Like many dentists, Viorela Bauer, DDS, had a family member who inspired her to follow in her footsteps. For Dr. Bauer, that was her mother.
“My mom was a dentist, so I was exposed to dentistry and medicine very early on,” she said. “I always knew I was going to go into a medical field; I just never knew whether it would be medicine or dentistry. I liked what my mom did. It was back in Romania. I would visit her clinic, and I really liked it.”
When asked what made her mother decide to be a dentist, Dr. Bauer said she honestly doesn’t know, but explained that in Romania, dentistry was a woman’s profession at the time. “It was 100% women,” she said. “That’s not something guys did. The guys would become engineers or doctors or whatever. The women were dentists.”
Dr. Bauer’s mother began practicing dentistry in about 1976 and did so until the family moved to the United States in 1989. “When she came here, she could no longer practice because she didn’t have an American license,” Dr. Bauer recalled.
Following a dream
When Dr. Bauer’s parents moved from Romania, they settled in California. Dr. Bauer and her sister arrived three years later. “They came in ’89, and applied for political asylum,” she said. “My sister and I came in ’92. I didn’t speak any English. I took my SAT, and my math was really strong because eastern European countries have very strong math. USC was the only university that allowed me to enter based on my science, not on my English, and they put me in the ESL [English as a Second Language] program.”
Dr. Bauer completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Southern California in two years. “I tested out of a few of the math, physics and chemistry classes, because I guess that in Romania you do all these higher sciences in high school,” she explained. “Then I went to the USC School of Dentistry for four years. I graduated at the age of 24 in 1999.”
Dr. Bauer’s entire family supported her dream to practice dentistry, and her mother was a great mentor, who she says made it easier to excel in dental school. She was awarded the “Golden Hands Award” of her graduating class.
After graduating, Dr. Bauer worked as an associate in two different group practices, one of which she describes as “very, very busy.”
“In my belief, they didn’t care about patient care, or quality dentistry,” she said. “It was just really fast-paced, very overwhelming, and a very stressful environment. I thought, if this is what dentistry is about, I’m going to quit. I can’t do it, I’m done and I don’t care. I’ll just forfeit my loans. Then I worked in another group practice that was a little bit better, but still, being an associate wasn’t my plan. It’s not how I wanted to practice dentistry.”
At 26, she went out on her own and purchased a practice in Arroyo Grande.
A beautiful – but small – first dental home
Dr. Bauer’s first practice was an existing general dental practice in a beautiful location. Arroyo Grande is south of San Luis Obispo, surrounded by farmland, flower fields, vineyards and lakes. The quaint old town, which offers unique shopping, antiquing and restaurants, is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the mountains.
“That was a long time ago, more than 20 years,” she remembered. “It was a very small practice with only three operatories. I had one assistant, one person in the front, and my hygienist. It was just the four of us. But I was able to practice the type of high-quality dentistry I wanted to practice with fewer patients.
I believe in a more patient- and health-oriented type of dentistry. I was spending more time with each patient, taking my time to do the dentistry.” She continued her education with intensive training in advanced dental porcelain restorations, periodontal surgery and grafting, dental implants, prosthetics,
sleep apnea and Botox for dental therapeutics and TMD treatment.
Dr. Bauer and all the patients loved that space. It sat on a creek, with big windows overlooking it.
“I had a hard time moving, but we were getting overwhelmed by the small space,” she said. “We grew to a point where, from four of us, we became 10. I had so many assistants; it was just too small. And I had all this technology, but we really had no room for Dentsply Sirona CEREC Primescan, CBCT and then the milling machine. It was so tiny with only 700 square feet. That’s why we decided to move.”
In November 2021, the Bauer Dental Center moved into a 3,500-square-foot office in a brand-new three-story building.
“I’m the only dentist in the building, and it’s next to the hospital,” Dr. Bauer said. “There are all types of medical suites in this building, including a cancer center that occupies the entire third level. The second level is just me; I take a third of that. And then the first level, 6,000 or 7,000 square feet, is a medical group.”
Although the practice hasn’t had time to get their signage up, doctors from the hospital and medical group have begun making appointments. It’s only a matter of time before people coming to the area for other types of treatment will discover what Bauer Dental Center offers. The 10 team members have all the room they need and recently welcomed a dental assistant intern from a local college.
Although the practice is growing slowly now, Dr. Bauer knows that eventually she’ll need help. “I have a very strong team,” she said. “I have a hygienist of course, and one RDAEF, which is extended function, and another one training to become an EF, and an ortho assistant. I’ve been talking to a consultant because I’m getting to the point where I need an associate. I can’t be in so many places at once. So, hiring an associate is on the horizon.”
Meanwhile, they just finished the bathrooms, but they’re still finishing up the ceilings and the check-in and checkout area.
“At this point in my life and my career, now I’m really practicing the dentistry I want to for the first time,” Dr. Bauer said. “Now I can really invest in technology. We have the space and we have the facility. We have a milling machine, a 3D printer, a CBCT. We have intraoral cameras. It’s all digital. All our impressions are digital, and all our models are 3D printed.”
Happy to go to work
Dr. Bauer says her office design could be called European. “I’m European and I’ve always liked a very clean, modern look,” she said.
Each operatory has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking rolling hills and fields, which bring in a lot of natural light. Dr. Bauer described everything as open, clean and modern but also relaxing.
Dr. Bauer and her team are thrilled to work in this space every day. “You never realize it until you have it, how important it is to work in an environment that is so conducive to how we like to work,” she said. “This is dentistry, but we try to make it more like a spa, and it’s so calming.
We have a green wall – a whole wall that’s just covered by plants – and nice music, plus headphones for patients in all our treatment areas. We offer blankets, coffee, tea, water, sparkling water, espresso – whatever patients want while they’re waiting. We’ve created an environment that we’re so happy to go to every day. That is so important for me and my team, to be happy to go to work. I think that this space has allowed us to have that.”
The practice has six operatories. “One is our clear aligners room, where we see our ortho patients. Two of the operatories are where we do our restorative work, implants, root canals, veneers, etc. We have two rooms for hygiene. And the sixth room is for new patients,” Dr. Bauer explained.
Why a special room for new patients? It is Dr. Bauer’s Digital Smile Design consultation center. “That’s where we do all our presentations, all the mockups, the before and afters and go over treatment plans,” Dr. Bauer said. Her practice is a Digital Smile Design (DSD) clinic, one of only about 100 in the world.
Moving forward with strong support
Dr. Bauer has been working with Patterson Dental for 18 years. The fact that it took three years to build the new Bauer Dental Center meant she was involved with them on a whole different level, and she appreciated the great support she received throughout the process, including the COVID shutdown and designing and opening the new center.
“Our rep, Joel Buzard, is very kind and very attentive,” Dr. Bauer said. “The support is fantastic. Building an office with Patterson was pretty easy, too.”
Patterson also provided new technology support. “This was all new to us, especially the Kappler-designed chairs,” she recalled. “If we can’t figure something out, or if anything isn’t right, especially since we just moved in, Patterson sends a technician to us the same day. So that has been very, very helpful.”
“We made it,” she exclaimed. “We stuck to it, we didn’t give up, and we just moved forward.”
– – –
This article was originally published in the summer 2022 issue of Advantage by Patterson Dental.