Design Innovation Awards: Toothbar seeks to redefine the dental office visit
Editor’s note: This features the winner in the “new build” category in the inaugural Design Innovation Awards, which recognize excellence in dental facilities that seamlessly combine esthetic appeal, function and design. The ADA Council on Dental Practice, ADA Member Advantage and BMO Harris Bank organize the Dental Innovation Awards. For more information on the awards, visit ADA.org/DIA.
Austin, Texas — From the moment a patient walks through the door, they’ll immediately know Toothbar is not the typical dental office.
The lobby resembles a modern hotel lounge, complete with a technology bar, complimentary Wi-Fi and a refreshment bar. The floor-to-ceiling 15-foot windows offer a 360-degree view of different parts of the city. The operatories don’t have doors, just 12-foot-tall soundproof wall partitions with Sonos speakers installed in every wall for patient privacy.
The practice has an open floorplan concept. Before and after their appointments, patients are welcome to visit the Toothbar Lounge, which has three massage chairs and a lounge with a bar. When requested patients can also get a pillow and blankets, and patients can charge their phone at a charging station.
“We’re finding that many patients show up to their appointments an hour early just to hang out in the lobby,” said Dr. Lauren Jacobsen, who co-owns Toothbar with Dr. Kimberley Barclay. “When patients leave our office, their words are ‘Wow, I don’t even feel like I’m at the dentist.’”
For Drs. Jacobsen and Barclay, Toothbar is their dream practice; the result of several years of hard work. The two share a unique bond as they met as dental students at Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine. The duo originally planned on purchasing a practice after a few years of working in a large dental practice but that didn’t quite pan out.
“We decided we were just going to start our own practice from scratch,” Dr. Barclay said. “Some people were really shocked when we told them we would be starting anew. They would tell us that it would be incredibly difficult, but we knew we had a vision and that there was a need in the dental market for something different.”
Toothbar’s goal: to offer high quality dental care and expertise in a way that redefines the way people think about going to the dentist.
Toothbar opened in April 2018 in downtown Austin in the Seaholm District, which was built to make use of the newly redeveloped areas surrounding a historical power plant that closed in 1996. The district is full of young entrepreneurs and startups, said Dr. Barclay.
Going into building the dental practice, she added, they understood their target patients: downtown Austin professionals, adding they’re tech-savvy and time efficient.
During their appointments, patients can take advantage of a “brush bar,” which includes the doctors’ favorite dental products and a large vanity mirror so patients can refresh themselves before or after their dental visit.
The Toothbar Lounge can be reserved for teeth-whitening parties, such as for pre-wedding preparations, or if patients want a quick polish and floss in between their six-month cleanings.
Dr. Jacobsen added that choosing the location was based on their deep knowledge of the city.
“We knew the volume of new housing and office space coming online; we understood where Austin was going,” she said. “We knew who our patients were going to be. Toothbar is not for everyone and we understand that. Our neighbors and other businesses in the area have been incredibly supportive. There’s a real camaraderie within our community.”
Building Toothbar, however, required patience — the duo had planned on opening the dental practice in 2017 — and a great deal of trusting other people.
“Construction in the city of Austin is booming, so getting a permit for anything takes a long time,” Dr. Barclay said. “We also trusted the experts because this was our first time building a practice from the ground up.”
For their practice’s concept, they also had to go beyond the world of dentistry, utilizing best practices from other industries such as online shopping to hotel customer service. This included working with a branding company to help build anticipation that something new and different was opening.
“We always asked ourselves, ‘How can we make it so that patients have an elevated dental experience?’” Dr. Barclay said. This involves allowing patients to do their paperwork before coming in the office, communicating appointments with patients via texts and welcoming patients whether they have an appointment that day or not.
“We already know our patients by name before they enter our building,” Dr. Barclay added.
Unlike many other dental practice owners, the two didn’t hire an interior designer and instead pulled concepts from the locales both enjoyed in their day-to-day lives.
“Whether it was the reception in a brand new high rise or the lobby bar at an upscale hotel, we wanted to stay away from a preset dental catalogue as much as possible,” Dr. Barclay said.
Since the opening, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, Dr. Jacobsen said. They booked patients ahead of time, which meant that on day one, they had a full schedule. Today, there’s a waitlist for new patients.
“Clearly there is a demand for the type of experience that we at Toothbar are providing,” Dr. Jacobsen said. “We’re looking forward to expanding our operations to serve even more Austinites.”