Action and support are hallmarks of a day at Pediatric Dental Health Associates Ltd. in downtown Chicago. As with any other dental staff, ours arrives, sets up, huddles together, and organizes the day. A person at the front desk answers ringing phones, checks messages, and makes sure we doctors are on schedule.
We review paperwork, charts, emails, and letters. Then, we head to the operatory to greet the first patient and his or her parent. It’s the beginning of a fast, busy day filled with many more patients and parents.
We are Drs. Mary J. Hayes, the practice founder at left, and Joanne R. Oppenheim, partners in this lively Chicago pediatric dentistry practice. In mid-January we celebrated our one-year anniversary of moving into the new space we built. After 12 months, we unpacked the boxes, found the misplaced, and finished the decorating. We will devote the next year to refining the practice. That means examining old habits that don’t work in the new space and reviewing patterns that have evolved since the move. On a mission to deliver top-level services, the practice has a new goal - to sculpt our new environment to support teaching children and their parents the elements of comprehensive oral care.
Here’s how it happened
Years ago, I remember learning that change is necessary for growth,” says Dr. Hayes. “No change actually means stagnation, or going backward. Some days, it feels hard to embrace the forward energy of this ongoing notion of growth. In the end, the reward of accomplishing your practice goals makes it worthwhile. We strive to help develop each child into a responsible, accountable adult who values the relationship between overall health and oral health. In addition, the strategy of the practice is to have complimentary services available for the patients, as well as continuous training to support the professional growth of the doctors. The new office accommodates an orthodontic practice, a speech and language pathologist, and - when sedations are recommended - an in-office anesthesiologist. Sharing space and combining efficiencies help minimize overhead, combining appointments to support a one-stop base for comprehensive oral care that supports staff, patients, and parents alike.”
Before college, Dr. Hayes had no idea she would choose to be a dentist. While studying medical library science, dentistry appeared as a career possibility.
I was dating a dental student and realized that if he could do this, so could I,” Dr. Hayes says.
Dentistry fit her personality and talents, so Dr. Hayes moved forward to dental school.
I had positive experiences in dental school with my training and instructors in pediatric dentistry,” she says. “With my interest in human behavior, the specialty of pediatric dentistry was a natural choice.”
Throughout dental school and a subsequent pediatric dentistry program, Dr. Hayes was impressed by classmates certain of their futures.
Where to live? Where to practice? How to practice? Will someone actually pay me to do this?” she remembers asking herself.
Setting priorities was most difficult then, and it remains challenging.
When my heart is in sync with my head and my gut, I move on. Then I can trust my balance will be maintained,” Dr. Hayes says.
Her biggest decision was staying in Chicago rather than moving back to New York. A Chicago boyfriend tipped the decision to Illinois - finding answers to her heart’s questions had top priority. After a few years, Dr. Hayes had a fledgling pediatric dental practice on the Magnificent Mile in the center of Chicago. Attracted to the diversity of the city and vitality of downtown, she wanted to practice with others, not by herself. Because there were no pediatric associate openings in the city, she set a goal to grow her own group practice.
I had to decide where I wanted to live first,” Dr. Hayes says. “The rest just followed.”
Like many new practitioners, she worked in several practices to make a living and even shared space in another office for her own practice. She did something to market her practice at least once a week. Dr. Hayes taught at the dental school, visited a pediatrician, participated in organized dentistry, or spoke at a nursery school. Five years later with enough patients to support a bank loan and lots of planning, the practice acquired its own space.
By this time, the key values of Pediatric Dental Health Associates were in place. Dr. Hayes and the staff valued a strong sense of loyalty, ethics, and devotion to community. Colorful artwork on the walls provided comfort and interest to children and parents. Despite contemporary practice to the contrary, parents were and are welcomed in the operatory.
I would talk too much, explaining to the child and then to the parent. It saves time to have the parents there. I wanted parents to see what we did so there would be no question about their child’s behavior and what we were doing in the back,” Dr. Hayes says. “At the University of Illinois, I learned to prefer a behavior approach over pharmacology. If necessary, a message from the dentist to the parent to leave the child’s side promotes cooperation from the child. We had other dental specialists to provide additional care, too, if necessary.”
Ten years into the practice, Dr. Hayes needed to add a pediatric dentist associate. Several possible associates came and went. Like personal partnerships, it had to be right. For some, a different city beckoned; for others, the suburbs called. And then, Dr. Oppenheim came.
While Dr. Hayes was growing the practice, Dr. Oppenheim was finishing her education and specialty. She was falling in love, getting married, and starting a family. After four years at the University of Illinois, Dr. Oppenheim completed a one-year, general-practice residency at Illinois Masonic Medical Center. There she met her husband, Dr. Ken Kromash, while he was in dental-anesthesia training. As a general practitioner, Dr. Oppenheim worked in several pediatric dental offices. She wanted to work with children full time, so she applied to a pediatric residency program. During her second year of residency at the University of Illinois, Benjamin was born. Then, it was time for the family to decide where to live and practice dentistry. The same questions had to be answered: “Where to live? Where to practice? How to practice?”
Dr. Oppenheim had always lived in the Chicago area.
The city has so much culture and diversity that I knew I wanted to stay,” she says. “I met Dr. Mary Hayes during my residency, and I knew from the start I would enjoy working with her. A mutual friend and mentor, Dr. Olga Horwitz, saw us as women with common values and as dentists with similar practice goals, values, and styles.”
Dr. Oppenheim became an associate. In a few years, her daughter Jacqueline was born - on Dr. Hayes’ birthday.
By July 2002, Drs. Hayes and Oppenheim had become partners in Pediatric Dental Health Associates Ltd.
Our views on treating patients are very similar, and we can bounce ideas between each other on treatment plans as well as patient management,” Dr. Oppenheim says. “It’s fun to realize as you say something to a patient that it’s something you’ve heard from your partner a few hours earlier.”
Dr. Oppenheim has thrived alongside Dr. Hayes. While working in other pediatric offices, she saw many dentists separate children and their parents during treatment.
I love to have the parents involved with their children’s dental care,” she says. “When they are in the room they can see what is happening, and most are amazed at how wonderful their children behave!”
She and Dr. Hayes share priorities and expect employees to be warm and caring, give the highest quality of care, and treat patients with the kindest touch and respect.
Each divides management needs according to her strengths. As Dr. Hayes plans to retire in five to 10 years, they set a goal to incorporate a new member to the group - one who shares their mission to improve the health of children within the community.
We love bringing in the apprehensive child, helping that child become comfortable with our bear, ‘Brian,’ and happy by the end of the appointment,” Dr. Hayes says.
We listen for laughter in our office - sometimes even a little singing - knowing that a happy staff and sense of humor are required in this practice. Through the years, we have watched children turn into adults with self-confidence and smiles that can light up a room.”
Both women know and understand that their success enhances their personal lives as it does the children they serve.
Keys for a Successful Partnership:
Share similar goals Embrace change
Communicate information, feelings, values
Map a five-year plan Trust your partner
Have a good accountant and lawyer