A pair of separate doors allow for entrance into the waiting room of the General Dentistry and Orthodontia office on Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven, Queens. The first opens with a pull of the knob; the second requires a potential patient to ring the bell above the doorknob. Inside the cramped waiting room is a seven-foot fish tank situated before the wall separating the room and reception window. The handful of patients sitting in the waiting room drift their eyes from the dark-blue hued tank to the free magazines they are idly sifting through, as they wait for the assistant to call them into the dentist’s chair.
Two children, four or five years old, are running back and forth across the light-gray and tan-tiled floor, alternately giggling and shouting at each other. A girl, with long, dark hair done in a plait and a magenta colored coat, runs after a black-haired boy, who makes his way to a chair across the main entrance of the dentist’s office. They begin to rifle through a magazine, cheering every time they turned the page and found a photo of a toy or cartoon. The boy’s mother is fast asleep in her blue chair a few seats down; the girl’s father steps outside for a quick cigarette.
The children make up “about 10 percent” of the total number of patients he sees on a daily basis, according to Dr. Jitendra S. Shah, owner and sole dentist of the facility,
Shah’s dentist’s office, located in a building he owns and pays the mortgage for – which he says he has no problem doing – has the appearance of a soothing environment: the walls surrounding the dentist’s chair are a cascade of peach, mint, and light pink pastels, which complement the green-and-red pebbled gray walls of the waiting room; the floors and tables are kept neat and as sanitary as medical offices should strive to be; and most importantly of all, very rarely is the dreaded sound of the dentist’s drill heard. The patients, young and old, look serene and even bored as they wait for their turn in the dentist’s chair, reading books and skimming through magazines.
The General Dentistry and Orthodontia has been running at its 86-13 Jamaica Avenue since Shah moved to Woodhaven from his practice in Bayside, Queens, in 1982. On average, around 20 patients, the majority of whom are returning patients, visit the office on a full day, a number that has not decreased in the past year.
There has been a steady team of four additional employees who have worked there for “a good eight-nine years”: two female secretaries who “do the paperwork at the front desk,” says Shah; and two dental assistants who “assist me on the chair.” Shah remembers about a past assistant, “who worked with me for 12 years; she moved to South Carolina so she’s no longer with me.” He says that although “the number of works has gone down,” their work hours have decreased in recent times.
Shah is worried about a decrease in the number of patients who come and visit, many of whom are medically insured – including the “20 to 25 percent” covered by Medicaid, who are required to give a $5 co-payment. Acknowledging the recent financial crisis and scarcity of employment, he says, “When they don’t have jobs, they lose their insurance, and now they don’t have jobs, they don’t have insurance, and they have to feed their family. They of course try to hold the last dollar they have, so the teeth is their last priority.”
The assistants, dental and administrative alike, and Shah himself, surround themselves with computers organizing schedules and appointments, and technology which speeds up work. Shah notes that the digital X-rays and the building’s computerization make the facility “faster and more advanced.”
Shah enjoys his work as a dentist, from which there are numerous gratifications. Of his patients, Shah says, “the majority of them are happy, I’d say 99 percent. That’s the biggest reward that you get, when the patient is happy. Money is immaterial, but the patients – when you see the smile on their face, when they thank you for doing what you did, that’s the best reward you can get.”