MONTROSE - “There’s nothing like changing someone’s smile – it lights up their soul,” says Colorado Smiles’ Daniel Clader, DDS.
This is a man who truly loves dentistry, but he probably loves his patients even more. For him, it’s all about relationship. In his office, the clinical part of dentistry comes second, though it’s equally important.
“I take a low volume approach to dentistry,” Dr. Clader says, noting that if he does too many procedures on a patient at once, “the quality of the relationship goes down.”
First-time patients to Colorado Smiles meet first in Dr. Clader’s office, where “I talk to them for about ten minutes in my office before doing a comprehensive exam,” he explains. After taking X-rays, the doctor and the patient decide together what are the most immediate issues, such as teeth cleaning, fillings, or dental implants, and then come up with long term strategies for the patient’s overall oral health, whether that includes preventive care (resin restorations, laser periodontal therapy) or cosmetic dentistry (whitening, veneers, replacement crowns).
“I spend way more time up front with patients,” says Clader, who has been practicing in the same converted house on South Third Street since 1984. “We were like old fashioned farmers. We built the barn first,” he recalls.
A 1982 graduate of the University of Texas Health Science Center Dental Branch, Clader and his wife Karla, a physician’s assistant, moved to Montrose in the fall of 1983. After seven months working for another dentist, the Clader realized, “If we’re going to make it, we have to be out on our own.” So the took a leap of faith, bought a house and obtained a $50,000 working capital loan to remodel the building. His dental practice started out with just two rooms and no hygienist.
“I didn’t want it to be like any other dental office,” he says of today’s expanded, several-room office that still maintains the same homey feeling of the original structure. Back then, he says, “I knew I was going to be here more than home… I wanted something not so clinical, somewhat organic.
“It probably took a good ten years before we said, ‘gosh, we might make it.’”
During those years, Karla played a significant role alongside her husband, acting as bookkeeper, dental assistant, and front desk receptionist. “Those were the best of times, it just didn’t seem so at the time,” she says. “It’s really hard to be a dental spouse. We can work together, though, and it doesn’t faze us.”
With his dental practice well-established, and “the intense worry” of making a living and supporting his wife and two daughters behind him, Clader then came to a crossroads. “Something inside me know it could be better,” he says. “I decided I needed to either back up or do something else.”
A series of events led Clader to Seattle, where he found a mentor in Dr. John C. Kois, director and founder of the Kois Center, which teaches the latest advances in esthetics, implant and restorative dentistry. After attending Kois Center programs, Clader became a Clinical Instructor there, and now travels to Kois Center about four times a year to mentor other dentists on topics such as occlusion, gum disease, dental esthetics and rehabilitation, dental implants, and crown and bridge dentistry. But what Clader also gained from Dr. Kois was a different approach to dentistry that led him to become more of an advocate and less of a businessperson in his approach to dentistry.
“When you’re ready, the teacher will arrive in your life,” says Clader. But “what nobody can teach you is how to interface with humans and their amazing capacity…. Learning to really love people and do what’s best for them.”
Of her husband’s shift in his approach to his practice, Karla says, “Dan had to learn to be Dan, learn to let the practice have his thumbprint. That took hold about six years ago.”
That is when Clader changed his office’s name from The Center for Dental Excellence to Colorado Smiles. “It was a better fit for us,” says Clader. “I love it here. I’m dedicated to Western Colorado.
“To me,” he says, “the concept of smiles is happiness. I think of Colorado as happy people.” Besides, “people want to come back to a business where everyone’s smiling.”
To that end, Clader has a support staff of six employees who help him maintain the goals of his dental practice, and team building is high on their list of priorities. Colorado Smiles also uses the latest social media tools to its advantage, whether posting updates about Clader’s participation in the annual Kois Symposium, photographs from the Montrose Health Fair, snapshots of the Claders’ new puppy or one of their many outdoor adventures. They also post patient reviews on their Facebook page.
“You have to ride that [social media] wave, because that’s what’s happening right now,” says Karla. “Marketing has become a very important part of our business.”
“And thank goodness, in our economic climate, we’re busy,” says Clader.
Busy enough that Clader has contemplated bringing in another dentist.
“I would love to mentor a young dentist. The right person is key. It could be tomorrow, could be five years. There’s somebody out there that’s going to want the same kind of thing that I’ve been doing here. I see a many-year transition.”
Of his life in Montrose, Clader says, “I’ve had a 60 second commute for 28 years. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t see a patient that hasn’t been a patient here for 28 years… .This is where we’re supposed to be.”
Colorado Smiles is located at 601 South 3rd Street in Montrose. Visit their website at Coloradosmiles.com or call 970/249-6955.