Early on, Dr. Dean Salo discovered he had a talent and passion for working with his hands. This has enabled him to improve oral health in distinctive ways as a dentist.
“When I was a kid, it started with model making,” he said. “I used to love buying those kits, putting together different model cars and painting them. I had to have a scalpel and a paintbrush, and that was my passion for many, many years.”
Such skills in analysis and design ran in his family, as both his father and sister were engineers. “I looked at dentistry as a part of medicine that has a lot of engineering,” Dr. Salo said, “and the kind of dentistry I practice has a lot of reconstruction and engineering. My big passion is building things.”
He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from UCLA and at age 24 earned his DDS from the University of the Pacific. A Los Angeles resident since early childhood, he started practice at the Personal Dental Office in Beverly Hills in 1992.
Fourteen years later, he took over the practice and became a hands-on working owner. He envisioned managing a thriving patient-focused practice.
The vision: A multispecialty practice
Today, Personal Dental Office is a state-of-the-art dental care center. Dr. Salo works with business manager Renata Kruk to manage a practice that delivers personalized services and care to patients.
“With Renata helping me,” Dr. Salo recalled, “we became one of the few multispecialty practices around, where patients could come in and see an orthodontist, or an oral surgeon, or a general dentist, or a hygienist, and they wouldn’t have to go from office to office. Our staff specialists were able to communicate with each other very well, because we had one chart where every specialist could record findings to share with the others.
Ms. Kruk, a full-time staff member since 2004, noted that the well-equipped office has computer screens for patients to view dental work in progress, and it showcases the latest digital and scanning technologies.
“We have a 3-D CAT camera that takes a video that we email to our lab,” Dr. Salo explained. “We’re able to mill restorations for both natural teeth and implants, and we make nightguards out of video-imaging – which is three-dimensional impressions – so we don’t have to take a physical impression.”
The focus: Knowing the patients
Dr. Salo’s Personal Dental Office is set up to give “very individualized, personalized care” to patients, Ms. Kruk described. The dentists and staff take time to get to know their patients, not just as clients but also as people with unique concerns.
“We are a large family practice that basically accommodates everything for the patients,” Dr. Salo said. “And we want to know everything about the patients, because the more we know, the more we can fit into their lives, and the more we know what to provide for them.”
June is Pride Month, and from the start, the Personal Dental Office has offered a safe, compassionate, welcoming environment for all patients, including LGBT community members.
“We’re open and accepting, HMO or PPO, race or gender, sexual orientation, open and welcoming,” Dr. Salo said.
A dental school student in the 1990s, Dr. Salo recalled his experiences working with patients at the University of California, San Francisco Hospital during the AIDS crisis.
“As a young dentist, I watched people suffer from HIV periodontitis and immune diseases, so I was trained and comfortable in treating any kind of immune disease that came along,” he said. “At that time, a lot of people with AIDS didn’t have a lot of places to go to get dental care, and they would come to dental schools, because a lot of private practices were too afraid to treat them.”
Afterwards, when he started his practice, he focused on state-of-the-art sterilization and disinfection procedures, and established comfort levels with patients. “The main thing was authenticity,” he pointed out. “I wanted patients to tell me what was wrong with them, tell me about themselves and their lifestyle and about what’s important to them. With Pride, you get to know the patients and let them feel comfortable with us. We tell them about us and let them tell us about them. In this way, we can serve and keep this relationship going.”
The environment: Calm and stress-free
Sensitive to patients who have “dental-phobia”, Dr. Salo makes sure his team takes steps to alleviate anxiety during treatment.
He has an anesthesia license and, through calm demeanor, he and his staff “build confidence through painless procedures”.
If gentle techniques don’t work, the office accommodates patients with more severe anxiety. For 20 years, a certified anesthesiology group has provided customized treatment. “Our staff is trained to deal with patients who are dental ‘chickens’, like myself,” Ms. Kruk added. “We have fun working with them, and 98 percent of our patients’ nerves are soothed here.”
The art: Perfecting the smile
The challenge of creating beautiful smiles has inspired Dr. Salo in his skillful work as a dental architect.
“It’s part of our first attraction,” he said. “When you see a beautiful smile, it’s the pleasure of a conversation. You know this person has nothing to hide and is confident, and you’re ready to open up and discuss things with that person. That was always my incentive, to make patients feel confident.”
Although patients may have different ideas about outcomes, whether to look natural for their age or maybe younger, Dr. Salo takes their information and goes to work “to architect the smile to their desires and to their facial structure.” This involves discussions about tooth length, color, angle, brightness and customization to arrive at what the patient wants.
Although he now focuses his efforts on reconstruction and implant cases, he does collaborate on aesthetics cases with his daughter Madelyne, who joined the practice after earning her dental degree during the pandemic.
“We are different than other offices in that we’re trying to give the patient a trial moment,” said Dr. Salo.
Ms. Kruk added, “We design it and let them try it on and see how they feel, before they commit a whole new look. And we give them an opportunity to wear it and see what the experience is like and how life-changing a new smile is.”
The return to normalcy: Lessons from COVID
The Personal Dental Office has stayed busy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My house became a call center,” Ms. Kruk said. “We were working nonstop, and we were getting patients from other clinics, because doctors were not accommodating patients. We became emergency central.”
Dr. Salo noted one pandemic side-effect boosted patient activity. “Everybody wanted a great Zoom smile. That has been the blessing for dentistry for the last year.”
He looks forward to patients getting back to regular appointment scheduling and care without worrying about office safety.
“I want to see them get their oral health back in place, not only beautiful teeth but healthy gums,” he said. “My number one goal is to reinstate them back into our hygiene department. We will make sure they’re comfortable coming back into the office and know how safe it is.”
The business model: Being authentic
With his accomplishments, Dr. Salo finds the most fulfillment in the depth of relationships, with his family, his community, his staff and patients, some of them with 30-year histories.
“I am very transparent in who I am,” Dr. Salo said. “I’d like everybody to be as authentic as my family. I truly have the longest-serving employees in the industry. Employees who leave will come back. Every one of our employees represents us and represents me. They are happy working with us, and it’s same thing with our patients.
“We want to know how we can help them, if they need a ride, if they can’t afford care, how we can better their lives and how we can fit into their lives, looking at a long-term relationship. It’s not just making you beautiful, it’s to keep you healthy.
Dr. Salo’s Personal Dental Office has a business model matched to his personality. “We are authentic, humble people and want people to be comfortable with who they are. It’s all about your kids and your friends, and doing good work, having happy employees and happy patients.”