Dental Equipment & Materials, September, 2000
by Kevin Henry, Editor
"...and showing you one of the best dental offices in the nation by taking you inside the walls of 21st Century Dental in Irving, Texas."
Photos by Brian Beard, Creative Images Photography
Combining High-Tech With High-Touch
When more than 500 of your customers work at Microsoft, your office has to be high-tech. But, for those 500+ patients to refer their friends and coworkers to your practice, your office had better be high-touch as well.
This is the line that Dr. Kent Smith and Dr. Jeff Roy walk every day at 21st Century Dental in Irving, Texas. They have not only survived on the razor-thin line, they have thrived, molding the practice into an esthetically pleasing, technology-filled office.
"When part of your patient base works at Microsoft, and part of your patient base works at Verizon, those patients are going to know what high-tech options are out there for dentists," Dr. Smith said. "Having a computer chairside and having digital radiography in the office is a must."
Smith, who began practicing in 1985, is the leader of the 3,500-square-feet office located in a Dallas suburb not far from Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. His fascination with technology and his drive for complete patient comfort combine into what he calls "stealth dentistry."
Let's take a look at two important facets of 21st Century Dental — equipment and esthetics.
"When I look at equipment purchases, I don't look at the cost because I don't want that to be the driving force behind the purchase," Dr. Smith explained. "I want to know what will service my patients. We want to portray high-tech dentistry without portraying the profession of dentistry. The less that people see involving dentistry before they sit in my chair, the more relaxed they are."
That means you won't see a patient-education video playing on the 42-inch flat-screen plasma monitor hanging in the lobby. Before-and-after smile photos aren't displayed, and cosmetic dentistry pamphlets and books aren't lying on the coffee table. In their place, CNN plays on the television screen and only the latest general interest magazines are available for reading.
"I call it ‘stealth dentistry' because we want to confuse the patient into not thinking about dentistry," Dr. Smith smiled.
"It's spa dentistry," said Dr. Roy, who began working at the office as an associate in 1999. "We will cater to the customer with things like warm towels and milkshakes because there are patients who really enjoy that type of service."
Yes, milkshakes are served after long, difficult procedures, and massage mats are installed in all of the dental chairs for the patient's comfort, but Dr. Smith knows that even the best pampering won't keep patients if the dentistry work is considered subpar or archaic.
"Dentistry is changing so fast. A dentist has to be aware of the new technology, new pieces of equipment, and new materials that are available," Dr. Smith said. "Without question, keeping up with technology has been a big part of the success of this practice. If I know about a new product before my patients know about it, I can do the research and be prepared to answer their questions. That's a big advantage for me in their eyes."
A perfect example of Dr. Smith's research came recently when he first learned of the Comfort Control Syringe (CCS) from DENTSPLY Midwest. A big proponent of online dental forums and bulletin boards, Dr. Smith had heard about the CCS on the Genr8TNext and Internet Dental Forum (IDF) sites. He read the reviews and learned about the product and was prepared when his Patterson sales representative dropped by with a CCS representative.
"After reading all of the reviews, I was planning on trying one for myself when my Patterson rep walked through the door with the CCS salesman," Dr. Smith recalled. "They started explaining the differences between the CCS and other anesthesia products, and I stopped them. I started explaining some of the differences to them, and they were shocked. Yes, I even try to stay ahead of my sales rep if I can. I asked if he could leave the CCS with me for 30 days to try. He did, and 10 days later, I called him and told him I wanted to buy two."
"Both of us are really into technology," Dr. Roy added. "Our patients expect us to have cutting-edge equipment and technology. When we introduced the CCS to our patients, it didn't surprise them that we had it in our office because we have the reputation of being cutting-edge. But having the newest whistle isn't everything. If our research shows it won't make our patient's experience more comfortable, we won't get it."
The CCS is just one of the pieces of high-tech equipment scattered throughout 21st Century Dental, as Dr. Smith explains.
Air abrasion — "We didn't want a tall machine that wasn't portable and had a long vacuum hose. We bought the PrepStar from Danville Engineering. It's small, portable, and easy to work with."
Intraoral camera — "We purchased the DigiDoc because it was small, portable, and had a high-tech look to it. Those are qualities we like to have in our equipment."
Chairside computers — "Having computers so close to the patient may be one of the biggest reasons for our success. There are so many things you can show to your patients. Without computers, I think our office productivity would plateau."
DIAGNOdent — "This product is close to the top of the list, in my opinion. Anything that can aid in the early diagnosis of decay is a wonderful thing to have in the office."
Another factor in Dr. Smith's equipment selections is his preference for using a rear delivery system.
"I think our environment lets our patients know that we are high-tech. I don't think we have to display all of our equipment to prove that to them. We use some cabinetry by A-dec behind the patient," he said. "I'm an advocate for the rear delivery system. Yes, it requires more twisting on my part, but patient perception is very important to me. I don't want them seeing pieces of dental equipment that might alarm them. That drives some of our purchasing decisions."
As mentioned earlier, Dr. Smith relies heavily on dental Web sites for information on new equipment and materials. Once he is ready to purchase the equipment, he shops around to find the best financing arrangement. His recent equipment purchases have come through a local financing company, which offered him a better rate than local banks.
While Dr. Smith may use the computer to make some of his buying decisions, he is also finding the Internet to be a tremendous marketing tool for his practice. Numerous patients have learned more about 21st Century Dental through its Web site (www.21stcenturydental.com), and many have been drawn to visit the office in person after visiting it on the Web.
"Since last year, I would say our Web site has been the number-one thing to propel us forward," Dr. Smith said. "I think, in the near future, having a Web site will be mandatory for dentists."
However, the practice's Web site does more than just cover the mandatory hours and location information. Rotating images of professional photographs taken within the office, along with detailed information on services and staff biographies that are written to put a smile on your face, draw interest from Internet surfers and potential patients.
"We recently had a patient come to our office who was a Webmaster for his company," Dr. Smith explained. "He wasn't going to ask his friends for a reference or find a dentist in the phone book. He was going to use the Internet to find a dentist. He found our site and made an appointment. One of the first things he told me was that our Web site made it look like we cared more about the customer. That's a wonderful compliment."
Dentists from around the world have visited 21st Century Dental via the Internet. Remarks have been left on the site's guest book from Australia, the Netherlands, and Canada, as well as from throughout the United States.
When Dr. Roy first came to the practice in 1999, he fell in love with the office. To his amazement, he was soon told that it would be remodeled.
"My dentist's office back home was nothing like this, and then they told me about the remodeling," Dr. Roy recalled. "I was scared for them to remodel."
One of the reasons for the remodeling effort was the tremendous boom in patients. It's a good problem to have, but it was one that Dr. Smith knew needed to be addressed quickly.
Located on the first floor of the Cottonwood Medical and Dental Center, 21st Century Dental expanded from six to nine operatories, all the while staying open and seeing patients.
"We never closed. It was crazy, but we never were forced to stop seeing patients," Dr. Smith recalled.
When the new offices of 21st Century Dental opened, an era of "spa dentistry" had begun in Irving.
An open business office and reception desk greets patients as they walk through the front door. A reception area, complete with beverage center and a 42-inch plasma monitor for cable TV, DVDs, or videos, is the focal point of the front office. Also included in the front room is a saltwater coral reef aquarium and a commissioned fresco that proclaims the philosophy of the practice. Glass blocks line the office, and warm cookies and fresh flowers give 21st Century Dental a wonderful smell.
"I want these people to walk into our office and say ‘Wow.' I want them to think they have never been to a dental office like this," Dr. Smith said. "This is a transitional, high-tech area of the Metroplex (Dallas-Fort Worth area). A lot of our patients are in their 20s or 30s and work around here. They don't come to see us and then go home. They go back to work. I want them to go back to work talking about us and our office."
As important as the look of the office is to Dr. Smith and Dr. Roy, the staff is even more critical.
"I want one of the first things that a new or existing patient sees when he or she walks through our front door is a big smile," Dr. Smith said. "If you have a grouch at the front desk, the patient will remember that. First impressions are so important, both in your staff and the looks of your office."
"I have received referrals from other dental offices because of the presentation of our office," Dr. Roy added. "Some people have called this ‘spa dentistry,' and, if something is like a spa, people are going to want to be a part of it."
Spa dentistry and stealth dentistry have combined to make better, comfortable dentistry for the 634 patients who walk through the doors of 21st Century Dental each month.
"One thing I always hear is that patients aren't comfortable going to the dentist's office," Dr. Smith said. "Whether it's the fear of a shot, the sound of a drill, the smell of the office, or a fear that something isn't sterile in the office, there are a lot of things that play a part in a patient's discomfort. We've tried to eliminate all of those factors, and add some other things, to make this a comfortable place to be."