Office Visit: Smile Savvy Cosmetic Dentistry by Arselia Gales, assistant editor, Dentaltown magazine

Dentaltown Magazine

Drs. Andrew and Joya Lyons work together to create beautiful smiles in North Carolina

by Arselia Gales, assistant editor. Photography by Rusty Williams Photo.

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, we introduce cosmetic dentists Drs. Andrew and Joya Lyons, a husband-and-wife duo based in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Lyonses, who met in college, began practicing together in 2014 and have used their faith to guide them every step of the way over the past five years. Read on to discover how the young couple happened to fall into practice together, how they feel about balancing life inside and outside the office, and the difference between working in the business and on the business.

Office Highlights

Name and credentials:
Andrew D. Lyons II, DDS
Joya L. Lyons, DDS

Graduated from:
Meharry Medical College

School of Dentistry

Practice name:
Smile Savvy Cosmetic Dentistry
Charlotte, North Carolina

Practice size:
2,500 square feet (5 operatories)

Team size:
6: 2 receptionists, 2 hygienists, 2 dental assistants

What inspired both of you to get into dentistry and ultimately open a practice together?

Andrew: During my freshman year of undergrad at North Carolina Central University, I attended a lunch-and-learn through the biology department with a representative from a dental school. At the event, I learned that many dentists choose to own their own practices and that moment resonated with me. Although neither I nor anyone within my family had a background in business, the early seeds of entrepreneurship were planted that day.

The decision for Joya and me to work together was not the original plan, but came together by necessity. It felt divine at the time, although we originally tried to avoid it because we’d heard so many horror stories about couples struggling when they work together. We’ve found it to be a powerful and a very necessary dynamic to our marriage and business.

Joya: I was inspired by dentistry at a young age. Pretending to be my family’s dentist, I’d take out my siblings’ loose baby teeth. What solidified it for me was an experience I had in college with a female dentist who was also a dental school recruiter. She spoke about the benefits of dentistry, as well as the autonomous lifestyle it can bring. Family is important to me, so I wanted a career that supported my ability to be present for my family.

My husband knew he wanted to own a dental practice one day—it was only a matter of when. After being an associate for three years, he came to me with the desire to start a practice; at the time, I was in my own associate position and also expecting our first child. The plan had been for him to open a practice and still be part-time at his associateship, while I’d stay where I was. Well, God had different plans for us: When the practice was ready to open, I was unable to stay at my position, so the natural decision was for me to work at Smile Savvy full time and Drew part time, while keeping his associate job. We always say it was in God’s plans for us to build this practice together, side by side.

What’s it like practicing with your spouse? Do you think this dynamic makes it better than practicing alone?

Andrew: I once read that 83% of partnerships fail, regardless of the marital relationship. With that said, having my spouse as a business partner makes for the best partnership, in my opinion. Many business decisions must also satisfy home life, future plans and so much more beyond the business, and my spouse is the only person who relates on all accounts. I’d say we function more as one dentist than two separate clinicians. The days we overlap clinically are rare. Our work–life balance has greatly improved by us both being interchangeable. We also complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I couldn’t see myself practicing alone—nor would I want to.

Joya: We knew all too well the negative statistics that were associated with working with your spouse. When we got married, people would tell us not to work together, but ultimately we wanted to control our own narrative and knew that we couldn’t let other people’s negative experiences dictate ours. I absolutely love working with my spouse, because he is truly my best friend! There are so many difficult days on this journey of owning a dental practice, but there’s nothing like going through it with someone you completely trust who understands the process and, most importantly, understands you. I can’t imagine doing this journey alone or with anyone else. At the end of the day, I know he has my back, and I have his.

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How do you divide up responsibilities? Who handles what?

Joya: It took us a while to learn the best way to work together. At first, we both tried to do the same things, which did not work. It wasn’t until we took a Myers–Briggs personality test that we found the strengths, likes and areas where we each excel. Since then, we’ve learned to divide and conquer, based on our strengths, and since that discovery, our practice has soared.

I’m a “facts, data and details” personality. I handle the numbers side of our practice and anything that involves heavy details. We don’t have an official office manager, but I would be the closest thing to that.

Drew is an intuition-driven dreamer, and he handles everything from the new ideas to make sure we are on the cutting edge of technology. Essentially, one doctor always works on the business while the other is working in the business.

What have you learned since opening your practice five years ago? What obstacles have you had to overcome? How did you learn from them?

Andrew: We’ve learned we’re capable of so much more than our current circumstances— and that we should have dreamed a bit harder on the front end, because anything you desire is truly possible.

The obstacles have been numerous: We’ve encountered everything from recovering from marketing scams to challenges finding top talent with our professional relationships with accountants, financial advisers, team members, etc. The biggest obstacle is that the vision does not change but it refines itself along the way, and every person, vendor and piece of equipment must satisfy the vision or something will be out of alignment and cause undue stress. It truly is a classic case of the butterfly effect. It’s a stress that success can’t compensate for.

As a married couple, it’s impossible to separate our personal lives from the business. I’ve learned that the only answer is faith and growth toward a deeper faith through it all.

Joya: I’ve learned that building a successful practice takes time and it can’t be rushed. The entrepreneurial journey is a roller coaster and there’s no way around that.

We’ve met many challenges since opening in 2014, one being the challenge of staying consistent with production numbers while I was out for eight months because of pregnancy complications. Seasons change and patients will come and go, but to get us through this journey, we’ve learned to trust our faith, which is the one and only thing that is constant.

What do you like the most about cosmetic dentistry?

Andrew: There’s always a powerful story behind why patients decide they want to improve their smile. Seeing people transform throughout treatment is a joy and better than any Netflix show I’m currently bingeing. It’s never just about the smile—typically, other aspects of their lives are transforming, too, such as their hair, relationships, career, fitness, diet or nutrition. Their true personality begins to shine and, as we like to say it, their dignity is restored so they can now live in purpose. It’s amazing how much a confident smile can help assist that process.

Cosmetic dentistry may seem like the most elective form of treatment, but in my opinion it has the deepest reach by building the soul and helping patients see what may have seemed impossible. I love the challenge that goes with it, as well. It has taught me how dynamic and capable of change we all are when we put our minds to it.

Joya: I like the instant gratification of knowing I just helped change the trajectory of someone’s life. A patient once told me that she had turned down many opportunities because of her unhappiness with her smile. When we gave her a new smile, she was so confident, and I knew she was no longer going to turn down those opportunities and confidently live out her purpose.

How do you separate your practice life from your home life? Do you inevitability bring your work home with you or do you try to have a distinct separation?

Andrew: We’ve learned to run our personal life on a schedule, much like we do at work. If we don’t plan it in advance, something undoubtedly will prevent us from making time for date nights and keeping up with our kids’ schedules. We don’t have any effective conversation about business at home unless we truly run it like a business meeting. On the flip side, a recent move to have separate offices has cut down on the flirting that tends to happen when we worked too close together. I’d say our marriage can influence our business because that’s the order: God, marriage, family and business. But business goes to its rightful place after-hours.

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• Custom design and shade from Frontier Dental Lab, El Dorado Hills, California
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Andrew, you’re very involved with dental office design and even lecture on the subject. How did this help you lay out your practice?

It was a classic moment where student becomes teacher: Back in 2013, I attended an office design event called “Driven to Excellence,” which helped me fine-tune the layout and workflow for our office. In 2015, I was invited to speak and record a webinar for “Concept to Complete” to give a real-time view of how design plays a critical role in everyday life as a dentist. It helped me tremendously by allowing me to look at my practice from the perspective of everyone except myself. How many dentists walk in their own front door and see what vibe the reception area gives, and if the team can do their job well in the given ergonomics of their workspace? What does this color scheme mean? Can we maintain this appearance? Where can we sprinkle in some branding? As a cosmetically focused general dentist, I have a way of appreciating form over function when form obeys the rules of function.

How do you hope your practice grows and evolves over the next decade?

Andrew: The big vision is a larger stand-alone office—large enough to host events and another business venture. The plan is to stay a husband-and-wife team, because this dynamic took so long to perfect. It would take a while for either one of us to warm up to the idea of expansion just for the sake of forming a large group practice with a larger team of doctors, hygienists, assistants etc.

What’s an average day like at your practice?

Joya: Because we’re a two-doctor office working on different days, our schedule varies day to day. On the days where we’re both present, Drew spends days doing patient care—large restorative cases and checking most of hygiene. If I am present, then I typically divide my time between patient care and administrative duties.

You both are devout Christians and actively involved in your local church. How has your faith played a role in how you run your practice?

Andrew: Back in 2014, we received an amazing handwritten letter from a patient titled “The Ministry of Dentistry.” Since then, we’ve tried to practice in a way that is pleasing to God and to make sound business decisions that are in agreement with our faith. Following the servant leadership style of Jesus, we aim to lead with service, compassion and love.

Joya: We’ve learned that God will give us the desires of our hearts if we just have faith and be patient to the plans he has for us. We don’t make a decision without praying and hearing from God first, because we want it to be God’s plan and not our own.

Tell us about one of your favorite cases.

Andrew: My favorites are always the ones where patients aren’t even aware of what’s possible. I enjoy veneer cases because after doing a number of Invisalign cases, I often would sense there was more value I could add to the case. I really enjoy multidisciplinary cases, but the exciting cases are where we can eliminate one discipline and still achieve a great outcome.

One type of case that happens often is a pegged lateral case, or any case where the incisors do not have symmetry and ortho would put teeth in a proper position but still not create a “Wow!” effect. I’ve taken cases like these where removing the ortho discipline is what gave the patient the light at the end of the tunnel.

Joya: One of my first large cosmetic cases was with an extremely particular older male patient. He was so particular that I was the third dentist who would be redoing his anterior crowns within the past 15 years. He said he had never been truly happy with his smile and I believed I could improve it, so I took on the challenge. After I completed his new smile, he proceeded to give everyone in the office a hug and he was not the hugging type. That case was tough, but it taught me to believe in myself and my capability to do great cosmetic dentistry. After that case, I was super confident to take on any challenging case.

What’s something you’d like to see dentistry do differently as a profession within the next 10–15 years?

Andrew: In a world where information and technology are at our fingertips, human interaction is gold. As a private practice owner, I personally don’t have an issue with corporate dentistry. It serves its place, but the real issue is any dentist or business that leads with numbers and formulas over sound ethical treatment of other human beings. Emotional intelligence and basic compassion for your fellow man (and woman!) is at a premium these days.

Tell us about the charitable extension of your practice, The Lyons Share. What inspired you to create this organization?

Joya: Since we opened in 2014, we’ve always given away dentistry to deserving people. We wanted to make our giving more official, so we could be accountable and make sure we used our gifts to give back. We created The Lyons Share with the idea to partner with different nonprofit organizations in the community to give away free smile makeovers to deserving individuals. We try to do at least four per year.

What do you enjoy to do in your spare time? What keeps you occupied outside of dentistry?

Joya: I spend most of my free time doing activities with our lovely children, Brielle and Trace. I also enjoy scrapbooking and anything crafty. I am also the founder of a nonprofit organization called SCORE Inc., which stands for “Successful, Confident, Optimistic, Regal and Engaging.” My sister and I started this nonprofit with a mission to encourage minority girls to pursue STEM careers, helping to bridge the gap of minority women in STEM. We accomplish our mission by concentrating on career exposure and life skills via curriculum-centered health care internships and mentorship.

Since launching in 2017, we’ve awarded more than $10,000 in scholarships to girls who have matriculated through our internships, and we’ve established partnerships with Microsoft stores to further expose minority girls to technology and design careers.

Andrew: I’m an avid reader and runner, and have completed 13 half-marathons. I also enjoy going to OrangeTheory Fitness.


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