By Duane DaPron, Associate Editor
Acquaintances since youth, Randall and Karla Rothfus have endured life’s ordeals on the way to establishing the dental practice of their dreams.
For Drs. Randall and Karla Rothfus, there’s not much in life that the two haven’t accomplished without being together.
After all, the two first met at the tender age of five while growing up in Carlisle, Iowa.
“I guess you could say we were ‘preschool sweethearts,’” Dr. Randall Rothfus said affectionately.
Their initial meeting as youngsters was followed by an intermittent dating period as teenagers, then attending college together, marriage in 1991, attending dental school at the same time, and then eventually working professionally in the same managed care dental clinic.
Today, the couple - now the proud parents of four children - are owners of a “sweetheart” of a practice in Ashland, Oregon, which is about a five-hour drive south of Portland.
Glass encloses two sides of Mountainside Dental Design's consultation room, providing privacy as well as a feeling of openness. The room features a 36-inch LCD screen on an interior wall.
Mountainside Dental Design, a sprawling 4,000-square foot, six-operatory facility nestled at the foot of the Syskiyou Mountains, is the ultimate creation of the Rothfuses, who have worked side-by-side as owners of a practice in Ashland since 1998.
“We wanted to build a state-of-the-art, cutting-edge building that would truly express the kind of dentistry we were doing,” Dr. Randall Rothfus said. “I truly believe that, after six long years, we have the practice that I have always wanted. We can offer the finest of dentistry in a relaxed and comfortable environment.”
Mountainside Dental, which features a 10-member dental team, opened its doors in March 2004. According to Dr. Karla Rothfus, the practice boasts two main features - its technology and a spa-like atmosphere.
“Our practice is very relaxing when people first walk in,” she said. “We have an eight-foot tall by four-foot wide glass waterfall just inside the entrance. We want our patients to know that the practice is different right from the time they enter the facility.”
Spa-type amenities include warm, lemon-scented towels, paraffin wax baths, and an assortment of lip balms. Mountainside Dental also has its own label of bottled water to offer patients.
Among the array of technology in the office are DEXIS digital X-rays, an intraoral camera, and a CEREC 3D.
“I personally cannot imagine practicing dentistry without these three items,” Dr. Randall Rothfus said.
Other technology-related and esthetic touches include a DiagnoDent laser, tissue laser, Zoom whitening, KaVo electric handpieces, and LED as well as pac lights.
The exterior reception room provides a counter for check-in as well as comfortable surroundings for patients plus a great view of the office's scenic location. A large glass waterfall is evident in the background.
Mountainside Dental’s unique, one-level design, which includes a “tower” look at the entrance and several operatories that provide a scenic view of the surrounding mountains, is a far cry from the facility the couple worked at during their first five years as practice owners.
A recessed niche at one end of the reception room, designed specifically for children, includes toys and a DVD player.
“Previously, we were located in an old, leased downtown building in Ashland,” Dr. Karla Rothfus said.
Since the Rothfuses did not own the building, they were limited in what they could do to the property, particularly with the building’s exterior features.
“No matter what we did on the inside, the outside of our building turned some people away before they made it through the door,” Dr. Randall Rothfus said.
“We had some instances in which people just did not show up (for appointments),” added Dr. Karla Rothfus.
Such is not the case at the current facility, which is located on the outskirts of Ashland.
“Our location is right off Interstate 5 so our patients have easy access to the practice,” Dr. Karla Rothfus said. “The building is away from the downtown area, and we have plenty of parking available.”
Despite battling some image problems in the previous location, the Rothfuses did not let that affect the quality and range of care provided in their practice. When it was time to make the move to the current facility, a solid regular client base, as well as an increasing number of patients via referrals, combined to reap big dividends for Mountainside Dental Design.
“We have seen an increase in cosmetic cases and full-mouth reconstructions that we are doing. Now, people are coming to us,” Dr. Karla Rothfus said.
Added Dr. Randall Rothfus: “We worked 30 days less in 2004 than in 2003, and made about the same income. Actually, our per daily production has increased.”
This production increase has helped the Rothfuses enjoy a flexible approach to work. The couple now employs a rotating, “three-day on, four-day off” schedule so that one of the two is able to remain at home. With children ranging in age from one to 10, that’s a nice bonus.
“That schedule is hard to complain about,” Dr. Karla Rothfus said.
But a flexible work schedule and a state-of-the-art facility for their successful practice has not come by accident for the Rothfuses. Their journey through life has been filled with its share of trials and tribulations.
After attending Iowa State University in Ames, then graduating from Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, the couple married before enrolling at the University of Iowa’s dental school in the fall of 1991.
At the end of their junior year, the two learned that they were to become parents. In fact, Karla - who dreamed of becoming a dentist since childhood - would become the dental school’s first student to have a baby, yet still graduate with her class.
“The day before she gave birth, Karla extracted 18 teeth and inserted full upper and lower dentures,” Dr. Randall Rothfus proudly proclaimed.
Upon graduating in 1995, the Rothfuses decided to relocate to Arizona. Randall took an associate’s position while Karla went to work at a large managed care clinic.
“I was helping to start a satellite office in which I was basically a glorified hygienist,” Dr. Randall Rothfus said. “Needless to say, after a year, I went to work for the same clinic as Karla. It was better because, after being together for so long, we felt like something was missing when we weren’t together.”
The fast pace of managed care took its toll, though, on the couple.
Exterior views of the practice's unique one-level design showcase the facility's zinc aluminum roof.
“After a while we began to go crazy,” Dr. Randall Rothfus said. “We started talking to furniture in the doctors’ lounge because we were convinced the place was ‘bugged.’”
One of many windows that provide staff and patients tremendous views of the practice's scenic location (right), nestled at the foot of the Syskiyou Mountains on the outskirts of Ashland, Oregon.
With burnout for both seemingly on the horizon, the two called on a practice sales group to help locate and then purchase two practices being run by dentists from the same office in Ashland. So, with three children in tow, the Rothfuses moved to southern Oregon in 1998.
The couple quickly found out, however, that merely owning a practice wasn’t going to solve all their problems in dentistry. According to Dr. Randall Rothfus, the couple realized they had purchased a “quilt” practice in which the largest percentage of patients wanted just one kind of dental work done - patchwork.
“I was seeing more people on emergencies than I saw at the managed care clinic,” he added. “The prior dentists took every plan imaginable, including some plans that no other dentists in town took. We worked on some people because no one else would.”
Two situations added to the couple’s problems at this time. They dealt with a legal battle over charts with an associate. They also endured the stress of having to face the State Board of Dentistry, and refute erroneous charges filed by a practice employee.
Realizing they needed some guidance, the Rothfuses sought advice. One consultant recommended dropping the managed-care portion of the practice, which they did. Later on, another consultant taught the couple more about communication and patient relationships.
In addition, a trip to Hawaii to attend an ADA meeting enlightened the Rothfuses about the need to eliminate amalgam. While there, the couple also attended a seminar on embezzlement. What they learned at the seminar produced immediate dividends. Upon returning to the mainland, the couple caught an employee stealing money. They later learned the loss amounted to $5,000 in a four-month period.
“We thought there was no way we were being embezzled,” Dr. Randall Rothfus said. “People think that it can’t happen to them. But we found out that one in four dentists are currently being embezzled from.”
Dr. Karla Rothfus added, “You always want to look at the numbers. Be sure to go back over your paperwork each night to make sure that everything is legitimate.”
With the experiences they had lived through and the dental knowledge they had gained by now - some three years after owning their downtown Ashland practice - the Rothfuses made a life-defining decision.
Custom-made wooden desks and cabinets highlight the office of Drs. Randall and Karla Rothfus at their 4,000-square foot facility, which opened in March 2004.
“We decided that what we truly wanted to do, and what we thought was best for our patients, was to begin changing their lives,” Dr. Randall Rothfus said, referring to the couple’s decision to begin obtaining clinical skills, such as placing veneers or performing full-mouth reconstructions.
So, at this juncture, the couple began to introduce new technology at their practice. A year later, they attended their first course at the Las Vegas Institute.
A continuous counter connects Mountainside Dental Design's external, greeting area with an interior reception room, which is used for patient check-out purposes.
“At LVI, we were blown away by what was possible in dentistry. We found the guidance, support, and education that we had been searching for,” Dr. Randall Rothfus said. “We came back, and started implementing our vision.”
The room is decorated with a three-sided, beveled-glass mirror for use by patients before they depart the practice.
Future trips to LVI have not only served to cement the couple’s goals, but also that of the practice’s staff. In recent years, staff members have journeyed to Las Vegas with the Rothfuses.
“I think the dentist is only as good as his or her team,” Dr. Randall Rothfus said. “We are so proud of our team, and they are happy we finally have a clear vision of where we want to go.”
“We get a lot of input from our staff,” Dr. Karla Rothfus said. “The better you treat your staff members, the harder they will work for you. We have low staff turnover so patients are used to seeing the same staff members.”
With clear goals in place, the couple - who were now in their fifth year as practice owners - tackled the image problem presented by their downtown building.
The Rothfuses teamed up with two other dentists to buy four acres on the edge of Ashland, thus providing the site on which Mountainside Dental Design now rests.
After purchasing the land, the dentists had it developed into a 10-lot plaza, placing “extra” lots for sale. The transaction, and subsequent development and sale of lots, taught the couple a valuable lesson about the business world.
“If I had to do it again, I would graduate with a business degree,” Dr. Randall Rothfus said. “I had no clue about business. None. You need a business background.”
Through their trials and tribulations, Dr. Randall Rothfus shares the couple’s definition of success.
“The key to success is making a clear vision of where you want to go. Then all you have to do is make choices that get you closer to your goal,” he said.
Yes, life has been an arduous journey up the mountain for “preschool sweethearts” Randall and Karla Rothfus.
“People say we should write a book about our experiences,” Dr. Karla Rothfus said.
If the couple ever decides to enter the publishing ranks, the book - just like their current practice - will most certainly be something the two accomplish together, and will very likely be a “sweetheart” of a story.