The Shooks (Dr. Monica and Dr. John) met while they were in dental school at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Florida. They graduated in 2019 and moved back to Dr. John’s hometown, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where they worked for a dental service organization but in different locations. Dr. John stayed on for two years, and Dr. Monica for three.
They dreamed of having their own practice, which Dr. John opened with secret help from Dr. Monica almost a year before she was able to join him. They recently had their third child, so they now have three under three. “It’s been a crazy few years for us, personally,” Dr. Monica said with a laugh.
She adds that while they had planned to start working in the practice together, it was better that she spend more time in the corporate world to continue honing clinical skills, learn more about the business of dentistry and keep her medical benefits. While watching their practice unfold and being as involved and personalizing it as much as possible, she finally just had “too much FOMO” (fear of missing out) to stay away any longer.
After joining the practice in July 2022, Dr. Monica began to slowly ramp up her own patient base. “With pregnancy and childcare, I wasn’t able to be there full-time, so I’m really excited to be here more,” she said. “There’s a lot to learn. I’m pretty good with bread-andbutter dentistry, but there’s a bit of a learning curve with implant placement, molar root canals, CEREC same-day crowns, the 3D printer and all the other technology we have here. I’m ready to dive in and learn more!”
Dr. Monica said that she was always very interested in healthcare, but not attracted to the lifestyle of becoming a physician. “Especially as a woman, knowing that I wanted to be a mom and have a balanced life with that,” she recalled. “When I was 18, I started dental assisting to see if I liked it. I always loved smiles and teeth and begged my mom for braces. I told her I’d smile more if my teeth were straighter, and she finally gave in. And it was true – suddenly I smiled with all my teeth showing in photos.”
“So, dentistry made a huge impact on my own self-esteem as a young child,” she continued. “I was always interested in brushing, flossing and whitening. I don’t know why. I also grew up going to a dental practice where the two dentists were married. They kept inviting me to work there and took me under their wing. They mentored me and I decided to go into dentistry.”
Dr. John grew up in a dental family. “My dad is a dentist, and my mom is a hygienist,” he explained. “I’m the youngest of three kids and the only one in the dental field, so I was their last hope. Growing up, I watched how my dad pursued his career. He had a lot of drive and passion for dentistry. When I found out how much schooling I needed, though, I decided not to be a dentist.”
Dr. John went the medical route in college, but he joined a pre-dental group on a medical service trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. “I saw how different the careers are, being a physician versus a dentist,” he said.
“All the dentists were doing stuff – taking teeth out, doing fillings – and the physicians were just listening and prescribing medications. I thought, ‘I like to do stuff with my hands, and I have a little artistic side, as well. I want that to be my life.’ I felt I would be happier in the dental world.”
Back in the States, he set his sights on dental school and discovered the challenges of getting into one, “which is getting harder and harder,” he said. “I applied to my first round and got denied by all of them.”
With only one dental school in Wisconsin, which takes half in-state and half out-of-state students, he looked at schools accepting out-of-state students and ended up in Florida, “which is not a bad place to spend a few years, especially in the winter. And then you get to find the love of your life, as well,” he added.
After graduating, the Shooks decided it made sense to live near Dr. John’s family and his father’s dental practice. “We knew we could learn a lot from him, and we could also teach him a lot,” Dr. John said.
Dr. Randy Shook has been a dentist for more than 30 years. He had already retired twice but came out of retirement a third time to help Dr. John and Dr. Monica. “Now he’s working a couple days a week and he’s loving it … I think,” Dr. John said. Dr. Randy also teaches dental students rotating through from Marquette University School of Dentistry in Milwaukee.
Dr. John’s mom, Sheila, was a dental hygienist for about 30 years before retiring for two reasons: the pandemic and to babysit her first grandchild. “I think the same thing hit her when she saw us opening the practice, though,” Dr. Monica said. “She had some FOMO!” Sheila helped at Shook Family Dentistry for about 9 months until they could afford to hire hygienists. Now, she’s retired again and looks after the Shooks’ children.
PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER
Dr. John described thinking “Let’s open up a dental office!” as pretty complex. “A lot of pieces have to come together at the right time.” He worked with a startup consulting group, Ideal Practices, which steered him in the right direction and put him in contact with the right people. A medical-specific real estate agent helped find a building. The COVID-19 pandemic complicated getting the financial side squared away, but he finally got a lease. Then, he and Dr. Monica started designing the space and filling it with everything needed to run a dental office.
“We want to be here for a long time, so we didn’t want equipment that we’d have to replace quickly,” Dr. John explained. They met with different equipment reps, but when they sat down with Ben Wizner and Scott Mans from Patterson Dental, they felt an instant connection. “They were really on top of everything,” Dr. John said. “There are so many little things that need to be thought of, and no matter what I threw at them, they came up with a good plan.”
“They have a wealth of knowledge,” Dr. Monica added. “They know what works and became mentors to us as well. Our communication was great from day one. They had our backs and wanted the best for us. It was a no-brainer.”
“You could definitely tell they want to be working with us 10 years from now,” Dr. John said. “Working with Patterson was one of the last things we chose to do, actually, but one of the best things we chose.”
Wizner has since introduced them to other helpful vendors. “It’s nice to see those faces and have a relationship,” Dr. Monica said. “You’re not just ordering things online or talking to someone through email without really knowing each other.”
DESIGNING FROM THE DIRT FLOOR UP
“All we had inside was a dirt floor and wooden walls,” Dr. Monica recalled. “It was a perfect scenario because we didn’t have to do any demo or break up concrete for the complex plumbing a dental office needs. We were lucky because the space next door was empty with no wall between. After realizing we needed more room, we pushed right into that other rental space. The landlord was awesome about that.”
The Shooks had devised a floor plan with Ideal Practices that they finetuned with the Patterson team, their local contractor and a local architect. “It was a challenge with the number of operatories we wanted,” Dr. John said. “It was a little tight and we had to be very efficient with our space.”
The Shooks created an inviting waiting room located in the corner of the building. “It feels like a living room,” Dr. Monica said. “It doesn’t feel like you are in a dungeon waiting for the torture. We also wanted a consultation room to sit down with patients as if we’re both human beings and we’re not talking down to them in a dental chair. We use that for greeting new patients and getting to know them before they come back for their exam, as well as for major treatment plan presentations. That was really important to us and something that’s normally not worked into a dental office floor plan.”
They wanted at least five operatories, ideally six, but they started out conservatively with three. Within a short time, though, they added two more and their personal office space has plumbing so they can convert it into an operatory in the future.
They made sure there was a window in every operatory because “we truly believe in vitamin D and natural lighting,” Dr. Monica said. “We’re strong believers in good mental health for the workplace and for the patient. We live in Wisconsin and it’s dreary. If you go to work, you may not see the sun all day. So having a window in every room was important.”
The Shooks also focused on the ability to expand if needed. “Our floor plan is open enough that if we needed to expand into another space, we could go out on either end,” Dr. Monica added.
TECHNOLOGY BRINGS FUN AND PRIDE
When they began building their new practice, neither of the Shooks had any experience placing implants or using technologies such as intraoral scanning, milling machines, or 3D printing, but they wanted the equipment.
Dr. John had been “lurking” for a while on the CEREC Facebook group page and knew at some point they would offer same-day dentistry. Fortunately, when they opened, Dentsply Sirona offered a great promotion at DS World. They decided it was “now or never!”
“We were going to wait, just from a cost perspective,” Dr. Monica said, “but when that deal came out, the more we valued it, the more sense it made to start out with it.”
They needed the CBCT when they opened because Dr. Randy was placing implants and Dr. John knew he would be soon, too. Drs. John and Monica took a hands-on implant surgical course within months of opening.
Dr. John purchased a “cheap” 3D printer and as he learned how to use it, he realized no one else would be able to because of its complicated workflow. So, he ordered a SprintRay Pro95 S and their assistants learned how to use it quickly. “That made our life so much easier,” Dr. John said.
“He also didn’t have to troubleshoot and hack every single print,” Dr. Monica added.
CEREC is the technology Dr. Monica thinks has benefited the practice the most. “John’s been able to maximize its potential, which a lot of doctors I know don’t do. He is saving on our lab costs by designing and milling all our crowns here. He’s also done some beautiful esthetic anterior cases. Those are not necessarily same day, but to be the person designing it, to scan and then bio copy them, try them in and then tweak them after talking with the patient has been very powerful.”
Dr. John also has provided several molar root canals and same-day crowns. He explained that where they live is underserved when it comes to specialists. “Patients have to wait six weeks for an endodontic appointment and sometimes it’s even longer to get that root canal done, which people in pain don’t like,” he said.
“He has made this three- to five-month appointment process a one-day appointment,” Dr. Monica added. “By the time the root canal’s done, the crown’s done, and he places it. It’s amazing.”
“The technology gives you so much more confidence to take on challenging cases because you have control over it,” Dr. John explained. “The patient can tell, too, when you know ‘we can do this.’ And I feel like patients are more likely to sign up for treatment.”
Dr. John described intraoral scanners as the gateway into the technology world because dentists need images before they can do anything. The Shooks scan every new patient not only because it gives them good information, but also because patients like it. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen my teeth like that. This is really cool,’” said Dr. John. “I think it is very powerful to show them how much we value our technology.”
“Patients are so visual,” Dr. Monica said. “They’re intelligent and understand the concepts of tooth wear and decay. You just need to express or demonstrate it in a way that makes sense to them. We utilize every technology to its full potential.”
“And it’s really fun,” Dr. John added. “They kind of nerd out about it and get excited. It makes you want to go to work.”
“It makes you enjoy your job, too,” Dr. Monica said. “Why wouldn’t you want to have pride and excitement in everything you do? Why not?”
DESIGNING FOR PATIENT COMFORT
Patients comment a lot about the esthetics of the office. “We put a lot of thought into our design, the environment and the vibe,” Dr. Monica explained. “We value that you don’t feel like you’re coming to the dentist. Our waiting room is a cozy, midcentury modern farmhouse style. We have a black-painted brick fireplace, exposed beams in the vaulted ceiling and real chairs from West Elm. I love them. I want them in my house!”
“The consult room branches off the entryway and makes people feel like we’re having a meeting,” she continued. “They’re sitting on a couch and we’re just going to chat. There are wood carvings Dr. Randy and Dr. John made, and an article his mom framed on the wall, homey stuff like that.” Dr. John said the consult room is less intimidating and also more private than a treatment room.
The overall color scheme is black and white with wood tones, coupled with a lot of glass and open space, which provides extra light. A unique feature of the clinical space is the black ceiling tiles.
Dr. Monica explained that they chose black tiles because the color is easier on the eyes. “We have ceiling-mounted TVs, which look nicer on the black background. All the hand lights have dimmers, so there’s no huge fluorescent light bulb in people’s faces,” she said. “Patients wear shades, but when you’re trying to watch TV with a fluorescent bulb right next to it, that’s just not fun.” The Shooks got the idea for the dimmers at dental school. They find that they better illuminate the working area by not scattering light peripherally.
The operatory walls are frosted glass up to about 7 feet, with clear glass above that. The technology room and the CBCT are both walled in with glass. Even the walls in the hallway are glass, which was a bit of an engineering feat because the contractor had to run all the tubing and plumbing through the frames around the glass.
According to Dr. John, it was great not to have to manipulate an existing office into their vision. They put themselves in the patients’ shoes to figure out “What does it smell, look and feel like? We wanted it to feel like someone’s home. That’s the first impression,” he said. “Everything beyond that is just icing on the cake. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and that’s a super important time.”
STANDING OUT IN A CROWD
Eau Claire has a population of just under 70,000 and Dr. Monica said there are a lot of dentists. “But no one in the area was doing a brand-new practice,” she noted. “Other offices were expanding and buying or trying new things. But to open a new building, buy all new equipment, have no patients and do it as extremely as we did, no one’s done that.”
Dr. John added, “We weren’t competing with other startups. If someone was looking for a new dentist, we were here.” Another advantage to being new, according to Dr. Monica, is that they had more appointment availability than established practices. “That worked in our favor, as well,” she said. “We could see new patients the next day.”
Shook Family Dentistry also offers several benefits that most other practices don’t, including an annual dental membership plan for preventive care, no enrollment fees for local businesses and referral bonuses. In addition, they donate a portion of their proceeds to a local mental health clinic, which the organization can put toward patients in need who can’t afford therapy. Ideal Practices gave them that idea, which they call “the give.”
“We think it’s important to give back to your community and to pick something you’re passionate about; otherwise, you won’t do it,” Dr. John said.
Dr. Monica added, “Your new patient exam is helping someone in need. Share the joy in it.”
The Shooks also offer virtual consultations. “We get some requests, but I actually get more comments about it than requests,” Dr. John said. “I think people feel very welcomed by that; they feel more comfortable calling and making an appointment. It helps breaks down the barriers to see you in a video first.”
WORKING WITH PATTERSON DENTAL
The Patterson Dental team maintained an on-site presence throughout the project to ensure everything ran smoothly. They, as well as A-dec and Dentsply Sirona reps, also conducted new office training during the initial weeks after opening.
“Patterson is a really big company and I like the way they do it with a local rep, because he is very present in the office and has the ability to make things right,” Dr. John said. “If something comes in broken, or if it breaks in a week, I don’t have to fight through a bunch of paperwork, call different people and try to convince them that I need this fixed. I say, ‘Hey, Ben, this thing isn’t working’ and he’ll say, ‘Okay, let’s get it fixed.’ And within a week, we’ve got a new one. You have all the benefits of working with a big company, and everything’s in stock when you need it. But the relationship part of it is very strong, and feels like I’m just working with Ben. That’s a huge asset to a dental practice.”
“You’re right,” Dr. Monica added. “They are the best of both worlds. It feels very local, mom-and-pop, yet also has all the benefits, reach and access of a larger company. It’s really special.”
“Being able to bounce ideas off Ben is a benefit, too; he’s seen what other offices do and he knows what’s going to work,” Dr. John said. “It’s a regional thing as well. What works in Austin may not work here. Having a rep with immediate local knowledge is really powerful.”
The Shooks also appreciate the learning opportunities Patterson Dental offers its customers, such as the Customer First event, DS World, the CDOCS CE program, plus courses for the entire dental team. “It’s the benefit to getting all this fun fancy technology,” Dr. John said. “They want you to be able to use it so they help you.”
LIVING THE VISION
When asked why they wanted to do a startup, the Shooks said, “Well, we wanted to frontload our life. Do it all, as best as possible. We put a lot of time, effort and money into this because it’s the way we envisioned it, and we want that to translate into the best patient experience for the long term. We’re just starting out in our careers; we’re young enough that we don’t see loss. We only see potential at this point. So, it’s just risk-reward and go hard or go home!”