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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 26, 2016 6 years ago

Fillings to fillers

Dr. David Schirmer left a high-end clientele back in New York when the dentist moved south. He has rebuilt his practice by embracing an entrepreneurial staple: Keep an open mind on new revenue streams.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

Dr. David Schirmer, a dentist in the economically downtrodden central New York state region, checked out the Gulf Coast after many of his friends retired or moved their businesses to the Sarasota area.

His research showed a place growing in population and popularity, and he soon joined the crowd: He relocated his dental practice from Corning, N.Y., to an office on a busy stretch of U.S. 41 near Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

The move has paid off for the dentist, who opened Schirmer Dentistry in August 2015. The practice is about 20% over its income projections so far, and it's tracking about 25 new patients per month. (Schirmer declined to provide specific revenue figures.)

“We continue to be busier and busier with each passing month, which we're happy about because we wanted to have a patient population based on the area's year-round population,” Schirmer says.

Schirmer brought a technology-driven strategy to Sarasota, an approach he developed in 30 years of treating scientists and engineers who worked for Corning Inc., a Fortune 500 company specializing in glass and ceramics. “My patient population in Corning was typically very highly educated people, and my approach to dentistry probably evolved toward technology and quality measurement because of them,” he says.

Sarasota, he has discovered, has a more diverse dental patient population. While the area is home to transplants he calls “the Michael Jordans of their respected professions,” Schirmer's patient mix also includes typical retirees and service industry workers. That includes patients with bigger dental health problems.

He's got plenty of tools at his disposal to solve them. His high-tech scanning system for jaw disorders, for example, uses 2-D and 3-D imagery to measure a patient's bite cycle and determine if there are issues. It provides a more-detailed picture than other commonly used approaches, such as articulating tape or paper.

Schirmer also has a relationship with a ceramic technician from San Diego, who makes frequent trips to his office. Using computer-aided design, the pair can create a new smile for patients in a single day. Schirmer scans and analyzes the teeth, and the tech prepares the needed crowns or veneers.

Treating obstructive sleep apnea has become a big portion of Schirmer's practice, with referrals coming from primary care and sleep physicians. He treats it using an oral appliance as an alternative to masks that provide continuous positive airway pressure. He also works with patients suffering from salivary gland dysfunction following radiation or chemotherapy.

“There are some very, very good practitioners in this area,” he says. “And there are practices that have parts of what I have. But there are no practices that have the complete picture.”

The picture includes not only general, restorative and cosmetic dentistry but also facial aesthetics. Services like Botox and microdermabrasion have proved to be natural add-ons for many patients. It helps that the office has a spa-like vibe, with a sleek, contemporary decor and calming color palette that features shades such as soft grays. A monitor over each dental chair shows relaxing beach scenes for patients. Schirmer worked with local designer Patrick Waite to give the office a sense of place, incorporating influences ranging from the
local waterways to the Sarasota School of Architecture.

In total, the broad menu of services has aided Schirmer in diversifying his income stream, attracting patients and setting his practice apart from competitors. “When we're improving a patient's smile and we hand them a mirror when we're done, they'll often say, 'Can you also do a little something about the crow's feet around my eyes or the wrinkles in my forehead?'” Schirmer says. “That starts another conversation. We don't market facial aesthetics or have it as a big part of our practice. It's just an adjunct to cosmetic dentistry.”

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