Office Visit: Dr. Matthew McMasters by Kyle Patton, associate editor

Categories: Office Design;
Office Visit: Dr. Matthew McMasters 

by Kyle Patton, associate editor
photography by April Stanley Photography

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’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 longtime Townie Dr. Matthew McMasters, who practices in rural Tennessee and goes by “THE Token Redneck” on Dentaltown’s message boards. He’s one of our most-followed members on the boards, and one of the most prolific, too: He’s contributed more than 30,000 posts!

McMasters’ namesake practice in Ardmore, Tennessee, is a classic case of simple dentistry in rural America; a straightforward structure and close-knit feel have kept this Townie far removed from the stress and chaos of his early career.

With two decades of experience under his belt, McMasters shares his advice on making the best out of a debt-laden profession, how Dentaltown helped shape his professional career, and how removing splinters is just another day at the office.

Office Highlights

Dr. Matthew McMasters
Townie name: THE Token Redneck

Graduated from:
University of Tennessee– Memphis College of Dentistry

Matthew P. McMasters, DDS, Family, Implant and Cosmetic Dentistry
Ardmore, Tennessee

Practice size:
4 operatories, 8 staff

The tongue-in-cheek signature that ends your posts on Dentaltown has the following line included: “My happiness is inversely proportional to the amount of dentistry that I do.” What is dentistry to you?

Early on, I was at a John Kois continuum and he said, “The best dentistry is no dentistry.” I have always tried to apply that philosophy to my practice. The older I get, the more I realize that my responsibility is simply to provide my patients with my best recommendations, and that will vary from patient to patient. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for everyone. There are so many things in dentistry that are not black-and-white. I evaluate each patient from where they currently are in their life, and not where I want them to be.

Dentistry has been very good to me and my family, providing me with a lifestyle that few other professions could match. However, dentistry is what I do, it is not who I am. Many dentists seem to have their entire identity caught up in their job. I am not being critical of those who feel that way, but that is just not how I view dentistry. I take great pride in my work and always strive for perfection, but ultimately, dentistry is a means to an end for me. And the endgame is being the best husband and father possible to my wife and kids.

Since 2003, you’ve contributed more than 30,000 times to the Dentaltown message boards, and are one of our most-followed Townies. Tell us about your time as a Townie and what it has meant to you.

Dentaltown has been the single best contributor to my professional growth as a dentist. I have gained so much from this website, and the educational content has been second to none. Being a part of this group has challenged me to become better in every area of dentistry, and I will be forever grateful for the impact that Dentaltown has had on my career.

In addition, I have met some of my very best friends (and some of the world’s best educators) all because Dr. Howard Farran had this crazy idea that “no dentist will ever have to practice solo again.”

I have attended Townie events in Las Vegas, Cozumel and Belize. Dentaltown was also gracious enough to send me to several other cities across the country to visit and evaluate some of the largest and well-known companies and suppliers in the dental industry.

Your very first post on Dentaltown was on Sept. 24, 2003. Let’s see if you can remember what the thread was about. Here was your reply:
“Leeches?! I can understand the Wild Turkey, but how did you manage to get most of my dental school instructors to assist with your extractions?”

I honestly don’t remember that at all! But I will say that I had some pretty hardcore dental school instructors who seemed to thrive on making our lives miserable. So “leeches” would be a pretty good moniker.

You’ve owned three offices in your career and seen a lot in two decades of practice. Let’s point this next answer at docs just starting out: What were some mistakes you made? What has made your professional life run more smoothly now?

The biggest mistake was not having good financials in place—or any systems, for that matter. Early on, I was told (by local dentists) that I had to allow patients to make payments or I would never make it practicing in our small hometown. Well, I tried that, and it was a massive failure. It left me very jaded and cynical about our profession, as well as people in general.

New dentists need to know their audience. My peers on Dentaltown joke that I have taken more CE courses (that I will never use) than anyone else in the history of dentistry. And I really can’t argue with them. Early on, I took a lot of cosmetic and FMR courses, thinking that I would be the “go-to cosmetic dentist” in my area. However, patients in my area just couldn’t afford that type of treatment, and many others didn’t have any desire for it.

So while I gained a lot of knowledge and I am a better dentist for it, it didn’t translate into a good ROI. In hindsight, I should have concentrated my CE efforts on refining my bread-and-butter skills, practice management and business knowledge.

Also, I understand that there will be financial stress upon graduation, and it is very shortsighted to ignore that reality. However, I would urge any young dentists to avoid associateships that are based solely on promises of a high income. I’d highly recommend finding an employer who will not only treat you fairly but also will be a good mentor and help you to become a better clinician and businessperson.

How do you run your office?

I have a small office by design. I have no desire to grow into a large practice or bring in an associate. I have been in a large multidoctor practice, and it just didn’t fit my personality or practice style.

I currently have eight staff members, and half of them came with me from my previous practice. I rarely have staff turnover, and many have been in dentistry for 30 years or more. My staff are first and foremost great people. I think that is the most important consideration when hiring for your practice—you can always train for the position, but you can’t train honesty and integrity.

One of my RDAs is an expanded-functions dental assistant, meaning she has taken a course that certifies her to place fillings. That has been a great asset to my practice. I also have assisted hygiene, meaning my hygienist has a dedicated RDA to assist her throughout the day. This practice style allows my hygienist to see twice as many patients per day.

I am very methodical, and my office mantra is, “The key to success is organization.” My staff roll their eyes when I say that, but it really is the truth (for me). When things are disorganized and protocols or systems aren’t followed, chaos ensues. That leads to stress and irritability for the entire office. I am constantly tweaking things to make our days run more smoothly.

Top Products

1. Designs for Vision Loupes/Headlight. Magnification is one of the essentials for practicing quality dentistry. I would literally retire tomorrow if my loupes were taken away from me.

2. STA (single tooth anesthesia system). For the times when a patient is difficult to anesthetize, or whenever I don’t want to administer a block, this product is invaluable.

3. Cerec Omnicam. I had a Cerec for eight years and I’ve been doing intraoral scanning for close to a decade now. While I no longer mill restorations in-house, I still use the Omnicam for my lab restorations.

4. Isodam. I realize that it’s rare to have a rubber dam anywhere on a top products list, yet here it is. While I also use the Isolite, I still prefer the isolation of a well-placed rubber dam.

5. Schick 33 intraoral sensors. From a patient standpoint, it’s so much more convenient with less radiation exposure. It is also more efficient for our insurance coordinator when sending claims electronically.

In marketing, there’s no shortage of approaches: content, email, direct mail, SEO, outbound, inbound … the list never ends. You, on the other hand, never even started. How are you doing so well?

I’ve never really done any marketing. Having started out in my small hometown, I was fairly well known. Most prospective patients were people I grew up with, went to school with, or knew my family. I’ve always felt that word-of-mouth referrals were the best way to get new patients.

These days, it seems like every office asks patients to write an online review. In my 20 years of dentistry, I’ve never done that. I don’t even know what type of reviews I have in the cyber world. I would never choose a health care provider based upon online reviews, so I just don’t worry about them.

I do participate in a few insurances, so that is marketing of sorts, but as far as direct mail, SEO, etc., I’ve never felt the need to do any of that type of marketing. I do understand that in larger areas where competition is fierce, that can be a very big part of one’s practice.

What is the biggest challenge you see in dentistry today?

The rising costs of tuition and the enormous amount of student loans that new graduates accumulate. It’s not uncommon for new grads to leave school owing $450,000 to $600,000, and all indications are that number will only rise over the next decade.

When you look at the average salary of a dentist, along with the income that a new graduate is expected to earn, it is just too large a nut to crack. The only way that I could recommend dentistry to a young person is if they are fortunate enough to have their dental education paid for by a family member, or they opt for the military.

How did you and your office handle the ongoing pandemic?

The pandemic has been tough on everyone. Thankfully in Tennessee, they have allowed us to use our own discretion in terms of protocols. We try to put all of our patients’ minds at ease and let them know that their safety is our top priority, and they have all seemed to appreciate that.

What’s your favorite patient story?

Many of my dentist friends have told me that I should write a book, because I have stories that if you didn’t know me personally you’d never believe they were true. (I’ve been told that my office is the “Jerry Springer Show of dentistry.”) Many of them aren’t PG-rated, though, so I’ll just go with an innocuous story.

I had a long-term elderly patient come in for an emergency exam. When I asked what was wrong, she pointed to her finger: She had a splinter and wanted me to remove it. I thought she was joking. She said she didn’t trust anyone else to remove it. Anyway, I removed the splinter and she left.

A few months later she returned. Same thing, different finger. So now, every few months she will come in and I will remove a splinter from her finger. I have no idea what she is doing to continue getting splinters in her hand, but I oblige her and remove them—at no charge, of course. It’s just part of being a rural dentist.

What’s something that brings you professional satisfaction?

I’ve owned three practices and have worked at a few others during my 20-year career. I’ve probably made more mistakes than most dentists and despite myself, I’ve managed to be somewhat successful. (Although, that is certainly debatable!)

Being in the twilight of my career, I have a better understanding of how frustrating and stressful dentistry can be, especially early in one’s career. If possible, I like to help younger dentists avoid making the same mistakes that I did.
Also, if you truly care about performing excellent dentistry on your patients, then this job is extremely difficult and over the years, it takes a toll on you, both physically and mentally.

Many Townies have contacted me over the years, and I enjoy helping them and answering their questions. I want readers to know that I am always available for anyone who would like to talk. I consider myself just a simple country dentist, but I believe that is the least that I can do for the Dentaltown community that not only embraced me but has also given so much to me.

Give us a snapshot of your life outside of dentistry.

Early on I was very active and used to play a lot of travel ball. I also traveled throughout the country (and abroad) taking as many CE courses as I could. But now, at 49, I have become more of a homebody. I will usually go to the gym three or four times a week, and the rest of my time is spent with my wife and two daughters.

Our faith is also very important. Even during the pandemic, we have made it a priority to attend church, whether online or in person. My kids are also involved in athletics year-round, so I spend a lot of time at their sporting events. Otherwise, you will find me at home in my recliner watching ESPN or hanging out by my pool.

Townie Perks
Sally Gross, Member Services Specialist
Phone: +1-480-445-9710
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