Office Visit: Dr. Delaney Spaulding by Arselia Gales, assistant editor

Office Visit: Dr. Delaney Spaulding 

by Arselia Gales, assistant editor
photography by Tamika Moore

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.

Dr. Delaney Spaulding and her husband found themselves at a crossroads a few years ago: Should she open her own dental practice, or should they become parents? At the time, they considered this an either/or decision, given the amount of time, energy and money that would be required for either option, and after much consideration, they decided the time was right to buy a practice. Then, two months into ownership, Spaulding learned she was about to have a baby.

Fortunately, this Townie didn’t have to go far to find a plan that let her enjoy the best of both practice and parenthood. Following in the footsteps of her mother, who had opened a staffed child care area inside her own dental practice years ago, Spaulding bought the condo upstairs, converted it into a nursery and hired a new staffer whose duties would include child care.

Decisions like these were possible only because Spaulding had converted her practice into being strictly fee-for-service—a big change for her patients, who were used to the typical in-network processes and prices. In our Q&A, the Alabama dentist discusses how she and her staff explained the logistics of the conversion to their patients—“We do accept insurance—we just do not sign contracts that are not in the best interest of our patients”—and managed to grow the business too.

Office Highlights

Dr. Delaney Spaulding

Boston University, Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine

Ross Bridge Dentistry,
Hoover, Alabama

Practice size:
1,800 square feet,
4 treatment rooms

Staff size:

You began working in your mother’s practice when you were a child, becoming her assistant at 15. What was that experience like for you?

When my mother graduated from dental school, she already had a 1-year-old child and was pregnant with me. She actually went into labor with me during her Georgia dental boards! When my parents started their dental practice, they included a child care area for their kids as well as those of their team and any patients there for an appointment. So I grew up in a dental office!

It’s very easy to get drafted into helping out when you’re already there. We kids were always at the office and wanted to participate, so at a young age we were stamping envelopes and going with our parents to drop off check deposits. As a preteen, I was interested in babysitting and begged to be employed as the child care supervisor (after the bus dropped me off at the office). Patients would bring their children for me to watch while they were getting treatment done. As a bonus, I was able to score a few babysitting gigs out of that. By 15, I was chairside with my mom, observing what she did all day. That’s pretty much when I realized how cool the profession really is.

Was dentistry always the first career choice for you?

I always knew I wanted to work in the medical field. I am a “fixer”—I like knowing people can come to me with problems and I can solve them. Originally, I was aiming toward being a pediatrician, but as soon as I was working chairside with my mom, I realized that was exactly how I wanted to fix people.

I love that dentistry can produce immediate results traditional medicine typically cannot. My favorite procedures are simple anterior composites that completely change a smile in minutes. I also enjoy scaling and root planing because you can take someone who hasn’t been to the dentist in a decade and have them leave a few hours later completely clean and excited about getting any other treatment needed.

After dental school, you worked for a dental service organization (DSO) but ultimately decided you wanted to own a practice of your own. How did you come to that realization?

I have determined that I am not a good employee. That’s not good or bad—it’s just that I’m an inquisitive person and ask far too many “why” questions. Because I knew a decent amount about the business side of the practice from growing up in one, I had strong opinions about how it should be run. I did not see eye to eye with the office manager and determined very early on that I would always be aiming to manage my own office.

The insurance credentialing, scheduling and advertising is supposed to be delegated to the DSO to make it easier for dentists, but I found the lack of control to be the most frustrating part. Having no power to choose products, labs, schedules or employees made me miserable. I knew that I would not ultimately be fulfilled until I had the opportunity to give patients the experience that I had been thinking about since I chose dentistry for a career.

Your father, Allen Jorgensen, co-founded Lighthouse 360, a dental patient communication company. How would you say he influenced you to buy a practice two years out of school?

He was a key member of my overall support system. Both of my parents went off the beaten path and carved better lives for themselves. My mom opened a practice from scratch only two years out of dental school and my dad left a corporate job to launch Lighthouse 360 (although it has been sold to Henry Schein One and he is not involved anymore).

Both had visions of how they could create a better dental experience if they were able to answer only to themselves and they have always encouraged me to do the same. I was in no way “ready” to buy a practice, but with the support of my parents and my husband and the knowledge that they brought to the table, I felt “ready enough” to take on the challenge.

You and your husband discovered you were pregnant shortly after you made the decision to buy your practice in June 2020. How did this news affect you or change how you planned on running your practice?

When the world shut down in March 2020, my husband and I passed the time by watching Dr. Howard Farran’s 30-Day Dental MBA video series. Even though it was filmed in 1999, the information still holds true today. I was already interested in buying a practice, so watching those videos gave me a great foundation to start thinking about a dental office as a business. My husband and I completely bought into the idea of finding a dental practice to buy and giving it our all, even if that meant delaying the start of our family. Well, two months after signing on the dotted line, I was faced with the two pink lines of a pregnancy test, and sheer anxiety. After I got over the shock and I announced my pregnancy to my staff, my hygienist shared the news that she also was pregnant, and was due to deliver three weeks after I was.

We had seven months to come up with a plan and we did not waste a second. We bought the condominium above my office and renovated it into a nursery, staff area and storage/education facility. My mom volunteered to cover my seven-week maternity leave. We started interviewing for a new staff position of child care supervisor/office assistant. Luckily, everything fell into place.

Now I bring Riley to the office with me every morning. When he was younger, I was able to nurse/pump throughout the day without any stress. He also makes a great lunch buddy every day. It’s truly the best situation for a dentist who is also a mom of a young child, but it took a lot of effort to make it happen.

Top Products

Xeomin antiwrinkle injectable. This product is an excellent muscle relaxer. It works from the crow’s feet to the masseter. It has been a huge practicebuilder in a way that I was not expecting.

3Shape Trios scanner. Ours was provided by Dandy, which has been an excellent partner in launching us into a completely digital workflow.

Isolite mouthpieces from Zyris. I cannot imagine practicing without Isolite. I have a completely dry field and all of my dentistry is consistent because I am not fighting saliva or overzealous tongues.

Flex practice management software. I love the patient interface. Our patients never have to touch a paper form at our office and it all seamlessly integrates with Open Dental.

MouthWatch intraoral camera. Seeing is believing. I show every patient intraoral pictures of their decay and it gets the patient on board with their treatment plan.

Your practice is strictly fee-for-service. Was it difficult for patients to accept this change?

When I bought the practice, it was in-network with every insurance company. I knew that with the practice loan, adding technology, team members and furnishing a new treatment room, I would not be able to absorb the amount the previous owner was writing off by being an in-network provider.

It is extremely difficult to retain patients when you are the new owner and immediately going out of network, but it is possible. We talked to each patient as they came in and explained we were out of network but would use the information they gave us about their insurance to do predeterminations of their benefits before they came in for their next visit. For most patients, their insurance paid very well. We also created a membership program for anyone who didn’t have dental insurance.

I really wanted to create the kind of practice where I can provide the best options for every patient. We help every patient get the most out of the benefits they’re entitled to by doing electronic submissions, sending in radiographs, writing narratives and using preauthorizations on the patient’s behalf. We make it very clear that we do accept insurance—we just do not sign contracts that aren’t in the best interest of our patients. We did lose some patients, but we’ve grown the practice by more than 50% since the purchase, so we’re doing something right!

Why do you think this model works best for you and your practice?

Personally, I don’t like being told what to do, and that extends into my scope of practice. I believe the patient-doctor relationship is the only one that matters in the room. If I had to deal with the arbitrary rules that insurance sets forth, I’d be in a difficult position. Insurance doesn’t have the patient’s best interest at heart and we all are aware of that. I’m here to tell the patient their diagnosis and offer different treatment options. We will always file claims on their behalf and go to bat for the patients when it comes to getting the most out of their policy, but I don’t change my treatment plans to fit into the dated insurance rules.

What have you learned now that you’re almost two years into practice ownership?

Dentistry is the easiest part of owning a practice. I love my patients and employees, but the human aspect of business ownership is emotionally taxing and ever-evolving. I am a different person than I was two years ago and I strive to always be improving as a communicator, a dentist, an employer, a mother and as a wife. In the past two years, I’ve learned to delegate tasks and spend my time and energy in ways that make me happy.

Where do you see yourself in the next decade?

I’d like to get into teaching in some capacity. I’ve volunteered at the University of Alabama at Birmingham dental school and enjoyed interacting with the students. The business aspects of the dental education system are insufficient and need a broader approach. New grads should know the basics of insurance contracts and what that entails when they are walking across that stage. So many young dentists work in DSOs because they don’t feel prepared to run a business. It is absolutely necessary for all dentists to understand insurance, payroll, accounts receivable and basic accounting, but it isn’t being taught in most dental schools. I’d love to be able to teach part time in addition to practicing dentistry.

How do you use Instagram and TikTok to connect to your current and new patients?

It comes down to my passion for teaching. I grew up in a dental family, so I always had a pretty solid exposure to dental topics. I love the nature of short videos to explain a quick topic in dentistry. If I can educate one person on why they might be getting headaches or why flossing is important, it is a good day. Not everyone has a dentist, but nearly everyone has questions about dentistry that can be answered in 30-second videos.

What is your favorite patient story?

It started before he even sat in the chair! While I was in dental school, I attended a party and struck up a conversation with a stranger who asked me what degree I was pursuing. This turned into a two-hour deep dive into his dental history and all the work he thought he needed. The next week, he was in my dental chair at Boston University and we started working on his extensive treatment plan. Over the course of the next two years, I did two root canals, 15 fillings, six crowns and two extractions, and we became close friends. That chance interaction at a party is potentially the single most important patient I ever met. He attended my wedding, has traveled to Alabama to visit and is a part of my Dungeons & Dragons group that meets weekly. I strongly believe that dental-phobic people should meet their dentist over a beer at a house party!

What do you enjoy most about dentistry?

I love the relationships I am forming with my patients. I have owned this practice for only two years so my patients feel like new friends, but friends that I will know for a lifetime. I love seeing toddlers who are hesitant to get into the dental chair turn into confident kindergartners looking forward to their new toothbrush and balloon!

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I have a baby under the age of 1, so the majority of my time outside of work is spent catching up on sleep. Twice a week after work, I go to yoga and Zumba classes at a gym that provides on-site child care. My husband and I are also part of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that meets weekly.

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