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October 2004
Straighten up, Charlotte, and Smile!
By Lindsay LeCorchick

     No one would think twice about a business that remained current with technology and industry practices, or changed locations with evolving demographics. But one Charlotte group of orthodontists has really sunk their teeth into it! So to speak.

     The high tech offices of Hull, Burrow and Case (three locations serving Charlotte) welcome patients to a new wave of orthodontics. Gone are the small offices and teary-eyed kids lining up to get their braces tightened, replaced by light, airy rooms complete with artsy mobiles hanging from the ceiling, chairs in plain view of each other for mouths of all ages, and absolutely no one crying – a setting that immediately dispels the common stereotype of dentists and orthodontists alike. The atmosphere is happy and caring.

     “The new technology – super elastic wires, invisible braces, digital radiographs and greatly improved materials – makes treatment gentle and efficient,” says Jack Burrow, a tall and friendly countenance. Hull, Burrow and Case are all board certified and attend continuing education courses yearly to stay on the cutting edge of this rapidly advancing profession.

     Their brand-new looking offices and the open, calming atmosphere of the orthodontists have come a long way since the practice was started in the 1950s by James Hull’s father. Although the name on their door has remained the same for 20 years, they have just recently taken on a new prospect, Grant Coleman, a young orthodontist that Hull sees as “one of the best” out there. Coleman just graduated from the Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry, Department of Orthodontics in Richmond, Virginia, arguably one of the top orthodontic programs in the country

     The younger Hull explains that, in dentistry, an office must bear the name of the practicing doctors inside. So, in order to become a part of a practice, orthodontists (dentists who have completed an additional two to three-year orthodontics program) generally solicit established offices, and, if fortunate, are selected by the practicing doctors as a prospective partner, and begin the process of buying-in until they own an equal portion of the business. In the case of this office, that process lasts from three to six years.

 

Putting teeth into business

     Doctors these days have to be not only smart in practice but also smart in business, especially when they have their own practice. But that’s why Hull, Burrow, Case and now Coleman handle the responsibility of seeing the 50 to 85 patients that pass through the three offices everyday and manage the books with the help of 32 employees.

     The business side of the orthodontic practice is placed in the hands of office manager, Patty Stumpf. She has been the office administrator of the practice for 22 years and handles the day to day operations.

     “Communication and education for our patients is the key to success and the highest complement is when a patient refers a friend or family member. Our staff is highly trained and our goal is to make sure the patient is treated as an individual and given the best quality care,” Stumpf says.

     She delegates duties to the staff and only hires certified dental assistants and highly qualified business staff. All are required to attend continuing education courses yearly. Stumpf also feels it is important to call upon consultants as necessary to keep the practice on the cutting edge of professionalism.

     With one step inside any of their offices, it is clear patients are in the good hands of the caring and organized staff. This could be attributed to the balance that has been struck between being competent businessmen and passionate orthodontists. Indeed, it is these doctors’ passion to be able to care for their patients with the newest technology and techniques that drives their business.

     “We all realize it’s a business,” says Chip Case. “But we all love orthodontics. We know we have to stay up on the business end of it, but the primary goal is to treat the patient, and to get the patient to walk out of this office telling people, ‘That’s a special place.’” In fact, most of the practice’s referrals are from former patients or referring dentists.

     Running a business in three separate locations is a lot to have on your plate, but the partners saw a need to respond to the expansion of the Queen City and the growing necessity of convenience. By balancing business practices and schedules expertly, they can provide that convenience to their existing clients and, at the same time, attract new clients. Why go across town when someone just as good is down the street?

     “Multiple people at multiple practices really helps us provide that convenience,” Hull says. “It allows our clients and staff alike to adjust their schedules to their particular needs – especially those coming in from school.”

 

Not just for the awkward years

     While getting out of school for appointments is the best part of having braces for many kids, it’s not just the adolescent crowds that seek solace within the walls of these offices. More and more adults are now finding out what braces can do for them.

     Approximately one-third of the practice is now comprised of adults, Coleman estimates. And he says while it is recommended and now commonplace that every child goes in to see an orthodontist for at least a consultation around seven or eight years old, present-day adults never had that luxury when they were growing up.

     While many young adults in their twenties are busy with education, first jobs and getting their lives started, that is why, Burrow explains, “most adults come see us in their thirties. Adults can, however, have braces at any age from 19 to 80.” These orthodontists also work with periodontists and general dentists to enhance proper dental health.

     “We provide adults with a wide variety of treatment options,” Burrow says. “Some adults might just want their lower teeth aligned because of crowding that makes cleaning difficult. This treatment takes seven to eight months and is much less expensive than full braces.”

     He recognizes this as a newly emerging and increasingly popular trend. Hull speculates that many adults are becoming significantly more appearance-conscious, as well as being conscious of the magnitude a first impression carries. A smile can convey a special warmth, a sense of well-being, and a history of good health.

     “There is a psychology of people in the work force – they’re talking about how important a smile is.” He muses, “I think a lot of people are realizing that your first impression is so important, and part of your first impression is a nice, good-looking smile.”

     While orthodontic treatment can last for two years or more (but often less, depending on the specific problem and patient) an adult does not have to look like the “metal mouth” of yesteryear for the course of the procedure. Hull explains there are now clear appliances that adults often prefer.

     It is also easier for adults who have made the decision to get braces to begin the process more rapidly. New technology can map out gum and teeth contours, speeding up the initial fitting and helping reduce subsequent office visits. Hull says that once the initial consultation has been made, adults can be fitted in as little as two weeks.

     Of course, in the case of adults, a dazzling smile is not the only concern. Hull notes that bite problems contribute significantly to headaches, jaw pain and periodontal concerns.

     “We’re especially gentle with our adult patients; we don’t usually put all the braces on at one time,” Hull explains. “We are slower with adults because they take longer to adapt, and we make sure they are comfortable with every step of the process as it proceeds.”

 

Smiles for miles into the future

     Cost, confidence and comfort are three principal concerns of adult patients or parents of patients. However, Hull, Burrow, Case and Coleman have all found that compassion and reassurance goes a long way in assuaging trepidations and fears of the unknown procedures.

     They have all experienced nervous children facing braces. They all have children, most of who have or will have braces. These children are the foundation for the family atmosphere of the practice, because they continually demonstrate to the doctors openly and forthrightly, firsthand, what patients go through when they leave the office.

     The fact that they all share this inside knowledge, and have developed a calming and reassuring chairside manner that has come to be synonymous with this practice, will ensure these guys will be around for a long time. The practice will proudly celebrate 55 years of correcting smiles next year.

     Good business decisions keep their orthodontic practice on the leading edge. Their use of digital x-ray machines, for example, reduces radiation, making the procedure safer for patients and staff alike. And the offices are in transition to a “paperless office” whereby information from all three locations is being put into one large database so that any doctor at any location can immediately retrieve patients’ records.

     The future is also in the new face around the offices. Coleman has recently finished his orthodontic training in Virginia. Hull, Burrow and Case believe that young doctors, although not having the depth of experience, will bring in valuable forward thinking and knowledge, enhancing the already top-notch practice.

     There are a lot of people talking about Drs. Hull, Burrow, Case and Coleman. It’s pretty common to get a good referral straight from the horse’s mouth, or, er, their client’s mouths. Compassion and care, coupled with high standards and a determination to grow, will keep this practice a leader among cutting-edge orthodontics practices.

 

 

Lindsay LeCorchick is a charlotte-based freelance writer.
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