Mohamed M. Ali, DDS, journeyed far to practice dentistry in Minneapolis. He grew up in Mogadishu, Somalia, and emigrated to the United States about 16 years ago, living for a short time in Texas before moving to Minneapolis. He started undergraduate courses in his early 20s at the University of Minnesota with the goal of becoming a physician and soon discovered “that’s a long path.” So, he started looking into the various healthcare fields and came across dentistry. “And I really liked it,” he said. “I decided to be a dentist.”
As part of his investigations into the profession, Dr. Ali met other Somali dental students. Taking into consideration their experiences and opinions combined with his own research, he decided dentistry would be the best fit. “I have a business mind, and I saw that I could treat patients and also have a business of my own,” he recalled. “So, my main goals became to have my own office, a flexible schedule and to help people.”
Getting into dentistry
After graduating from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in May 2018, Dr. Ali worked in a town in rural Minnesota. “It’s a beautiful town and community,” he said. “The small practice allowed me to perform a diverse list of procedures. For example, I did a lot of extractions and surgery for patients because there’s not a lot of dental care in rural Minnesota. That gave me an opportunity to build my skills. And while I was working there, I began planning for my startup. Whenever I had a little time on the weekend or Friday afternoon, I was doing research and building ideas.”
After about a year, Dr. Ali transferred to a practice in St. Paul where he worked as a part-time associate while he looked for a place to open his own office. He found a multi-use warehouse that had good visibility and was located adjacent to a Starbucks, which created a lot of traffic. He decided to build his clinic in that space, nestled among other popular businesses, including a specialty popcorn store.
Creating a comfortable dental office
Dr. Ali had been working with Patterson Dental Territory Representative Kevin Malecha while he was an associate, so their collaboration on the new practice made perfect sense. Malecha brought in Equipment Specialist Tony Groen, CAD/CAM Specialist Andy Mielzarek, and General Manager of the Minnesota Branch Jared Bye to begin selecting equipment, planning and designing the operatories, and working with the architect to design the front office and other features. Meanwhile, Dr. Ali hired a front desk person, an office manager, two hygienists and four dental assistants.
“It took about six months to build out the site, put the systems in place and open the clinic,” Dr. Ali says. Lakeshore Dental became a reality in April 2019.
Dr. Ali envisioned a clean, beautiful and warm practice. He and the architect designed the front lobby and treatment rooms. “I worked with her, introducing little details that I wanted to see,” he recalled. “We have a beautiful fireplace we can turn on in cold months. We have nice art on the walls. The doorways are arched in a rainbow-like shape. I also hired one of my friends to do some interior decorating, and it turned out beautiful.”
Malecha says that the reception area feels like a comfortable living room. “It’s very appealing – it doesn’t feel like you’re in a dental office,” he added. “The space isn’t particularly large, but with the fireplace and the décor, it’s got a nice feel to it. The furniture is soft, the art is nice. It lowers your blood pressure when you walk in.”
The treatment area includes two aisles flowing around a central block of nontreatment rooms. Two hygiene rooms and six working operatories line the aisles. Dr. Ali’s personal office is in the middle, along with the employee bathroom and sterilization center, a layout that he says offers some privacy to patients. “It’s like an island in the middle that prevents people from seeing the other treatment rooms. Patients don’t feel like it’s a dental clinic.”
With the practice built, Dr. Ali next had to build a patient base from scratch. “We have a great location in a great, very densely populated neighborhood, so it wasn’t very difficult to build a patient base,” Dr. Ali explained. “It still took us about six months to have a busy schedule and business cash flow. I think the location and our big sign helps us, but being next to Starbucks kind of jumpstarted the practice.”
While the startup began smoothly, big disruptions were on the horizon. “A little less than a year after we opened and the practice had just picked up, COVID happened,” Dr. Ali recalled. Then, two months later, George Floyd was killed – fewer than two miles from Dr. Ali’s office– which resulted in widespread protests and civil unrest that continued for 19 months.
“We had to close again for a few days,” Dr. Ali said. “The protesters even came to our little shopping area where my practice is located. We boarded up the front windows to avoid any smashing of the windows. Patients also were affected either directly by the incident or everything that followed. Streets were blocked in the whole area and there was a security issue. There was a lot of heat and tension around that incident.”
The dental technology differentiator
Dr. Ali’s practice philosophy centers around treating his patients with the best dental technology, especially CAD/CAM – specifically Dentsply Sirona CEREC Primescan and CEREC Primemill. “You can do a lot with those machines,” he said. “The software is very accurate. It makes really good restorations and is very efficient. It saves us a lot of time in the chair and when making adjustments. We’re known for doing single-visit crowns. Few other dentists in this area offer that.”
Patients express surprise when Dr. Ali tells them he can complete crowns and bridges in two hours. “Patients love it, and we like it. It makes our life easier, too,” he said.
Dr. Ali uses his CEREC CAD/CAM system to better manage the workflow for implant restorations. “We figured out an efficient workflow where we place the implant and use a stack abutment to scan the patient, and then make a temporary crown right away for them to wear while the implant heals,” he explained. “Or we can make a custom abutment or tissue former to shape the tissue and emergence profile. We use CEREC Primescan and CEREC Primemill to make all these things. It’s amazing technology.” His dental assistants have become experts at scanning, designing and milling crowns. Key also to his implant planning is his Dentsply Sirona CBCT.
Dr. Ali provides a range of other services as well as implants, including clear aligner therapy and pediatric dentistry. “I think it’s the kind of services that we provide that sets us apart,” Dr. Ali said.
Compassionate dental care
“My practice has grown from zero to paying the bills and having a cash flow,” Dr. Ali said. “The second year we did $600,000 to $700,000. The third year, I think we did close to a million. So, we’ve grown significantly in the three years we’ve been open.”
In addition to the technologies he uses and the services he offers, Dr. Ali believes that the friendly, kind, and compassionate care he and his team provide sets his practice apart from others. “Our team, office manager, and I all work hard to satisfy our patients and address their concerns,” he said. “We listen to what their needs are, the reason that they walked in our door. And to be honest, the technology is a huge game changer because it allows you to make a difference in patients’ lives. I’d say on a weekly basis, a patient comes in with a front tooth
that needs to be replaced and we remove it, place an implant, and give them a temporary right away using our in-house technology. We have a lot of testimonials and before-and-after pictures of happy patients on our Instagram page.”
Ali intends to keep up with the ever-changing technologies. Getting a 3D printer is on his wish list and he’s looking for the right time to add it to the practice. “Maybe sometime this summer,” he said.
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This article was originally published in the summer 2022 issue of Advantage by Patterson Dental.