Office Visit: Dr. Ross Oberschlake by Arselia Gales, assistant editor

Office Visit: Dr. Ross Oberschlake 

by Arselia Gales, assistant editor
photography by Aliza Baran

Dentists spend most of their working hours inside their own 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 how they practice.

Every year, Dentaltown asks readers to vote for their favorite products and services, then we tally the results and publish the full list of Townie Choice Awards winners in our December issue. (Check out this year’s roundup here.)

Out of all the readers who completed their ballots, we draw one person at random to win a special prize: $1,000 and the chance to appear on the cover of
Dentaltown magazine as part of an Office Visit profile. This year’s winner, Dr. Ross Oberschlake of Hillcrest Family Dental in Waukesha, Wisconsin, is an active member on Dentaltown message boards and has shared more than 200 posts.

Oberschlake, who describes dentistry as the perfect blend of artistry and medicine, is a huge proponent of continuing education and met with Dentaltown founder Dr. Howard Farran on one of his recent trips to Arizona for a Spear Education event. Read on and see why that meeting was so special to him, why he enjoys composite work and what his goals are for his practice in the next four years.

Office Highlights

Dr. Ross Oberschlake

Marquette University School of Dentistry

Hillcrest Family Dental
Waukesha, Wisconsin

Practice size:
2,000 square feet:
4 doctor operatories,
2 hygiene operatories

Team size: 10
1 dentist, 1 full-time hygienist,
1 part-time hygienist,
1 full-time assistant,
3 part-time assistants,
1 full-time office manager,
2 part-time receptionists

You grew up in a small town—so small, in fact, that your father was one of only two doctors in town. How did you decide that dentistry was the career for you?

My mother was an art teacher and my father is a veterinarian. I grew up drawing, sculpting and painting, as well as assisting my dad on emergency calls to farms or as another set of hands in surgery. As a child, I was drawn to veterinary medicine, but my dad encouraged me to explore all areas of medicine, including dentistry.

Our local dentist was equally as amazing as my father at what he did. Dentistry proved to be the perfect blend of artistry and medicine I was looking for. Over the years, I shadowed many medical specialties, but kept falling back to dentistry.

How do you think growing up in a small town has influenced how you practice today?

Immediately after dental school, I practiced as an associate for almost four years in downtown Chicago. There were certainly some things I liked about it, but I much prefer a smaller-city feeling. In a smaller town, there can be a strong sense of community—when someone is in need, we want to help them out. That’s one of the main reasons why I wanted to be a dentist; I believe it’s one of the health professions where loyalty and trust by our patients is so strong. Dentists have the opportunity to see an entire family, from great-grandmother down to granddaughter.

You describe dentistry as a blend of artistry and medicine. How does this philosophy translate into your work?

Creating beauty in every restoration is a personal goal of mine. Whether it is a Class I composite or full arch of porcelain, I want to make something look natural. I mentioned sculpting earlier; I get the opportunity to create tiny sculptures multiple times a day. When there’s a hole in a tooth, I try my best to sculpt it back into a tooth with my composite, not just fill the hole and make sure it occludes. I also enjoy doing my own diagnostic wax-ups. I believe it really helps me understand the case before starting it, and I have a better sense of what complications may arise as I am completing a case.

What are some of your favorite procedures?

I’m a big fan of composite work. I think it stems from my mom’s artistic cultivation growing up. I love doing composite veneers as well as complex posterior composites. Statistically, I do fewer crowns than the average dentist, but I am very OK with that. Often I will see a new patient with a mouth full of moderate to large decay, and I prefer to restore them all with composite initially. Sure, the teeth may be best served with a crown, but if funds are an issue, I would rather treat five teeth instead of burning the patient’s budget on a single crown.

One very fun procedure I’ve started doing in the past couple of years is restoring full arches with injection molding. I’ve had some great success with it. One thing I love about composite is that the patient’s teeth are completely changed at the end of the appointment. You can even show them the “before” and “after” photos that day. It instills confidence in you and gives you the opportunity to show off your work instantly.

You said that continuing education is your passion. What do you enjoy the most about it? How often do you attend CE events or seminars?

I do truly love taking CE. I’m involved in a few study clubs and certainly enjoy going to different seminars and workshops. I usually travel out of state at least once a year for CE. I’m sure you have heard that continuing education without implementation is just expensive entertainment, so I do try my best to apply what I learn. I am lucky to have an amazing team who is receptive to progress and is similarly drawn to education. If I am not progressing as a dentist every day, I feel like I’m doing a disservice to my patients and to the dentist I aspire to be.

You had the opportunity to meet Dr. Howard Farran during your recent trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, for a workshop at the Spear Education center. How did that come about?

First of all, I was shocked that he would take the time out of his busy schedule to sit down and have dinner with me! From being active on Dentaltown and listening to countless of Howard’s podcasts, meeting him was something I always wanted to do.

I already had plans to be in Scottsdale for the Spear workshop, so when I was notifi ed that I was going to be featured in Dentaltown magazine, I knew I had to ask if Howard would be available to meet. I was ecstatic when he said he’d love to meet up!

We discussed all kinds of things. If anyone has ever listened to one of Howard’s podcasts, you know that he’s great at conversation. He asked a lot of questions about my practice and the types of procedures I like to do. We touched on our families and raising children. We circled around to the economy and obviously there were some good jokes thrown in there.

Was it like a business meeting or a meeting among friends?

A meeting among friends, for sure! One of the things Howard always talked about on his podcasts was how he would stay or meet with the some of the heaviest hitters in dentistry when he would take CE or lecture. I always thought that was so amazing, and that was one of the main reasons why I reached out to meet. I figured if I never asked, it would never happen. Once I took a seat at the table, it was as if he and I had known each other for a long time. Sure, we talked business, but that’s just what dentists do when they get together. I owe a lot to Howard for indirectly guiding me into the dentist I am today, so I really wanted to let him know that and thank him.

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Spear Education

You were named one of Milwaukee Magazine’s Top Dentists in 2020. How do you think you earned that distinction?

This is a pretty cool list to be on. General dentists and specialists are nominated by fellow colleagues. The dentists and specialists in my county have great camaraderie.

The specialists I refer to are quite amazing. Not only do they provide exceptional care to my patients but they also are so supportive to me. They never hesitate to help guide me on ways to remove a tooth, place an implant or negotiate canals. Their mentorship has been priceless.

What’s an average day like at your practice?

A typical day is filled with composites and possibly a crown. A few times a month, I’ll have a root canal or extractions to complete, or work on a bigger case. I typically have one or two large fixed-prosthodontic or implant-prosthodontic cases in the works at a time.

I have one full-time hygienist and one part-time hygienist who work every other day. We see around one new patient a day. For new patients, we strive for a 90-minute comprehensive exam on the doctor’s side unless there is a large gap in the hygiene schedule, but we tell them not to expect a cleaning that day. This is our chance to show the new patient they made a great decision to partner with us to enhance their oral condition. It is a goal of ours to see emergency appointments that same day, so we frequently will see an emergency patient during the day. This is a great way to let our current patients know they are a priority and for new patients to know we can accommodate them in times of need. I keep my cellphone number on the answering machine so people can reach me at any time.

You perform a wide range of dental procedures, from full-mouth rehabilitations to endodontics and even some implants. Do you find that performing so many different procedures makes it hard to hone your craft?

Growing up watching my dad treat all those different animals and perform all those different surgeries was inspiring. He is a lifelong learner, too. I remember him reading old textbooks before performing an obscure surgery and he would end up with a healthy animal and a happy owner. You hear the term “Super GP” thrown around now about general dentists who try to excel in a wide spectrum of procedures, and I think it is great. Like I said earlier, I love the specialists I work with, but sometimes our patients need us in an emergency in that instant. It’s great to be able to provide the service that day rather than giving them antibiotics and a referral slip.

One thing that only comes with experience is making sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you are passionate enough about dentistry, really make it a priority and find some specialists who are mentors and are willing to invest the time and money into hands-on continuing education. I believe that GPs can be proficient in as many procedures as they want.

What’s one of your most memorable patient stories?

Honestly, there are so many great ones that it’s difficult to choose. I think that’s one of the great things about being a dentist: We make a positive impact on patients’ lives daily. Whether it is as mundane as a simple composite placed to cure the chronic sensitivity they were having, to extracting a tooth that put them in agony, to a transformative veneer case, they have all created tears of joy in my chair. I have had such grateful patients over the years. I hope they know I’m just as grateful to be able to treat them.

You’re pretty active on the Dentaltown message boards. What do you enjoy the most about the online community? How has it helped you throughout your journey as a dentist?

I owe a lot to Dentaltown for my early progress as a dentist right out of dental school. We all grow exponentially out of dental school, but Dentaltown rocket-propelled me. Once school was over, I wasn’t spending time studying for board exams, so I substituted that time absorbing everything I could from Dentaltown threads. A few threads that made a big impact on me were on finding the MB2 and the sinus anatomy.

I always find it incredible how some of the more respected dentists are responsive to questions and personal messages. I’ve gotten a couple of mentors from Dentaltown, stayed at their homes when traveling for CE and can truly call them friends. As Howard puts it, with Dentaltown, we “never have to practice alone.”

You’ve had your practice for six years. How has it grown and evolved? Do you have any goals to grow your practice or improve upon anything within the next four years?

The practice I acquired was a strong 100% fee-for-service practice. The dentist who started the practice did phenomenal work and was a true “super GP” who was beloved by his patients. For two months before the acquisition, I hung around the office, saw the operations and met a handful of patients. We had a fair amount of patient turnover—maybe 20%, most of whom I never met—despite keeping the entire staff on board. It was disheartening, and we had some painfully slow months in the first couple of years. Most new patients were word-of-mouth and most patients were testing me out. After the first year, I think they felt confident referring friends and family to our office. Now we have more word-of-mouth referrals than ever, which is such a compliment to everyone at our practice.

Over the next four years, I can see myself taking the plunge into digital scanning. Although I am not positive it is as accurate as a nice conventional full-arch impression, I believe patients will like it and it will work well for daily indirect restorations.

As far as practice growth is concerned, I would like to stay as busy as this post-coronavirus surge has made me. It has been really fun staying busy and troubleshooting all of the interesting emergency cases we’ve had after people put treatment off.

Emergencies really let dentists show their creativity. For instance, someone recently fractured #7 at the bone level and he was in tremendous pain. The crown was very mobile. I palliatively removed the coronal portion, did a quick pulpectomy to get rid of the pain, then used Ribbond to temporarily bond #7 to #6 until I could get a surgical guide made for an implant. The next week, I removed the rest of the root and placed the implant, and rebonded the coronal remnants of #7 as a temporary.

Did you have any setbacks when you first bought your practice?

The Friday I completed my first week as a practice owner, I got into my car and thought, “Wow, I did it. I just finished my first week of living out my dream of owning my own dental office.” I turned out of the parking lot, looked to my left and saw a large bulldozer one building away from my office, and thought, “Hmm, I wonder what they’re going to build there?” When I got home, I went online and discovered there was a large corporate dental office with 54 dental chairs being built basically right next to my practice.

Initially, I was furious. Honestly, though, I thought back to one of the things Howard says about never living in fear and scarcity, but rather in hope and abundance.

The month that corporate group opened, I had double my highest new-patient number ever. I believe all the advertising and billboards they put outside of their monstrosity of a building helped my practice. To my knowledge, I haven’t lost any patients to them, but I can tell you I have gained many from them.

You enjoy playing the guitar and are a rather skilled player. Do you write your own songs?

Without being able to play the guitar, I wouldn’t have married my wife!

We met during the Chicago Midwinter Dental Meeting while I was a D1. She was a senior in college, living in downtown Chicago, and was best friends with a dental classmate of mine. I met her briefly that weekend when we went out to breakfast with a group of friends, and then we didn’t speak again for three months, until she sent me a message asking me to write a song about the morning we went to breakfast.

I said I would do it only if she came to Milwaukee to hear it. I essentially ended up writing a love ballad to a girl I didn’t even know, and played it to her and a group of friends. We have now been married for 10 years and have three amazing children. I couldn’t be happier.

What are you most looking forward to in 2022?

Professionally, I am looking forward to providing more complex dental treatment to my patients in need. I’m also looking forward to having a full year with my Planmeca CBCT and maximizing the potential it has. Personally, I am praying our world can move closer to normalcy amid the pandemic.

What do you enjoy doing for fun outside of the office?

Most of my time outside the office is spent with my family. I have two boys, ages 7 and 4, and a baby girl who is soon to be 2. We sing a lot at home, play sports, do artistic things and try to go on small adventures. They are amazing and I really don’t want to take this moment in time for granted.

I also love going on dates with my wife. This past summer we discovered how fun kayaking together is. I love to golf as well. I have always loved singing, too, so I sing monthly in my church worship band.

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