Dentists spend most of their working hours in their practices, so they usually don’t get many opportunities to see what it’s like inside another doctor’s office. Dentaltown magazine’s recurring Office Visit profile offers a chance for Townies to meet their peers, hear their stories and get a sense of their practice protocols.
In this issue, meet lifetime Kentuckian Dr. Scott Bridges, who turned an old Texaco gas station he knew as a boy into the practice of his dreams. Don’t be fooled by the old-timey façade, though—inside, it’s an expanding clinic on the verge of going fully digital, while still maintaining classic hospitality and deep patient ties. Outside this great practice, you can find Bridges paddling his kayak or adding more hours to his pilot’s log.
Your office, the Smile Station, was designed to look like an old-timey gas service station, complete with a roll-up garage door. How did it come to be?
I was seeking an opportunity to do a startup practice in my hometown, and I had been interested in the property for a couple of years because of its highly visible corner location. The building was originally a Texaco service station [photo at lower left] but eventually it was converted into a convenience store [photo at lower right]. The store had been closed for about eight years when I purchased the property. I wasn’t sure how the remodel would look, but it dawned on me that the service station “bones” were still there, and that it could look like that again. I ran my thoughts past a few people, who all said they thought it was a cool idea.
When the station was new in the 1950s, my dad was a teenage hot-rodder who hung around there, like many young guys his age. He once even rebuilt an engine for the owner in the station! My parents often bought gas there when I was a child in the 1970s, too, and I remember the owner giving me candy and cleaning our windshield.
The renovation and service station concept has been very popular with residents. It earned me the front page of the local newspaper on my practice’s opening day, as well as some complimentary articles in local magazines. Patients like it so much that they often give me vintage gasoline memorabilia to display. We’ve grown very fast in the three years since opening and we’re currently adding two more treatment rooms, as well as exploring opportunities for multiple locations.
What path led you into dentistry?
I decided to pursue dentistry after graduating from college. I graduated with a biology degree and chemistry minor, and worked in a variety of fields for a couple of years. At the time of my acceptance to dental school, I was working in the environmental field, doing underground storage tank remediation. Most of my focus was on contaminated service station cleanup—and the knowledge I gained from that job ultimately helped when I purchased my own former service station.
What feature of your practice are you most proud of? And which feature do patients enjoy the most?
I’m most proud of my team: They’re the single most important aspect of our practice and the reason patients keep coming back. I’m also proud of the building itself. Nearly every day, our patients compliment our concept and how we rehabilitated an abandoned building in the community.
Some doctors find the most joy in the clinical nitty-gritty. Not to say you don’t love your clinical work, but you said you also love the social aspect of practicing. Explain what that means.
My practice is in the small suburban community where I grew up. I love reconnecting with people I haven’t seen in years and making long-term relationships with my patients. There’s an element of trust that’s very important here: In our community, I believe that patients are less likely to try to find a dentist by using an app than they are by asking friends and colleagues for recommendations. I’ve found that great patients are typically referred by great patients.
The great aesthetic of your practice is a marketing tool in itself, but what else do you do to keep patients coming in the door?
The generally relaxed and friendly atmosphere created by the team helps! All our visitors are acknowledged with a smile when they walk in the door.
I also place a lot of importance in running on time. If patients must wait more than five minutes past their appointment time, I personally apologize.
I try to show my patients respect by spending as much time listening as I do talking. Conversely, I will always stand behind my team if they’re ever verbally abused by a patient.
You’ve done quite a bit of charitable work in the community. How did you get started and what keeps you volunteering your time and services?
I first became involved in charitable dentistry in dental school, where we had the opportunity to volunteer at local clinics doing pediatric dental care. Once in practice, I became involved with free dentistry events after volunteering at a friend’s office. I’ve helped organize and host several free dentistry events over the years. I’m also involved with several charity organizations. I believe strongly that as skilled medical professionals, we have a duty to give back to our communities and help others in need. My hope is that I can inspire others to uplift the community by doing the same.
You plan to go to a fully digital impression system soon, as well as add 3D elements and CAD/CAM. What made you pull the trigger on this?
I’ve been using 3D CT imaging for a couple of years, mainly for implant planning and placement. I’d been thinking about intraoral scanning for several years and during that time, the cost decreased while the options increased, so I did some more research and checked out several options at the Chicago Midwinter meeting. Because I needed a crown myself, I decided to have a colleague perform the procedure on me using his scanner and mill. It was a good experience, and I decided to move forward.
I’m currently using the Medit i500 scanner, which I got from CAD-Ray. I’m planning to begin milling and 3D printing as well. The landscape of dentistry is changing fast, and it’s important to be aware of those changes and explore new options.
What’s something that remains a challenge to you, clinically or as a business owner?
Hiring new employees is always a challenge. Bringing someone into a close-knit practice family is always difficult. I still make mistakes, but it’s become easier to fix those mistakes now. Our practices consist of our employees, and our only way of truly controlling our practices is to control who we hire, who we keep and how we treat those we value. Reward exceptional employees and they’ll stay loyal.
What’s your favorite patient story?
When I was learning to fly, my flight instructor was also a patient. One day while he was in for his hygiene appointment, my hygienist came to me and told me his blood pressure was very high: 220/94. I went to the room and saw he was pale and diaphoretic, so I asked him if his chest hurt and his reply was, “No more than usual!” I immediately sent him to the emergency room, and he underwent a quadruple bypass the next day. Ten years later, he’s still my patient and still flying!
Tell us about some of your favorite flights and aircrafts.
I’m lucky to be a third-generation private pilot. I grew up flying co-pilot with my father, but by 2007 I still hadn’t gotten my license. I was in Seattle at the Kois Center watching deHavilland DHC-2 Beaver float planes taking off from Lake Union. Someone told me that Kenmore Air gave local sightseeing flights, so I grabbed a friend and we hopped a flight. The pilot let me sit up front, and I knew it was time. I had my license within a year. I still fly with my dad, but now he’s my co-pilot.
You’re also a member of an award-winning charity barbecue team known as the Buzzard Bros. How did you get involved and do you have any barbecue secrets to share?
I’ve always loved cooking, especially grilling and barbecuing. Some friends asked me to join the team about 10 years ago. We do several charity events a year, but the biggest is a charitable and competitive event here in Paducah called “Barbecue on the River.” Last year we raised more than $22,000 for a local charity. Our only secret is this: Cook low and slow over hickory coals!
As if piloting aircraft and grilling award-winning barbecue weren’t enough to keep you busy, tell us about your family and some of your other hobbies.
My wife, Rebecca, is a certified general appraiser specializing in farm appraisals. She enjoys yoga and cooking. My oldest son, Michael, is 10 and loves video games, playing with friends and telling jokes. Henry is 2 and is an energetic, bright toddler who really keeps us on our toes. He loves playing outside, getting dirty and reading books with us. As a family, we love traveling and riding bicycles together. I love the outdoors, air, water and going fast. I bicycle and kayak regularly. My dad and I share a collection of antique racing boats and motors.
If you could send a note back in time to yourself just as you were entering dental school, what would it say?
“Listen more, speak less. Ask more questions.”