This Old House ROCKS

An interview with Dr. James Allen in Rexburg, Idaho.

By Scott Davis, Photos by Sara Zollinger

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Nestled into the Southeast border of Idaho and in the shadows of nearby Yellowstone National Park, you will find a nearly 100-year-old landmark—”The Old Rock House” as the locals have called it for decades. Aptly named for its old rock exterior, it’s easily identifiable on the second busiest street of Rexburg, Idaho. It stands out for its classic architecture and its juxtaposition with modern surrounding buildings of a fast growing, small town.

Setting Up Practice Location
that Everybody Knows
Along with being a town conversation piece that survived a major dam flood 40 years prior, it has functioned as home and business for longer than most can remember and is now the proud dental practice of Dr. James Allen and Rockhouse Dentistry. Not a bad idea to create a practice where everyone knows where it is already, right? But more importantly, the building appropriately reflects the personality, philosophy, and culture of Dr. Allen and his team.

Return to Family Values of Idaho Town
Dr. James Allen grew up in Idaho Falls, not far from Rexburg in distance and values. Family, hard work, faith, kindness, and the outdoors are all cultural staples of the area. “A great area to raise a family and with its consistent growth, makes it a great place to grow a business,” Dr. Allen reflects. “Rexburg is the type of town where your neighbors are waving to you, and people you don’t know will still say hello.” So it is not surprising that after deciding to become a dentist through the University of the Pacific, he would return to skiing, biking, outdoor living, and the family values of this Idaho town.

His motivation to enter the dental profession and the core of his philosophy is, “I just want to take care of people.” It would seem odd to call that core value as old-fashioned, but as Dr. Allen puts it, “We took an oath to take care of people and put their interests first.”

Changing People’s
Perception of Dentistry
According to Dr. Allen, dentistry used to be one of the most respected professions, and people could trust their dentist without question. He wants to see that faith in dentistry return. He worries that insurance is driving treatment too much and that large corporate dentistry may be diminishing that respect and trust. Correct in his perceptions or not, Dr. Allen and his team have decided to control what is in their power of influence and make sure that “people feel like they are truly being taken care of.”

Some of the Best Practice
Growth Strategies
From taking the additional time needed to address patient needs and proactively calling folks to make sure they are feeling comfortable, to fielding late night and early morning phone calls from those with painful conditions. Dr. Allen believes these are not only the right things to do, but some of the best marketing/practice growth strategies you can strive for. “I will write my cell number on our cards for patients to call me anytime,” he says. Rockhouse Dentistry thrives on changing people’s perception of dentistry.

Nothing Old in the
Old Rock House
As old and true as this philosophy is to winning patients’ hearts, there is nothing old within the walls of the Old Rock House. You will find them utilizing modern technology including CBCT, intra-oral scanner, in-office milling machine, digital radiography and lasers. Xbox video game consoles and flat screens in each treatment room are great kid pleasers. Dr. Allen initially worried all this technology would give patients the perception that everything there was expensive. But overwhelmingly, people have found that the technology adds to the experience and demonstrates that he values quality. Even the fans are strategically utilized so “the practice doesn’t smell like a dental office,” he says. There is every attention to detail.

3D cone-beam technology has particularly revolutionized his practice, says Dr. Allen. “Knowing what I know and see now, I will not place an implant or take out a wisdom tooth without seeing it three dimensionally. I wouldn’t put an implant in without knowing where the sinus is, or how close the nerve really is, or how thick exactly the jawbone is.” Dr. Allen adds that you can’t get that confidence from a 2D image, and 3D technology has come a long way in helping his patients understand that this is safe for them.

Can all this technology pay for itself? Well, even Dr. Allen isn’t sure. But he does know that the practice is doing very well financially, and there are many other costs of business that worry him much more. This technology is part of doing the right thing for the patient. So he continually strives to mesh technology with old core values.

a Well-Known Landmark
Dr. Allen and his team are grateful for being able to balance a comfortable, home-like feeling of a practice with significant technology, but the retrofit of a century-old infrastructure into a modern dental facility was no easy task. From the onset, the community seemed not to be behind this project. “People knew this landmark well,” Dr. Allen says. People would often use it as a point of reference. “It is just over by the Old Rock House,” they would say. So it’s not surprising the Rexburg locals were sensitive to any renovations that might be done to a town constant, and there was immediate backlash upon the first hint of renovation.

With that type of pressure, Dr. Allen himself helped with the conceptual designs and floor plan. Although it had “an awesome outer shell, it needed updating,” he says. Because the building had no insulation, prior tenants were paying up to $900 a month for heating during the winter. “We had to add about 3,000 square feet to the existing building to get it done,” says Dr. Allen. Rock from the south wall had to be transferred over to the west wall and old lead pipe plumbing had to be replaced altogether,” he explains.

Additions included basement storage rooms, space for additional treatment rooms, a modern upstairs break and meeting room and more. It was no small project but nothing good comes easy. So was it worth it? “Some kids take off their shoes because it looks and feels like a home,” Dr. Allen says. “Patients remark it doesn’t feel like a dentist office at all and how comfortable it is. How cool it is to come to a 100-year-old building and have modern dentistry done?” Yes, Dr. Allen believes it was worth it. The patient experience comes first. “Dentists probably worry about making money too much,” he states. “If we worry about taking care of people, enough money will come.”

Maintaining that
Old-School Approach
The parallels in Rockhouse Dentistry and the Old Rock House are easy to see. The old-school notion of taking care of people above all else is mirrored well in the old rock walls. The personal and modern touch is reflected in structure and practice. Core values, like large stone bricks, make for a solid infrastructure that everything else can be built upon for a successful and patient-pleasing dental landmark.

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