Southern Comfort

A Practice’s Unique Approach to Complete Care and Personal Relationships

By Mark Beagley
Photos by Jason Hudson

Nestled in the foothills of the Ozarks and the heart of Razorback country is a dental practice with traditional values and a slightly untraditional business model. General practitioners Robert Tinnin, D.D.S., George Martin, D.D.S., Robert Harris, D.D.S., and Duncan Johnson, D.M.D., are equal owners of Family Dental Center, located in beautiful and quaint Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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These four doctors have differentiated themselves by creating a complete-care dental practice, offering patients a “onestop visit” for nearly all of their general and specialized dental needs. Each of the four doctors maintains their own patient caseload and, on the occasions in which a specialty need arises beyond their ability, the patient can be seen by a visiting specialist in the very same practice.

Family Dental Center has three regularly visiting specialists, including an oral surgeon, orthodontist, and periodontist— each with their own operatory or suite— allowing the patient to be treated in the environment in which they are comfortable.

Relationships and personal care are critical elements of the practice’s philosophy, and this model allows the four doctors and their 22 staff members to ensure their philosophy is maintained and carried throughout every point of the patient’s care.

I had the privilege of spending an afternoon interviewing the doctors of Family Dental Center, and if their naturally lit, open concept facility—adorned with beautiful color paintings and personally crafted statuettes—wasn’t enough to make you feel at right at home, their smooth Southern accents, welcoming handshakes, and warm senses of humor certainly did the trick.

Tell me a bit about how the four of you came to work together.
Dr. Tinnin: Well, I’ve been here the longest. [Previously] I had the Family Dental Center and I just had associates who worked for me. I was the sole owner and eventually I decided I wanted to try a new business model. I hired a consulting company to help me on the contractual side, and now there are four equal owners in the practice.
Dr. Martin: Dr. Harris and I were already working here as associates when we decided to join the partnership. The three of us worked together for six years before Dr. Johnson came along in 2011.
Dr. Johnson: I worked here for about a year and a half and I really felt it was a good fit…
Dr. Tinnin: And that’s important for [partners] to come in first as an associate to make sure everybody works well together before you get into a partnership.
Dr. Martin: You gotta date before you marry, right?

What kind of visiting specialists do your patients have access to at Family Dental Center?
Dr. Tinnin:
We have an orthodontist, periodontist, and oral surgeon. Some of us [the partners] do some endodontic work as well.

How do you decide what services are referred to your on-site specialists and which are performed by yourselves? In other words, is this a group decision between the four of you, or an individual approach?
Dr. Tinnin:
You can look at case selection and tell pretty quickly if it can be done, or if it requires a specialist.
Dr. Martin: And we have the freedom to refer to whomever, whether it be one of our specialists or an outside specialist.

fayetteville005What was the catalyst behind the decision to implement this kind of business model?
Dr. Tinnin:
We wanted to provide more care for our patients. Patients love ‘onestop shopping.’ They don’t like to leave— they will—but if they can stay here in the practice, they appreciate it much more.

Dr. Martin: Other specialty offices can be unfamiliar to patients and the communication and consults with our specialists can happen in person, in the same place.

Describe the administrative and management structure the four of you use in this model.
Dr. Tinnin: We use a business administration style which includes an Office Administrator who manages an Appointment Coordinator, Hygiene Coordinator, Insurance Coordinator and Financial Coordinator. Then we divide these areas of business between the four of us to manage and oversee. We meet monthly as owners and again with all staff.

Currently, Dr. Tinnin oversees financial matters, Dr. Martin oversees the hygiene side of the business, Dr. Harris oversees the personnel pieces, and Dr. Johnson oversees the administrative elements. Will you rotate these roles?
Dr. Tinnin:
Yes, the idea is to rotate these roles every six months.

So ideally after two years, each of you has had the opportunity to serve in each of the four stewardships, which makes for a well-rounded perspective for each of you.
Dr. Tinnin: Absolutely

Considering your individual patient case loads, are your patients familiar with the other three doctors?
Dr. Tinnin:
That’s a really great question. We try to keep our case loads with the same doctor, but when one of us is not available, another steps in to provide care for that patient.
Dr. Harris: For the most part, our patients know each of us. We talk in passing in the halls and lobby and try to get to know everyone.
Dr. Tinnin: We also rotate on-call. So I’ll take a week and each of [the other three] will take a week. So once a month I’m oncall and the other three weeks I can travel and take time off and not have to worry about on-call issues.

Do the specialists have their own staff, or does Family Dental Center provide staffing for them?
Dr. Tinnin: The oral surgeon brings his own staff, as they’re specially trained for those procedures, as does the periodontist. Basically, chairside staff are provided by the specialists.
Dr. Harris: And we do all of the business side of the specialty services—scheduling, billing, collecting, and insurance.

How often are your specialists on-site?
Dr. Martin: Our periodontist is here four days a month and the oral surgeon is here two to three times per month.
Dr. Tinnin: And the orthodontist is here every other Friday—twice a month.

How did you find your specialists?
Dr. Tinnin: I worked with our periodontist for years. He transitioned from his practice full-time to our practice part-time.
Dr. Johnson: We got to know the others through external referrals before bringing them in. They had been treating our patients for some time and their reputations were excellent.

GROUP SHOT DOCTORS CHOICE.fayetteville040Can you describe the practice’s philosophy?
Dr. Tinnin: The Family Dental Center is about complete dentistry—about relationships. It’s about doing complete and quality dental work on patients. When our patients see our hygienists, they’re given oral cancer exams, they’re checked for gum disease and decay, and we check their bite—all of which is the protocol set by the doctors.

How do you maintain that philosophy among yourselves, your staff, and your specialists?
Dr. Tinnin:
We have reoccurring staff meetings, hygiene meetings, and we provide our staff with CE courses. The doctors meet once a month to discuss and review philosophy to make sure our teams and specialists are on the same page. We have a standard and we all know the standard. We look for this and require it when we hire new staff.
Dr. Johnson: That, and they have to be Razorback fans.

This is a pretty unique model and you really have something special here. How do you market and promote this?
Dr. Tinnon: We do internal or in-house marketing with phone calls and welcome letters. We market through Yellow Pages but we use it less and less—that’s a dying thing. We have our website, and we hired a company to help us on web searches. We encourage our staff to carry cards and continually invite people to join the practice. When someone has a really good experience and they compliment us on that, we ask them if there’s someone else we can help, that they think of us.
Dr. Martin: Really, our number one form of marketing is word-of-mouth.
Dr. Harris: It’s really about patients referring patients. When they have a really good experience, they want to tell others about it. Those [referrals] become our best patients.

Tell me about your target market. What kind of patients do you market to?
Dr. Tinnin: Well, it’s just like the name ‘Family Dental Center.’ Really, we have all ages with exception to the very young [two- to three-year-olds].
Dr. Martin: We do see some [college] students, but they typically seek care from their own dentists back home on breaks. We see a lot faculty from the University, but we’re not at all dependent on the student population.

Tell me about some of the unforeseen benefits of this model.
Dr. Harris: It’s really created a great learning environment for us.
Dr. Martin: Among all of us, there probably isn’t anything we haven’t seen or dealt with.
Dr. Johnson: We talk to each other about cases daily. It’s not a once a week or once a month deal so we’re continually learning from each other.

How will you manage succession as one of you retires?
Dr. Tinnin: Transitioning—when a doctor decides he needs to move on or retire, we can bring a new doctor in as an associate. The contracts are set up to support this and the systems and philosophy are already in place. Associate relationships allow us to ensure the philosophy is there before working together long term.
Dr. Johnson: It’s pretty uniform. To Dr. Tinnin’s point, we all see and treat our patients the same way. We have our own practice within the practice, but all patients experience the same philosophy, and we’d expect the same from future associates.

So, ‘Family Dental Center,’ tell me about your own families.
Dr. Johnson: I’ve got two little ones—a one-year-old and a three-year old. I’ve got an enormous German Shepherd at home. I have a lovely wife, who’s also a dentist. She’s a general dentist and only works on children in another practice here in town.
Dr. Martin: I have two children and three grandchildren, and I practiced in the Southeast part of [Arkansas] before moving up here. I’ve been here 12 years now. I do a lot of gardening and little bit of hunting. My wife also works here as a dental hygienist. We’ve been married 34 years, and we’ve been working together ever since.
Dr. Tinnin chimes in: She’s a very sweet and a very talented hygienist.
Dr. Harris: I’ve been married for 22 years to my lovely wife, Holly. She has a family shoe business here in Fayetteville. I love mountain biking, swimming, and hiking. I’m originally from Paris, Arkansas. I came to school here at the University of Arkansas for my undergraduate and went to University of Oklahoma for dental school. I came directly back here and began as an associate for Dr. Tinnin. I knew I wanted to come back to Fayetteville after dental school because this is a great place to live. A family friend of ours let us know about an opportunity with Family Dental Center and I applied.
Dr. Tinnin: My wife is Patricia and we’ve been married since 1978. We have two children, Aaron and Ellen. He’s a teacher and Ellen just finished law school. I came out of University of Missouri -Kansas City and started here as an associate. Around 1987, I bought the practice. Originally, it was in a different location and operated completely differently from what it’s evolved into today.
Dr. Johnson: Also—we’re all fanatical Razorback fans.

How did you find Family Dental Center and why did you decide to join as a partner?
Dr. Martin: I had family here—some of Dr. Tinnin’s family knew my family. He was working with an associate group. I saw there was potential at Family Dental Center for partnership and I really liked what they were doing with visiting specialists—I could see the concept was working, and the idea of having a team approach like this was attractive.
Dr. Harris: My attraction to the practice was access to mentors and the continued learning from other dentists. I thought it was a great concept—what they were doing here—and I got to walk right into that from dental school. This is a great place to be.

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What do you do for fun?
Dr. Tinnin: I enjoy painting—watercolors. Much of the artwork in the practice was done by my son, so there’s art in me. I like photography, as well as kayaking and fishing. I love hiking. I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon in Utah, and Canyonlands.
Dr. Johnson: I’m an enormous Razorback fan and right now I’m just chasing two little ones around. I like to play golf and tennis. And I enjoy working out a lot.

What are your relationships like outside of the practice?
Dr. Tinnin: We have a Christmas staff dinner and a Staff Appreciation Day. We’ll also go out just the four of us with our wives and have a nice dinner. We do a lot of staff float trips—where we get together and float the river.

Tell me about your relationship with Burkhart and your account manager, Nootsie Giddings.
Dr. Tinnin: I love our relationship with Burkhart. They help us control our costs. Nootsie is exceptional at watching our costs. She’s very professional. It’s a great pleasure working with her. Burkhart graciously flew us up to Planmeca in Chicago for CE training on 3D products. They’ve taken us to St. Louis when we were preparing to buy new chairs. They’ve treated us very well.
Dr. Harris: Having [Nootsie] come into the office to help us is great. We see her once a week and she comes in and gets things done rather than us having to call or email her. She communicates with all our staff to ensure everyone gets what they need.
Dr. Martin: Jack Powers [Burkhart Equipment Specialist] has been really helpful, too. We run a lot of things by Jack. He helped with the installation of some of our equipment. He and Nootsie also helped us rearrange the hygiene wing and other areas in the practice.

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