Office Visit: Dr. Jason Cellars by Kyle Patton, associate editor

Office Visit: Dr. Jason Cellars 

by Kyle Patton
photography by Christina Gandolfo

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. Jason Cellars was warned not to buy a practice right out of school. Veteran docs said he wouldn’t be fast enough to profit in production, he’d lack the business acumen to properly administrate and no bank would back him. What those dentists weren’t counting on was Cellars’ persistent and precocious drive in getting the most out of every second and every opportunity.

After finishing up at the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry with distinction, Cellars continued to shadow and be mentored by prominent specialists. He quickly quieted his critics after buying a practice in Huntington Beach, California, and proved that a new grad could say no to limiting associateships and burnout-laden DSO gigs.

The dean of his dental school had said Cellars was one of the best clinicians in his class because of his comprehensive, patient-specific approach—one the young dentist continues to expand and refine through technology investments and a holistic patient philosophy. In our exclusive Q&A, he lays out advice suitable for dentists both new and established in the field, explains why there’s no shame in copying genius, tells Townies how to make any practice a cosmetic powerhouse and more.

Office Highlights
Dr. Jason Cellars

Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, University of the Pacific, San Francisco

Jason Cellars DDS—Seacliff Dental

2,100 square feet;
5 operatories


Tell us a bit about growing up in a “cowboy town” and how you ended up in Southern California.
I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, and lived just outside of the city, where we raised and rode horses. Calgary has a similar feel to Colorado and everyone is kind and friendly. My mom is from the United States, though, and had a brother in San Francisco. I fell in love with California and moved to Carmel when I was 17, then just kept moving farther and farther south for the weather.

You knew in your first year of dental school that you wanted to buy a practice right away. What shaped that idea?
Growing up, I always saw myself being a business owner. In elementary school, I wanted to be a veterinarian and I remember drawing sketches of an office layout. At that age I definitely didn’t know what running a business meant, but some part of me always wanted to make the hard decisions.

I loved the idea of being able to build something and being able to fix it and keep it working. When I was in high school, I almost bought a gym down the street from me. The purchase never went through, which was a blessing in hindsight, but the entire process of business acquisition was very engaging to me and I knew definitively at that point I wanted to be a business owner. I then made sure to get a bachelor’s in business as an undergraduate along with my biology major. I loved learning the nuances of business theory.

While shadowing dentists, I met an amazing mentor who was able to empower his team and bring out the best of them because of his personality and leadership, and I again knew that I wanted to be in a role to be able to make that difference. So by the time I actually made it to dental school, I hadn’t yet known anything about dentistry but knew I wanted to own and grow a practice and shape it to be able to run itself at full effect.

Some dentists told you buying a practice right away was a bad idea. What were their concerns? Were they right?
Many of the doctors I called warned me to not buy a practice straight out of school: They said I needed to make my mistakes on someone else’s patients, preferably in a DSO. They said my preparation speed wouldn’t be anywhere near close enough, that I didn’t have enough business knowledge and I wouldn’t get a loan without two years of experience.

For the most part, they were completely correct. But I had three years to go in dental school and was convinced that if I worked hard enough in those three years, I could learn more and be better than someone with two years of experience who just went through the motions.

To get my speed up, I got to school early to drill on extracted teeth for practice. To get more experience, I told the clinical department heads I wanted as much exposure as possible to challenging cases and made sure I was seeing patients every clinical session. To get my business knowledge up, I listened to podcasts, read business books and called dentists for advice.

And to get a loan, I simply didn’t take no for an answer! I knew from business school there were ways to get more money for much worse business ideas, so if I looked hard enough, someone would put down the money for a viable practice. By the time I bought my practice, I wasn’t fully prepared and definitely didn’t know everything I needed to, but I was prepared enough to take good care of my patients and stumble through the business side of things.

What three pieces of advice do you have for new grads or new docs?
Make it your main goal to master your craft and to become the best dentist around. This will be a career-long goal but it needs to be a priority, especially at the beginning. One thing I realized early is that older dentists are more than willing to pass on their advice and wisdom to the next generation, so take advantage of that. Ask questions, ask for clarification and ask as many people as you can the same question and you will learn extraordinarily fast.

The second piece of advice I have is to follow your path. Think of what you want to do with your career and just go for it. Don’t look at impressive things others have done and think you need to do the same. Find your passion, find what way of working and way of life will make you happiest and go for it. And never let fear of failure or not knowing how to obtain that goal stop you. If you have no idea where to start to get to your end goal, make that your first question to ask others and eventually people will help you find the answer.

Lastly, I would say to take care of yourself. These are the best years of your life personally and physically, and don’t let your ambition waste them away. Work very hard for a designated amount of time each day—and then when that time is up, walk away and live your life. There will always be a million things that need to be done. They can wait.

Tell us about your practice, its history and the neighborhood and surrounding community.
My practice is in an older professional building in the main part of Huntington Beach, with a mall across the street and a senior living center to the other side of us. We are right off one of the main roads, so fairly accessible, but don’t have any outdoor signage. The practice itself is well established and has been passed down twice from previous owners, while retaining most of the patients each time. Most of the team is the same as before I purchased the practice—and some have been here for more than 20 years, which was great for the transition.

Something that has helped shape some of your success is the idea of “copying genius.” What are a few examples of this?
I try to do this as much as possible. It’s in our nature to try to figure everything out for ourselves, but if you break everything down into its components, someone has already done that component masterfully and you can likely figure out what they do.

For marketing, I look at the most successful practices’ websites to copy. I find the best high-end practices for the look and feel of their websites, and I include the content of a DSO’s website for SEO power.

For ads or Instagram, I find successful examples and put my own twist on them. I want to be a cosmetic dentist, so I watch all of Dr. Michael Apa’s videos to learn his philosophies and how he talks to patients. Every week I find myself thinking of something to figure out, be it creating a system for the front office or determining a budget for the practice.

Great resources for this are study clubs that are linked through email, or online groups and forums where you can all ask questions periodically and get answers from other dentists across the country. I’m a fan of Dentaltown, of course, as well as Crown Council’s Young Dentist Program.

3SHAPE TRIOS INTRAORAL SCANNER. We use it for all night guards, clear aligners, and crown and bridge work. It’s a great investment; patients love not needing impressions. It’s quick and accurate and the crowns always fit.

BIOLASE EPIC DIODE SOFTTISSUE LASER. We use this for whitening, gingivectomy, TMJ pain and laser bacterial reduction. It’s very easy to use and the photobiomodulation function allows us more flexibility than our previous laser.

SWELL ONLINE REVIEW MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE. This software plugs into most existing practice management systems and has helped us generate a lot of great reviews.

SURESMILE CLEAR ALIGNERS. They accept our scans and we’ve had success with them. We’ve only had ill-fitting trays once, and they quickly sent us new ones.

WAVEONE ENDODONTIC PRODUCTS (DENTSPLY SIRONA). We love our WaveOne and warm vertical obturation system. They make our root canals quick and seamless.
You’ve earned a reputation for having an especially comprehensive and patient-centric approach. What are some practical tips on providing better chairside care?
Summon as much empathy as possible— do morning mantras if you have to, but you need to truly care about the patient. Your main focus cannot be money or doing great work; your main focus needs to be the patient. Reminding yourself of the importance of that throughout the day can help. Also, for the tougher patients, realize how much less pleasant you are when you go to the DMV. People hate the dentist and are in a bad mood just being here. So give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and more times than not, they’ll deserve it.

There’s a holistic approach to your practice that isn’t necessarily common within the profession. What are some of these holistic elements and how did you implement them?
They’re often just small tweaks to our usual techniques that slightly benefit the patient’s overall health. I’m not that holistic of a person, but my mom and friends are and I know how important that is to them. I also believe if I can make small adjustments to make my procedures slightly healthier, then I should.

One of these approaches is crown preparation, where we keep our margins supragingival whenever aesthetically possible and bond our crowns so we don’t have to remove tooth structure to get retention.

Another thing is putting glycerin over our composite before we cure it. This deoxygenates the surface layer so the surface isn’t oxidized and it limits the release of polymers from the curing process. We also use a Biolase laser after surgery to help the area heal with photobiomodulation.

Where do you stand on today’s insurance models and the rise of DSOs?
When you have a patient-centered practice—where you take your time with each patient, have the best staff and use the best materials and labs— the reimbursements most insurance companies offer simply don’t make it possible to be in-network.

However, not everyone can afford the cost of dental care on their own. Many patients rely on insurance plans to cover some if not all of the treatment fees, and those patients need to be treated at extremely efficient clinics that can make a profit from the low reimbursement rates offered by insurance companies.

Issues arise when over-diagnosis and overtreatment occur, but that isn’t an issue specific to only the DSO model itself. I know there are quality DSOs out there that are honest.

Walk us through your management style—how you work with your team, etc.
Management is my biggest weakness by far. I thought because I’m naturally able to inspire and motivate people, I’d also be a naturally good leader. As it turns out, this isn’t the case.

I’m very easygoing by nature and often let things slide, but that seems to lead to the staff letting things slide as well. I know that if I were more draconian and more of a micromanager, things would be done better, but I’m hoping to be able to not change my hands-off style while managing effectively.

One great piece of advice I got about management is to have monthly one-on- one meetings with each staff member, in which you pick a few things you want them to work on and check in each time to see their progress. This has helped a lot, but I’ve found it only works with employees who want to improve and do their best.

One of Dr. Jason Cellars’ favorite cases
Office Visit: Dr. Jason Cellars

Office Visit: Dr. Jason Cellars

What kind of cases excite you the most?
My favorites are the ones where the patients never showed their teeth before treatment but can’t stop smiling and showing their teeth when they talk after treatment.

When patients ask me whether they should get veneers, I always tell them it depends only on what they think of their teeth. We have plenty of patients who have beautiful teeth but are unhappy and insecure with a few aspects of their smile. On the flip side, some patients don’t mind having crooked or stained teeth, and are still always beaming and secure about their smiles.

I want my patients to have confident smiles. Being able to give them that confidence is when I’m most proud as a practitioner. The patient in the case at left, for example, was very insecure about the stains on her teeth and had, unknowingly, taught herself to not show her teeth when smiling or speaking. When I was taking photos, I had to ask her to scrunch up her nose so she would raise her upper lip.

We did orthodontics to allow for no-prep veneers and restored her smile with 10 upper porcelain veneers. At her postoperative appointment, she couldn’t stop smiling and showing her teeth, and said that she had realized she needed to learn how to smile again because she hadn’t done so in quite a long time. When I can change people’s lives in this way, it makes me extremely proud and happy to do what I do.

What tips do you have for Townies who want to lean into more aesthetic and cosmetic work?
I went through the Dawson Academy and also read Global Diagnosis: A New Vision of Dental Diagnosis and Treatment Planning by Dr. J. Williams Robbins and Dr. Jeffrey S. Rouse and Biomimetic Restorative Dentistry by Dr. Pascal Magne and Dr. Urs Belser, which helped me get a much stronger understanding than I did just from dental school. These books and courses are by no means required, but getting some form of continuing education is crucial.

For the first few years, I also walked through all of my cosmetic cases with two mentors. This invaluable experience allows you to learn nuances you won’t necessarily get from any course.

Finding a mentor is much easier than you might think, but you do need to ask! In my experience, established dentists are always happy to help if they have time. I reached out by letter to some cosmetic dentists in my area, met them for lunch and developed a good enough relationship where I could go to them with my cases to pick their brains.

I would also recommend talking with your dental lab and asking for their feedback. They’ve seen more cases than anyone and know what works and what doesn’t.

What’s a trend in the profession you love? What’s one you dislike?
I love the trend toward natural-looking cosmetic results. People are starting to ask less for the whitest veneers possible and are more interested in natural-looking teeth, which is also what I think looks best.

I also love the trend toward in-office milling. I think we’ll be able to be even more conservative with our preparations if we don’t have to worry about making temporary crowns, and we’ll be able to get even more bond strength with immediate dentin bonding.

I dislike the trend of larger group practices and DSOs. While some places can do it right, I think a lot is lost in terms of patient experience and patient care as the practice grows to multiple doctors. There’s a level of care and attention that can’t be met in larger corporations, and while there’s value in those larger practices, there will always be a spot for solo and small group offices.

Your nonprofit work is doing some great things. How did that get started and how is it going now?
I know how big of a difference a new smile can make, but the people who need the work the most usually can’t afford it. So I volunteer my time, office and team to do free cosmetic work for patients from women’s shelters and free orthodontic work on kids in need.

My nonprofit raises money to pay the lab fees involved with the cases. Last year, we hosted a pickleball tournament that raised enough money to cover four smile makeovers; this year, we’ve scheduled both a wine-tasting fundraiser and a summer pickleball tournament. Starting the nonprofit and organizing the fundraisers has involved an extraordinary amount of work, but it’s been more than worth it in the end.

Give us a snapshot of your life outside of practice.
I like staying active and spending time with my friends and family. During the week, I go to the gym every morning before work and read or go to the driving range after work. I also like to play music and will play guitar or piano after work a lot of the time.

On my weekends and days off work, I like to get together with friends and play golf or pickleball, go to the beach, or just go to a restaurant and relax.

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