way — if you need medical attention, you want to be able to explain it to your doctor and have him or her understand you completely.”
Even though English provides an incentive for patients to choose her, Daniela thinks her best defense against the heavy competition among local dentists is her commitment to making patients comfortable and teaching them about dental care and techniques.
“Results are important, but I think it’s more important to feel comfortable,” she said. “You have to be comfortable if someone is going to touch your mouth, work around your face, and be basically all over you. If you’re not, this is how traumas are born. I work according to each patient’s rhythm.”
Daniela also puts a high priority on being clear and discussing treatments with her patients. She uses drawings and videos — whatever she can find — to explain the situation. And, when patients come in, she wants them to tell her exactly what is happening with them — the more detail, the better.
“Each patient is a different world,” she said, “and I personalize treatments according to their unique situations. You can’t use the same techniques on everybody — even cleanings are different. People need time to know you, feel confident in you, and understand and accept the treatment. ”
The bulk of Daniela’s clients are expats over 60 years old with a wide range of needs. Many have been traumatized by experiences with other dentists, and she spends a lot of time ensuring that they feel safe and relaxed.
“I have patients who show up and start crying without me ever touching them,” she said. “At that moment, I say ‘Okay, you definitely have some trauma around this; let’s talk about it and work through it together.’”
Daniela confesses that some days she feels more like a psychologist than a dentist, trying to change the perspective of her patients when it comes to making decisions about services.
“Most of my patients are older and come in with a different chip in their heads,” she said. “I’ve had patients come in for a crown and ask how long it will last. When I tell them maybe 10-15 years, depending on materials, they say ‘I don’t need it that long.’ Things like that are sad and hard to hear, so I teach them their teeth can last the rest of their lives, which can be a very long time, and let’s care for them.”
Another challenge for Daniela is telling patients they may have several dental issues to be addressed when they’ve come in for only a simple procedure like teeth whitening.
“They think I’m after their money,” she said. “And I have to explain to them that, before going to cosmetics or aesthetics, they have to treat the functionality. Do that first and then maybe in the future when they’re healthy again, they can do the whitening. If they don’t take care of function, they won’t have any teeth to whiten.”
In her seven years of practice, Daniela has received offers to join bigger dental practices and has considered expanding her own business, adding other dentists and assistants. She has resisted, however, because so many patients are being referred to her.
“When patients hear about you, they come to see you,” she said. “Their friends refer to the type of treatment you gave them. If they come here and are treated by an assistant or another dentist, they’re not getting me, not getting the same techniques or results.”
Daniela is happy in her private practice — she enjoys the time spent getting to know her patients and learning about their lives. She has many patients who have turned into good friends and stop by the office to chat or share cookies and brownies.
“Every day is different,” she said. “When you come here, you get the services you need but it’s more than that. Patients don’t want to leave — they love being here and hanging out. And I’m grateful to them because they make my job a lot of fun.”
Who: Dr. Daniela Ordonez, Dentist
Where: Paucarbamba 4-117 y Las Retamas. Office is on 3rd floor, no elevator
Hours: Monday-Friday, also weekends, work hours set by appointment.
Appointments: Best way to schedule is via email firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: 098 718 2023
Cost: Basic cleaning with exam, $30
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