By KRISTEN WRIGHT, Assistant Editor
For a dentist, owning top-of-the-line equipment may be likened to a chef's owning gourmet cookware. The right tools can make masters of their owners, but mediocre customer service limits revenue more than fallen soufflés or off-color veneers.
Dr. David S. Eshom, a cosmetic dentist in La Jolla, Calif., learned about strong customer service from his father.
"My father owned a meat company and restaurants. It's actually a pretty good story," Dr. Eshom says. "My dad opened a restaurant when I was in high school, and I really enjoyed it and enjoyed the interaction."
In fact, Dr. Eshom studied hotel and restaurant management in college, earning a Bachelor of Science from the University of Denver in 1978.
"I graduated and actually worked at the Space Needle for a year, when my dad opened up a third restaurant. I did that for a couple of years," Dr. Eshom says. "I.loved the people part of the business, but the hours sent me to the dental business. My father reminded me that when I was in high school, I was interested in dentistry."
Dr. Eshom began observing his family dental office. There he noticed some comforting similarities.
"I found it to be very much like a restaurant because if you treat the customers well, they come back and they send their friends," he says.
It didn't take long to convince him that better hours, better vacations, and planning his own schedule would bring him more happiness.
Dr. Eshom returned to school to complete dental school science requirements, this time at California State University, Fullerton. In 1985, he graduated from the University of Pacific School of Dentistry.
"My wife, Karen, worked in my practice the first 13 years," he says. "She was instrumental in developing the practice."
They have two children: a daughter, Tierra, 7, and a 6-year-old son, Duncan.
"My family's No. 1, the practice is No. 2, and golf is No. 3," Dr. Eshom says.
He and another dentist rent a 2,000-square-foot office. Dr. Eshom works from four operatories, specializing in conservative cosmetic restorations with few full crowns. Some 85 percent of restorations performed are tooth-colored bonded inlays and onlays.
His upcoming plans include moving to a 1,500-square-foot office in January 2005. This time, he'll have the office to himself. His staff includes dental hygienist Sarah Meier, who joined the team in April with experience in a periodontal specialty office; Virginia Goode and Karen Ward, who work in the front office; dental assistant Cynthia Parra; and bookkeeper and administrator Karen Eshom.
Dr. Eshom says the best way to impress patients is through customer service.
"We're very proud of our customer service, but we're also proud of the lasers in my office because they have really changed the way patients are treated," Dr. Eshom says.
He owns three: the DIAGNOdent laser detects cavities; a Lasersmile is for periodontal treatment and decontamination during routine prophylaxis; and the Waterlase (Biolase Technology Inc.) is for fillings and gum and bone sculpting.
"The Waterlase is the most amazing laser," Dr. Eshom says. "All the time, we get feedback on our lasers. People are amazed at having fillings done without anesthesia and without getting a fat lip."
Nevertheless, Dr. Eshom says patients are more impressed with his staff's warm, friendly faces and exemplary customer service coupled with high technololgy.
"I like impressing people with the way we treat them," he says. "What makes our office special is the amount of time and personal attention patients get. We blend that with our technology. It's not just about technology in an office. It's a lot of things. It's how well you're educated as a doctor and how well you've kept up in continuing education. It's being a leader in a dental office, having an inspiring, motivated team, and acquiring proper technology to communicate and treat patients in an exemplary manner.
"I feel lucky to be fulfilled and successful with what I do. Balancing both things along with your family life is something I'm always concentrating on. Putting all those pieces together in a way that works is really important. Technology was the last piece necessary to accomplish my goal of providing the highest quality dentistry, service, and experience to my patients. I wouldn't want a doctor to go buy technology and think that would make his office successful. There's nothing worse than buying something and then not using it."
Dr. Eshom says, above all, make educated decisions. Research products and decide whether they are congruent with your clientele and overall practice philosophy.
"We see mainly adults, with a few patients under 13 who were in our practice five years ago when we limited our practice to adults only. Our typical patient is an adult who wants dental health or cosmetic procedures or both," he says.
The private dental practice accepts no HMOs, PPOs, and is not a member of Delta Dental. Marketing consists of word-of-mouth plus one ad in a community luxury magazine.
"We have to be so good, and so appealing, and so different that they seek us out. That patient has to want to be here, see the value of high-quality dentistry, and be willing to pay more for it. We're very patient-directed. Patients make their decisions based on the high-tech education they receive in our office. Before they leave, we answer any questions and hope they've been to a dental office like no other, and they realize our technology is superior and at their disposal."
Dr. Eshom says he wouldn't change anything about his life, especially time spent in the restaurant business.
"I've enjoyed even what would be considered the bad times," he says. "My biggest talent is appreciating and enjoying what I have — a great wife, a great family, a great practice, and not a great golf game."
Dental Health and Beauty
8861 Villa La Jolla Drive,
La Jolla, CA 92037
• Magnification glasses
• Digital oral photos
• Cosmetic imaging
• Lighted mouth mirror
• Plasma arc curing
• Intraoral camera
• DIAGNOdent laser
• Lasersmile laser
• Waterlase laser
• Digital radiography