Coffee Break: Phillip Fijal, DDS, president of Chicago Dental Society

Posted1/30/2017 1:00 PM

Q: Describe the Chicago Dental Society.

A: We like to say that the Chicago Dental Society has been keeping Chicago smiling for more than 150 years, and it's true. We represent the interests of dentists, promote the art and science of dentistry and advocate for improving oral health for all. The Chicago Dental Society is the local component of our tripartite membership organization, which means our members also belong to the American Dental Association and the Illinois State Dental Society.


We represent 4,500 member dentists in Cook, DuPage, and Lake counties with another 3,500 associate members nationally and internationally. The society has more members than 38 state dental associations. We make up a community of like-minded dentists with similar core values, improving the oral and overall health of our patients.

The Chicago Dental Society is world-renowned for our annual Midwinter Meeting. It's a hands-on scientific conference featuring daily patient demonstrations, and more than 200 courses to help dentists keep abreast of research, technology and trends. Dentists and other professionals from around Illinois, the nation and the world will be attending our 152nd meeting in Chicago Feb. 23 through Feb. 25.

Q: If you were not a dentist, what do you think you would be doing?

A: I would be an architect. My parents built a new house when I was in grade school. It was designed by the famous architect Robert Parker Coffin.

We would go to his office to view the design and I was completely consumed by the drawings, the process and the precision.

Q: What's a hot trend in the industry?

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A: More complex procedures utilizing implant dentistry continue to grow and move more mainstream. Tooth replacement using implants has been the standard of care for some time but is now becoming more affordable and at the forefront of treatment planning. There is also growth in clear braces technology.

What was once dominated by one company to manufacture the clear "aligners" for dentists, there are now many companies with that capability, reducing the cost to dentists and ultimately to patients.

Q: If you had one tip to give to a young dentist, what would it be?

A: Take time to build the trust of your patients. I think all dentists are in the profession to help people improve, and then maintain good oral and overall health, which can take some time for patients to understand.

Q: Do you have a business mantra?

A: My personal mantra, what I live by, I call my "H.I.T. Principle" which stands for honesty, integrity and trustworthiness. I apply that to my life whether in business or personal. But in business I go by two things our pastor said at The Global Leadership Summit held every year at our church, Willow Creek Church. "Leadership matters," and "Everyone wins when a Leader gets better."


Q: What is one interesting fact about you or the society that most people may not know?

A: It would have to be the diversity of our membership. Our members range from new grads to seasoned vets, from every ethnic background, men and women.

Q: What do you do in your free time?

A: Golf, cook and collect wine (for later consumption.)

Q: What book is on your nightstand?

A: There are many books on my nightstand either being read or in the queue.

The first of course is the Bible, but two others at the moment are "Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win" by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Leif's father is a dentist and a member of Congress. And "Leadership as an Identity" by Crawford W. Loritts, Jr. For fun I am trying to get through a Lee Child thriller "Jack Reacher, Never Go Back."

Q: What is one fun thing that has happened to you in your career?

A: Christmas celebrations are among the most fun events I have shared with my incredible staff, the wonderful people that I have been blessed to spend so much time with. Every year we go to a new place for Christmas dinner and whether it is playing games, quizzing them, or dressing up in ugly sweaters and hosting them in our home, each dinner is better than the last. We take a lot of pictures and have them put in a photo album we have in the reception room at the office so patients can get a glimpse of us out of our scrubs and in normal clothing (or abnormal in the case of the sweaters).

Q: What keeps you up at night?

A: Everyday life can be difficult because of the demands we place on ourselves as parents, spouses and professionals.

Like many people, sometimes I feel like there aren't enough hours in the day, and I am kept awake trying to organize and stay on top of it all, whether it's family commitments, taking care of our patients, or looking for innovative ways to engage with a new generation of CDS member dentists.

Q: What was your first paying job?

A: I was an attendant at the old Shortstop Gas and Pantry in Woodstock.

Back then there was no "self service." We were also responsible for all the pantry duties, stocking shelves, unloading product and working the cash register. A gallon of gas, a gallon of milk and a pack of cigarettes all cost the same, 55 cents.

Q: If you could put the society's name on a sports venue, which one would you choose?

A: I would choose a hockey arena because that sport poses a great risk to teeth. It is also my favorite Chicago sport and we are lucky enough to have such a world-class team.

In fact, John McDonough, president and CEO of the Chicago Blackhawks, is our keynote speaker at our opening Session on Thursday of the Midwinter Meeting. He resurrected the franchise and energized a sleeping fan base.

Q: What will the society's main challenges be in the next year?

A: We are always looking to attract new members and are continuing to keep the benefits of membership relevant.

We currently have a very large number of CDS member dentists and the market is constantly changing, with new grads coming into practice and older practitioners retiring. The demographics in dental schools now are leaning more toward female students so the practice model will be evolving over time.

-- Kim Mikus

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