When There’s a Will
Photography by Paul Howell
by Chelsea Patten, Staff Writer, Dentaltown Magazine
Dr. Simone Ellis is right out of school.
She waited no time at all before establishing
her own practice, which she built
from the ground up, following a strict
budget and using all the resources she
had available. A year later she'll be the
first one to say she learns something
new every day and is tackling the challenges
which come with a new practice
head-on. Dentaltown Magazine had the
opportunity to visit with Dr. Ellis to see
how her fresh ideas have affected the
practice of dentistry.
Have you always known you wanted to go into
dentistry? What inspired your decision?
Ellis: I was seven when I went to the dentist with my father. He
had to get teeth taken out because he had periodontal disease. I was
fascinated by the procedure. I came home and told my mom "I
want to be a dentist." She put me in all these summer programs and
really pushed the sciences to help me make that a reality. I was really
fortunate to know at a young age.
What are some of the challenges you came across
when you graduated from dental school? Any
brash realizations? Anything that went exactly as
you had expected?
Ellis: I was amazed at how different things were in dental school
than they are in the real world. I think in dental school they present
you with the most ideal situations with the most practical solutions.
Unfortunately, that's not really a reality. When you're dealing
with patients, there are so many factors. People have different priorities
that affect their decision making. I can't begin to tell you how
many people come in for Zoom Whitening when their first concern
should really be that they have a lot of cavities, decay and gum disease…
You have to accommodate patients based on their wants and
needs, decide what your standard of care is and then come up with
a plan together.
• Adper Easy Bond Self-
• Axis Burs
• RelyX Unicem
• 3M ESPE Impregum Penta
Soft Heavy Body
• CareCredit Financing
• In-office Financing
• Dentsply Esthet-X Flow
• 3M Supreme Ultra Packable Composite
• ScanX Radiograph
You started your practice from scratch. How did
you keep to a budget?
What are the steps you
took to build it?
Ellis: I had a number in mind. I tried to find different ways to
stick to that number.
I was lucky to find a second-generation office that was in a very
busy area. The building was completely empty but the foundation
had already been laid. Because the foundation was already here I
didn't have to spend a lot of money with build-out costs.
I was able to hire an interior decorator who was able to develop
a color scheme and gave the office elements that I wanted. I bought
a lot of used equipment. I bought two used dental chairs and got
them reupholstered. And then I bought two new dental chairs. I bought a used air water
compressor and vacuum. I bought a
used panoramic digital X-ray machine
and a sterilizer. I was slightly over my
budget but not drastically because you
don't have to buy everything brand new.
There are so many different ways to save
and be resourceful.
Also a lot of people who open new
offices are only able to equip two rooms.
But by doing it the way I did, I was able
to equip all four and I'm so happy that I
did. The way we're growing, sometimes I
really do need to accommodate four people
and I can!
Name: Simone Ellis, DMD
Graduate from: University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey
Practice Name: Smile Design Studios Missouri City, Texas
Year when this office opened: 2010
Web site: www.sdshouston.com
What gave you the foresight to
plan for four rooms versus two?
Ellis: I know of a couple of doctors
who had maximized their budget with
two rooms. I knew eventually I was
going to want four rooms. I knew I would want to hire a hygienist
at one point. I knew I would hopefully have an associate doctor
at some point – right there, that's two rooms.
What motivated your decision
to start your own practice
rather than joining an
Ellis: Finding a place to be an associate
was a lot more difficult than I
expected. There are so many different
philosophies on how to practice dentistry.
I realized that in order to do dentistry
the way that I wanted to do it I
had to share the same philosophy as the
owning doctor. I knew how I wanted to
practice dentistry and it was difficult to
find someone who shared that vision.
Dr. Ellis (second from right) and her
What resources did you use
to find equipment, building
vacancies, contractors, etc.
for building your practice?
Ellis: One of my professors told me
to contact local supply companies and
speak to representatives who could help me with my transition
from New Jersey to Houston. Two Patterson representatives
helped me to get the ball rolling for the transition. They knew my goals for my budget, so they were able to work
Because they're selling new equipment, they know where the
old equipment is going. The reps helped me to find equipment
and to make sure it was good equipment.
I didn't really know about all the Dentaltown online classifieds
when I was setting all this up. It would have been a great resource.
What is your number-one priority?
Ellis: I try to be really caring and concerned about the
patient. People want to know that there is a person attached to
a tooth, not just a tooth.
Also, I make it a priority to help patients understand if they
don't have a good foundation, it's hard to build upon it. Whatever
they are investing in their mouths, it comes with responsibilities.
It makes a difference as far as case acceptance too. If you care
what happens to the patient, they can sense that.
What is your practice like?
Ellis: I have a spa-like atmosphere. It's about relaxing and
changing the mentality that comes with the dentist. People are
terrified to come to the dentist so I try to make it a different
experience so patients don't have the same anxiety about going
to the dentist. When they walk into the door, they know something
I also want patients to know they are part of our family here.
I want to grow up with these families! I want them to have their
kids come here. I want to be the dentist that their grandkids come
to. It's more to me than just that one person. It's a relationship
that I want to form. I'm not just here as a dentist office. I want
the relationships and the sense of community to be apparent.
Describe a typical day in your office.
Ellis: I laugh at this question. No day is typical! Each day
brings its own challenges and changes. We have been blessed to
be continually growing. We average five to 10 patients a day.
We try to do as much treatment in the morning so we can call
patients in the afternoon. Since we are still fairly new, we try to
take as many in a day as possible.
When you opened your practice in mid-2010,
you added CareCredit's patient financing program
right away. How did you feel it would benefit
your new practice and your patients?
Ellis: I felt CareCredit offered opportunities for patients to
better afford treatment and not be so financially restricted.
CareCredit allowed my office to not play a bank.
What advice would you give students entering
dental school? How about students just graduating
from dental school?
Ellis: To students entering: Remember why you chose this
profession and remind yourself every day. Let's be honest, dental
school is not fun. It's really tough – all those late nights
studying. In order not to drive yourself crazy you have to know
what your purpose is. I can't begin to tell you how many times
I wanted to walk away but I remembered that I wanted to be a
dentist so badly and had made sacrifices to be there. I wasn't
about to give up on that dream so easily and besides I was
already in too much debt to walk away!
To recent graduates: You can make better smiles with just
two hands – how cool is that! You will affect people's lives in so
many ways. It's an amazing and exciting profession!
We won't sugarcoat it – the typical dentist is
an older white male. You've gone against the
norm. What is it like to be a young woman of
color in the dental field?
Ellis: As a woman, this is a great career to have. You have a
lot of control of your schedule.
Really where I find my discrimination is my age. I thought
that it would be skin color but it's not! I'm 27. I opened my
practice at 26. People seem to question my abilities because of
how old I am. I just had a patient who told me I was young
enough to be her daughter. People expect to see an older gentleman.
I'm okay with that misconception because I'm changing it
every day! My work speaks for itself.
What is your favorite procedure to perform?
Ellis: Anything prost! Crown and bridge is my favorite. I get
a rush pulling teeth too. [laughs]
What would you say is your biggest source of
new patients and how do you market to get
Ellis: Word of mouth is our biggest source of new patients.
When I first opened, I used a lot of money toward different marketing
methods to see what works. We did mailers, a billboard.
I seem to get the most patients from community events. I don't
just send my staff. I actually go myself. People then know that I
care enough to actually go!
Who are some of your mentors?
Ellis: My mom is my biggest cheerleader. That seems typical,
but this lady has been awesome for me! Also, I'm inspired to
be better because I have siblings. I want to be an example.
What do you like to do when you are not working?
Tell me a little about your family.
Ellis: I was fortunate to marry my college sweetheart, Rasul.
I take care of Khloe and Kona, my two adorable Yorkshire terriers.
And I like to travel.
I realized when I opened my office that there is always
something to do there. However, I also know that my family
is important. I take a lot of cooking classes. I'm just now
getting into scrapbooking. I want to start taking ballroom
dancing. I just have to figure out how to incorporate all
these things into my schedule. Life's too short to just pick