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Movin’ on up

July 1, 2006
Faced with whether to retire or redo existing office space, Dr. Michael Lewis opts to relocate in same building and finds ideal setting for his new dental approach.
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Faced with whether to retire or redo existing office space, Dr. Michael Lewis opts to relocate in same building and finds ideal setting for his new dental approach.

Click here to enlarge image

So, when can a move down actually be a move up?

Three years ago, Dr. Michael R. Lewis relocated his practice from the 11th to the eighth floor of a 14-story building in downtown Rochester, N.Y.

While the move, physically, took his practice to a lower location in the building, the new site - coupled with a recommitment he made to his profession at the time - has ended up producing big dividends.

Now the 60-year-old career dentist and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Dental School has what he considers an ideal setup for his dental approach, which he coins “anterior smile dentistry,” at a location that has been part of his life for more than a half century.

“I first came here as a patient when I was just seven years old,” Dr. Lewis said about The Temple Building where his office is located. “So, I guess I have been around this building for some 53 years.”

But the landscape has changed dramatically since Dr. Lewis began practicing at the structure following dental school graduation in 1973. Once a mecca for dentists, now more than 30 years later, he is the lone remaining practitioner in the facility.

“At one time, there were 56 dentists in this building,” he said. “Now there is just me. I guess you could say I am the ‘last guy on the barstool’ in the building. There is one office across the way. When the big malls were built, everyone decided to move to the suburbs.”

After starting as an associate, Dr. Lewis quickly moved up the ranks - purchasing several practices along the way, while establishing his own. Continued growth led to a remodeling of his 11th floor practice in the mid-1980s.

“We had an absolutely great facility to come to every day,” he said about his previous location, which featured seven treatment chairs in a 2,400-square-foot layout.

But the winds of change arrived when The Temple Building owners decided to convert the structure to a commercial/residential facility. That change, along with the question of whether or not he wanted to continue with the hectic pace - and expense - associated with a general practice, caused a period of reflection for Dr. Lewis.

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“I needed to decide whether I wanted to retire or redo space for the mode of dentistry that I was in,” said Dr. Lewis, a Board of Directors member for the American Academy of Dental Practice Administration since 2000. He is scheduled to serve as AADPA President in 2008.

“I had been used to rolling around on skates for all those years,” he added, referring to the routine of an ever-increasing workload as his number of patients increased. “And with bigger numbers comes bigger overhead.”

But the thought of retirement triggered a lingering question for Dr. Lewis, who enjoys hunting, fishing, hiking, and cross country skiing on a 200-acre farm outside Rochester. He lives there with his wife, Dr. Peggy Smith-Lewis, a competitive horse carriage driver enthusiast.

“I asked myself, ‘Retire to what?’ So, I decided to recommit to dentistry. I wanted to create a different type of space for a different type of dentistry,” he said.

Three years ago, Dr. Lewis and his team made the move to the eighth floor. The current office is designed with an open, loft look, wood floors, red brick interior walls, and several windows that offer views of downtown Rochester. On a clear day, it’s possible to view nearby Lake Ontario.

Encompassing 1,600 square feet with two treatment and two hygiene rooms, the current site is actually smaller than the previous location on the 11th floor.

A one-bedroom apartment, complete with a full kitchen and furnished with antiques, is available for out-of-town patients who require lodging.
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But a smaller office meshes well with Dr. Lewis’ switch from a general practice approach to one that specializes in comprehensive restorative dentistry.

An oversized but comfortable chair from Dr. Lewis’ previous practice location graces an operatory in his current office.
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While the Rochester dentist’s patient numbers have decreased since he sees fewer people a day, he has more of an opportunity to build relationships with his patients, who range from children to adults. For Dr. Lewis, relationship-building is vital to the profession.

“As dentists, (opportunities for) relationships are ‘gifts’ given to us. But they are something that we have to choose to accept,” he said. “We have an opportunity to build relationships with people for 10 to 15 years or longer.”

Once Dr. Lewis modified the direction of his practice offerings, it didn’t take him long to realize that he had made the right decision.

“After one year, I knew this approach really was for me,” said Dr. Lewis, whose volunteer dentistry trips have taken him to destinations such as Nepal, India, and China.

“I think those (dentists) who retire don’t like the people part of it. In our situation, we see various groups of people. We are free to move in whatever ways work best.”

Coincidentally, Dr. Lewis’ change in philosophy has accompanied a recent shift in demographics in Rochester.

“We are experiencing a ‘mini-Renaissance’ here,” he said. “We have a lot of baby boomers moving back into the area. People who wanted me to move earlier (when other dentists exited downtown) have now changed their minds.”

While his current office fits his mode of treatment, the layout isn’t what you might find in some of today’s posh, design-rich dental facilities.

“The space is not designed for dentistry,” said Dr. Lewis, a mentor for the L.D. Pankey Institute. “We have oversized, comfortable rooms.”

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To help fit space and to maintain some of the atmosphere from the 11th floor office, Dr. Lewis brought in two operatory chairs from the old site.

“Our hygienists like them,” the dentist said of the oversized vintage 1970s chairs, which are also a favorite of many patients.

And, since the building is now zoned for residential as well as commercial use, Dr. Lewis decided to rent an apartment in The Temple Building two years ago. Located one floor beneath the current office, the 1,500-square-foot apartment features hardwood floors, loft space, a bedroom, full kitchen, and a bathroom.

The Lewis team includes (back row, from left) Pam Cooper, Mary Tehan, Christine Hart, and Marianne Grace. Seated are Dr. Michael Lewis and Dr. Peggy Smith-Lewis.
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Besides being the site for team meetings, special presentations, guest speakers, and office parties, the apartment - which is furnished with antiques and offers great views of the surrounding downtown area - serves as an added bonus for patients visiting from outside Rochester.

A window in the sterilization room provides a scenic view of downtown Rochester.
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“We have quite a few people who come in (for treatment) from out of town or who have family members who live here,” said Dr. Lewis, who earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Bucknell in 1968.

“Having the availability of an apartment is just another level of client care.”

While the emphasis is now more restorative in nature, the Rochester dentist - who does not accept insurance payments - has not dispensed with general dentistry.

“Some people just don’t want to go elsewhere to get something done,” said Dr. Lewis, who not only has a black belt in but teaches Aikido - a Japanese martial art.

“It can be frustrating at times when patients choose not to have something done if I don’t do it,” he added.

This sort of patient allegiance sums up the successful relationship-based style of Dr. Michael R. Lewis - a style that should keep him “movin’ on up.”

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