Heart Centered Dentistry

By Anne Baer
Photo by Jeff Hobson



Patient-focused. A family of friends. Warm and inviting. Relationship-centered. It’s hard to know where to start describing Silverdale Dental Center, its crew and clinic. Situated at the end of Sinclair Inlet in Old Town Silverdale, Washington, Silverdale Dental has been in the same location for over 40 years, and until recently, in a converted home. Jeff Phillips is at the center of its beating heart, mentoring and leading the expansion, and nurturing a culture of patient-first philosophy.

At 70, Dr. Phillips radiates energy and enthusiasm, embodying the definition of a health care provider who emphasizes “care.” A lifelong runner, outdoorsman, and self-described project guy, Dr. Phillips is an ardent supporter of team dentistry. “I have never been in a truly solo setting. I’m used to having someone who could cover and give me the freedom of an independent life.” As Dr. Phillips tells it, Dr. Bruce Craswell, the founder of Silverdale Dental, was an entrepreneur ahead of his time. Originally started in 1968 by Drs. Herb Shinn and Bruce Craswell, the practice grew to include Jeff Phillips and Mike Morton in 1976. With only seven operatories (one dedicated to hygiene), out of necessity the four doctors were trend-setters in offering evening and Saturday appointments. Each doctor was an independent practitioner, rotating time in the office with a week off every two weeks. As Dr. Phillips points out, “With four of us seeing patients in such a tight space, we learned to be flexible. But there were great benefits. You always had someone to cover for you, ensuring your patients got emergency care regardless of your own schedule. It allowed for time away giving me a chance to be a healthy dentist.”

Providing a Greater Circle of Care
With retirements and other changes in the group, Dr. Phillips became the building owner in 1990 and subsequently purchased an empty lot behind the original practice. At first, the lot was just a garden of high density blackberries, but it factored heavily in Dr. Phillips’ dream of providing a greater circle of care in the future.

Fast forward to 2008 when, fresh out of dental school, Dr. Jason Niemeyer responded to an ad for an associate at Silverdale Dental. Dr. Phillips welcomed the energy and new perspective Dr. Niemeyer brought to the practice. The team was complete when Office Manager Monica Duchemin joined the staff. She brought exceptional management and people skills to the office, as well as her broad palette of talents. When Dr. Niemeyer transitioned from Associate to Partner, the doctors hired Dr. Marc Cooper of Mastery Company as their “Future-Guiding” dental consultant. Time had come to push ahead with plans to expand into Dr. Phillips’ backyard blackberry lot. The stage was set for change.

Final Push Takes Shape
It all started with a casual conversation not long after Dr. Niemeyer purchased half the practice in 2013: “Why not expand into the lot behind the office?” On an invitation from their long-time Burkhart Account Manager, Bill Melius, the doctors attended a seminar offered by Burkhart and co-hosted by A-dec and Bob Kramer, a dental CPA. At the seminar, the team was inspired to consider purchasing equipment in stages and employ the IRS’ Section 179 tax deduction. With low interest rates available, the final push toward building a new space took shape.

A Perfect Construction Team
The project concept was clearly aligned with Dr. Cooper’s strong feeling that the future of dentistry is group practice. Dr. Cooper continues to coach Drs. Niemeyer and Phillips about operating as a Dental Entrepreneurial Organization (DEO).

All of Dr. Phillips’ connections throughout the years helped build the perfect construction team before any ground was broken. The role of architect was filled with a long-time running club friend, Charlie Wenzlau, while another friend introduced them to Mike Brown of FPH Construction. Steve Stimson, Burkhart Equipment Specialist, referred them to Office Wraps, a Kirkland, Washington dental office interior design firm. One last team member, Maggie Boyle of The Dental Group (CPAs), was instrumental in keeping the project on budget and helping financially plan each step.

As office manager, Monica was at the helm of the project, allowing both Dr. Niemeyer and Dr. Phillips a truly exceptional experience throughout the process. “I felt it was their job to do the dentistry and my job was to keep the project moving along,” says Monica. “We continue that same model with me taking care of the staff and doctors so they can pour their energy into patient care.”

The Largest Infection Control Center A-dec Has Manufactured
Burkhart’s Bill Melius was instrumental in setting up their initial A-dec visits. Bill introduced Andy Hayes, A-dec Manager, who was extremely helpful. “Two trips to A-dec were very informative and the ability to try out different options really helped,” says Dr. Niemeyer. Bill also set up tours of offices nearby to get ideas and see what succeeded elsewhere. As Monica states, “The team we had made the difference. We just couldn’t have done this without a trusted team. I could call Steve, and if he didn’t know the answer, he would point me in the right direction.” Since he knew the office flow so thoroughly, Bill also helped shape the design and set-up, knowing how the staff organized each area. “The sterilization area boasts the largest ICC (Infection Control Center) A-dec has ever manufactured,” says Bill. “Knowing how Silverdale Dental’s team works went a long way toward guiding their choices for cabinetry, delivery systems, and chairs.”

Goal to Keep Warm, Family Feel
When envisioning a new space for his growing practice, Dr. Phillips’ main goal was to keep the warm, family feel of their old space. That proved to be a challenge for Monica. She recounts, “It wasn’t merely to fit as many ops as we could in the new building. We needed to marry Dr. Phillips’ vision of a warm, family feel with Dr. Niemeyer’s more high-tech style. It required a lot of compromise, but the final result delights our patients and staff.” After a few construction and financing hiccups, the crew moved to the new building in late February 2016. The practice includes 17 operatories, including five dedicated to hygiene and three open ops for pedo. Flexibility and consistency are built in to the design: endo carts can wheel in to any op; an endodontic operatory with microscope and surgical suite are available; and each operatory cabinetry is the same, providing efficient use of time when seeing patients, restocking supplies or training a new assistant. The space has none of the large, cold clinic feel, but offers a comfortable and comforting blend of warmth and top-flight design.

Long-Held Belief in Good Systems
A central idea maintained throughout the practice is a long-held belief in good systems. For patients to experience the highest level of care, Dr. Phillips long ago created standardized references for each area of the practice. Using three-ring binders with pictures and step-by-step descriptions of how to do tray set-ups, make a retainer, and check-in a patient provide consistent and thorough training for the staff. For their current team of 30 to work smoothly and assist with eight different providers ranging from general dentistry to endo, they provide detailed instructions. Monica explains, “Each doctor has a main or lead assistant. Their second assistant sometimes floats due to our rotating schedule of doctors. Just like our doctors have specialties or areas of interest, the dental assistants also want to do more in each area. Any assistant can step in; that’s where our manuals come in to play. It helps them learn specifics for each provider.” The secret to both attracting and retaining that high level of assistant is selective hiring up-front. “Then because we are a large practice and are open a wide range of hours, we try to be very accommodating with their schedules and family lives,” says Monica. “We take care to nurture our staff and have fun while working hard.”

Getting Patients in to See Specialists Without Leaving the Building
All the new space and trained staff are already well-utilized, welcoming an average of over 100 new patients per month. One of Dr. Phillips’ goals was to provide comprehensive general and specialty care to his patients. Dr. Niemeyer explains the philosophy. “We can offer them everything here within our walls. So often, in the past, when we would recommend our patient see someone down the street, they didn’t follow through. Now, we can get a patient in to see a specialist quickly, without having to leave our building. Our entire staff has been elevated through exposure to all specialties. We have higher quality assistants because they have to be flexible and learn many different styles and procedures.”

Today, Silverdale Dental’s providers include general dentists Dr. Jason Niemeyer, Dr. Jeff Phillips, Dr. Sherrill Conner, Dr. Corinne Reschenthaler, Dr. Grant Reschenthaler; pedodontist, Dr. Kaitlin Neste; periodontist, Dr. Tracy Scott; and endodontist, Dr. Tina Olsson.

The entire team adheres to a set of values set long ago by Dr. Phillips: Inform before you perform, no surprises. Create happy patients. Stay on time. Exceed our patient’s service expectations. People before things. Offer treatment options. “These are the team values that have served us well. It’s the way we treat our patients, ethically and honestly,” says Monica.

Practice Includes Pediatric Care
The practice’s “family orientation” is exemplified by the story of their pedodontist, Dr. Kaitlin Neste. Dr. Neste first came to the practice as a young patient then worked as a sterilization tech during college. After attending dental school, Dr. Neste elected to pursue pediatric dentistry. Although it was never a given, the team was thrilled when Dr. Neste joined the practice and now offers pediatric care. “(Silverdale Dental) is so patient-centered. We care about our patients as if they were family. Now, the fun is being on the other side and seeing all the things that go in to making that happen,” relates Dr. Neste.

In reflecting on the unique professional environment at Silverdale Dental, Dr. Niemeyer describes, “Once in a while, there’s a day when I’m by myself. It makes me realize how there’s more stress on me with no one around for collaboration. I will have a longer career in dentistry because I have lower stress and have a great group of doctors around me.”

Dr. Phillips sums it up as he looks around this dental home to so many patients and a welcoming space for the community. “This place is pretty unique and more of a ‘heart thing’. I love the legacy of this place, the slow ethical growth that got us here, and the terrific partners I share it with. I am truly blessed.”


  1. Greg Rehms says:

    This such a GREAT article, featuring a GREAT MAN and VISIONARY, Dr. Jeff Stewart! I remember hearing of the dream many years ago. Back then, it was the Burkhart team of Lee Hennings and I, that represented Burkhart for many years. Dr. Jeff quickly became one of our highly, valued customers, and it’s exciting to see this mentality continue! Thank you, Dr. Jeff, for the place of hospitality that you had placed in my heart and career so many years ago, and CONGRATULATIONS my friend!!!

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