by Chelsea Knorr, staff writer, Dentaltown Magazine
Alison Meudt, DDS, graduated from Marquette University in 2008. She tried private practice, but immediately after starting
felt it wasn’t a good fit for her. She joined the team at Aspen Dental, a nationwide corporate dental chain, in 2010. She practices
in Waukesha, Wisconsin with a staff of six and is constantly using her skills to train others in many Aspen clinics in the
area. Herein, Dr. Meudt talks with Dentaltown Magazine about her decision to take the corporate route and why it might be
a good option for others as well.
First of all, why did you choose dentistry as
Meudt: People hate going to the dentist and therefore can’t
imagine why anyone would choose to be one. I think my choosing
to be a dentist had to do with the attitude people feel toward going
to the dentist. I wanted to change this!
My parents told me I would pretend to be a dentist when I was
a kid. It’s my calling.
What motivated your decision to join a corporate
dental office rather than starting your own practice?
Meudt: While in college, I was an assistant for a private practice
dentist. I saw the stress she had owning and running her business
and decided I wanted to focus more on the care and
wellbeing of my patients. Dentistry itself is stressful enough to
someone right out of school. A few years out of school and after
building confidence, Aspen has allowed me to be involved more
and more with the business aspect of owning a practice.
Eventually, if the fit is right, a dentist has the option to buy into
the practice just as one would in private practice, I’m looking forward
to beginning that process.
Describe a typical day in your office.
Meudt: My day begins with a morning huddle – reviewing the
day before, the day ahead and any concerns that might have come
up in the office. We also put emphasis on what we do as a group, to
make patients have a great experience and want to come
back. During the day, we have a steady flow of new patients to
whom we provide a comprehensive treatment plan. We also provide
services to patients who have accepted treatment and are on their
way to a healthier lifestyle. There really is never a dull moment!
What are the advantages and disadvantages
of doing corporate dentistry?
Meudt: The biggest advantage to working at Aspen is being
able to focus solely on dentistry. When I walk in the door, the
practice is already ready for me. Whether a dentist is entering
into an established practice or opening one of Aspen’s many new
offices, the marketing is done, the supplies are ordered, the
patients are waiting and the staff is well trained; all you have to
do is supply the treatment plans.
Some people might say a disadvantage is that you’re working
by someone else’s rules. I would have to disagree about this
being a disadvantage though. Aspen does expect a cohesive environment
to all of the offices, but each practice has the individual
feel of the dentist in charge.
If you could give new graduates one piece of
advice, what would it be?
Meudt: Find something that fits you. You don’t have to fit
into a certain mold. There are so many options and directions in
which you can take your career. Don’t be afraid to go against the
norm. I’m from an area where private practice is the gold standard;
anything else is sub-par. Aspen breaks that prejudice and
takes corporate practice to a whole new level. It provides a sturdy
platform to begin your career and you can take that and transform
it into your goals.
What surprised you the most when you got out
Meudt: I thought I was well prepared for life after dental
school. I’ll never forget my first extraction that went horribly
wrong. I thought it was the end of the world! I was so nervous
and felt terrible. Everyone was looking to me to fix the situation.
It shook my confidence and it certainly wasn’t something any
amount of dental school could have prepared me for. I never
wanted to extract a tooth again and I don’t think I did for a
month. To students I say, remember that you’re trained for
things like this and things are going to go wrong. Take a deep
breath and remember there are many solutions. I eased back into
extractions and now it’s probably one of the things at which I
am best. Don’t let a minor setback get in your way.
What were the biggest challenges of starting
Meudt: First, I joined a well-established group practice and
was offered my own, newly opened office. I jumped at the
chance and soon realized it wasn’t what I thought it would be.
The office consisted of me, a bored hygienist and a receptionist
who I had to train to be my dental assistant. We were always
trying to find ways to bring in new patients – going to events,
handing out business cards, practically begging for patients. I was spending my days seeing, at best, a handful of patients. I
wasn’t happy and at the pace I was going, close to defaulting
on my student loans.
Starting from “scratch” at Aspen consisted of walking
into a brand-new office with a schedule full of new patients
and an entire staff who were already trained. At first, I was
overwhelmed with the pace of the office and couldn’t believe
how many patients I saw who didn’t have access to care previously.
It took about a week to adjust since I had never seen
that many patients in a single day before. After my first large
procedure, the patient was so happy with the work we provided
she was in tears. She told me she never knew she could
be so comfortable in a dental office. I knew I had made the
right choice coming to Aspen and have never looked back.
What are some of the things you wish you
had known as a dental student that you now
know after working in an office?
Meudt: The main thing I wish I would’ve known is that
you can never be well-enough prepared for what is going to
happen as a dentist in the real world. The amount of knowledge
you get in school will never compare to the experience you gain while actually practicing dentistry. You are always learning
and will forever be doing so, whether it is dealing with an
anxious patient, a sensitive posterior composite filling or budgeting
supplies, every situation is different and takes time and experience
to really feel comfortable.
What is your biggest source of new patients? How
do you (or your office) market to new patients?
Meudt: All of our marketing is handled by the marketing
team at Aspen’s headquarters in Syracuse. We have television ads
that appeal to a number of patients, as well as online advertisements. A large percentage of our new patients come for the free
or discounted comprehensive exams and X-rays. The marketing
team is also in charge of sending out mailers and coupons.
Although we have a marketing team, our office is extremely
impacted by referrals and word of mouth.
What is your favorite procedure to perform?
Meudt: Every day is different. I really enjoy the variety of
procedures I am able to perform. My large cases, where patients
haven’t seen a dentist in 10 to 20 years, are my favorite.
Severe periodontal disease is common within our practice, to
the point where teeth are no longer able to be saved or a patient
is not willing to put in the effort or money to save them. Fullmouth
extractions are often needed. It’s the combination of
making the patient feel comfortable with the work and making
the patient happy to smile again that is enjoyable to me.
What dental resources do you use the most?
Meudt: I often use publications and Web sites as a resource
to continue learning new things – and yes, Dentaltown.com is
one of them.
My biggest resource comes from my fellow dentists. I like to
be able to share cases and bounce ideas off of them to find the
best possible treatment. It’s good to get another perspective on a
difficult case. At Aspen, there is a great network of dentists who
are readily available to give support and ideas to help build the
confidence in less experienced dentists.
How do you balance work and life?
Meudt: That is the ultimate question. Aspen has made this
easy though. I come to work and am dedicated to patients and
their wellbeing. I come home from work and am dedicated to
family and friends. Working for a corporate office means not
having to bring work home. On the rare occasion a patient is in
need of emergency treatment, we do provide an after-hours
number which connects us to the patients to triage as necessary.
If you weren’t a dentist, what do you think
you’d be doing right now?
Meudt: I can honestly say there is nothing else I would
rather be doing. This career is perfect and Aspen has helped
make it so.