‘Beyond just the teeth’: La Jolla dentist takes her practice personally

Dr. Lena Turner says her La Jolla dental practice goes beyond the teeth to look at the whole patient.
(Courtesy of Lena Turner)

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To Dr. Lena Turner, practicing dentistry means “personalization” — getting to know each patient in order to provide the best service.

Turner’s practice, Lena Nicole Turner Family & Cosmetic Dentistry, is at 7759 Herschel Ave. in La Jolla.

“We’re unique in the sense that I did train in oral medicine,” said Turner, who noted that she did a two-year residency in oral conditions after finishing her general dentistry program in 2007.

“I always wanted to work in health care,” she said. “I went to dental school originally to do oral surgery,” inspired by the work of the nonprofit Operation Smile, which provides surgery for cleft palate and cleft lip to children worldwide.

At the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, however, Turner focused on diagnosis and oral medicine and “the treatment of conditions like oral lesions, oral facial pain,” she said.

“I found myself liking that a little bit better,” Turner said. “It’s kind of like putting a puzzle together to figure out what’s going on with the patient and being able to best help. … You have to take into consideration the patient, the patient’s age, their medical condition.”

“Oftentimes, these patients have seen multiple dentists or multiple clinicians,” Turner said. Many oral lesions “are systemic conditions that manifest in the mouth, so sometimes we were the first clinicians to diagnose these conditions and then correlate them to a systemic condition.”

Integrating oral medicine into general dentistry involves “not just looking at the mouth or the teeth and diagnosing cavities,” she said, but also considering, for example, “this patient has gotten inflammation and it’s persistent and they’ve been doing really well with brushing and flossing their teeth but still having this problem. What else could factor into that?”

It’s “looking a little bit deeper into the patient’s medical history, maybe a little bit beyond just the teeth,” she said.

Turner bought her practice in 2016 from Dr. Ellen Miyashiro, who had been practicing dentistry in La Jolla for more than 30 years.

“It was a boutique practice … very patient-oriented,” Turner said. “Her patients were like her family. I like that approach vs. it being just teeth. It’s a person.”

“I wanted to continue that legacy,” she added, noting that many of the previous patients remained and she is now treating their family members.

“You get to know each patient and you know what they’re going through, and their families and I really enjoy that aspect of it,” Turner said.

Front office dental assistant Stephanie Fu, dentist Lena Turner and dental hygienist Claudia Bailey (from left)
Front office dental assistant Stephanie Fu, dentist Lena Turner and dental hygienist Claudia Bailey (from left) work at Turner’s Family & Cosmetic Dentistry on Herschel Avenue in La Jolla.
(Courtesy of Lena Turner)

Dental hygienist Claudia Bailey and front office dental assistant Stephanie Fu stayed on after Turner bought the practice.

Turner said both have helped her deepen her knowledge and relationships with her patients. Bailey “knows the patients really intimately,” Turner said, and Fu “is great with the patients.”

“I’ve been fortunate that they stayed on,” Turner said. “Certainly, they’ve helped me grow the practice.”

When patients call, she said, “it’s just not Dr. Turner; it’s Lena and Stephanie and Claudia.”

“I would consider myself an introvert outside of dentistry,” Turner said, “so it is enjoyable to come in and talk to the patients and see how they’ve been since the last visit and catch up with them.”

Beyond the personal relationship, however, Turner said she works to make “sure that I’m doing the best service for the patient and they’re not getting things that they wouldn’t otherwise need.”

Her practice has shown her that “people are so kind and they trust that you’re going to do what’s best for them,” she said.

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