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Small-town atmosphere fits Ohio dentist just fine

May 1, 2003
Mellencamp may not have been singing specifically about Dr. Michael Spreng, but the dentist certainly fits the part. The dentist was born in a small town (Ashland, Ohio) and he lives in a small town (Ashland).

Story by Kevin Henry, Editor
Photos by Bob Lammers

"No I cannot forget where it is that I come from. I cannot forget the people who love me. Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town. And people let me be just what I want to be."
From "Small Town" by John Cougar Mellencamp

Mellencamp may not have been singing specifically about Dr. Michael Spreng, but the dentist certainly fits the part. The dentist was born in a small town (Ashland, Ohio) and he lives in a small town (Ashland). He practices dentistry in the same small town and, as he would agree with Mellencamp when he sings, "Umy bed is in a small town. Oh, and that's good enough for me."

"A lot of dentists think you have to go to a big city to practice dentistry," Dr. Spreng said. "There's maybe 22,000 people in Ashland, and 45,000 people in the county altogether. Some dentists would think that was too small, but I'm booked up two months in advance and I don't accept PPOs. There are more people here than there are dentists to serve them. I'm often asked to advertise, and I always ask people 'Why?' We don't need to advertise. Our people come by word-of-mouth, and we want all of our patients to be referred to us by other patients."

Dr. Spreng found the perfect location for his new building on two acres of a former turkey farm.
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Dr. Spreng graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1980 and began practicing alongside his father, who was a dentist in the community for 48 years. He moved back to Ashland 23 years ago, despite some people wondering why he would leave the warmer weather and supposed green pastures of the Mid-Atlantic for a small town in Ohio. The answer was simple — it was home.

"It was a tremendous honor to be able to practice with my dad until he passed away," Dr. Spreng said. "He took me under his wing and helped me learn so much."

When it was time to look for a new office, Dr. Spreng never thought about looking outside of Ashland's city limits. He and two other dentists decided to join forces and build an office in Ashland. Three dentists working together on one office design may seem like a problem in the making, but, according to Dr. Spreng, it was just the opposite.

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"Two of us work with Patterson and one of us works with Schein, so we each went to our reps and asked them to give us an idea of what we should have," Dr. Spreng recalled. "They each gave us a footprint model for our office. We took those three sets of ideas and molded them into one without any problems."

Next came the task of finding a piece of land for the building. Again, the small-town connections paid off for Dr. Spreng. One of his patients owned an old turkey farm. Pieces of the farm had already been sold and converted into a car wash and lube shop, but there were still two acres that were untouched. The three dentists gobbled up the property, and ground was broken for the new facility in August of 2001. By the time a mild Ohio fall turned into a cold winter, the building was bricked and the roof was in place.

With the exterior completed, the dentists now turned their attention to the interior portion of the office. Dr. Hendrickson chose to work with renowned dental office designer Dr. Michael Unthank, choosing to make his office more modern and feature much bolder colors. Dr. Spreng and Dr. Garrison (who share space, but are not partners) decided to make their office more traditional.

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"We really didn't want our office to ever look dated, so we chose to go with a color scheme that we hope never goes out of style," Dr. Spreng said. "The colors in our office are based around two paintings of places that I would like to be sitting and looking at the view. One of them resembles a Cape Cod setting, and the other looks like Key West."

In the same manner as he found the land, Dr. Spreng relied on friends and family to help him with the office. His wife made the boards for the interior design. A friend who owns his own painting/wallpapering/faux painting business wallpapered and painted the office. An old high school classmate was the brother of the building's general contractor.

Midmark chairs and cabinetry are throughout Dr. Spreng's office
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Measuring just less than 12,000 square feet, the building is now shared by three dentists and one podiatrist. Drs. Spreng and Garrison share an office that measures 4,881 square feet. That may not be a big number in the eyes of some, but Dr. Spreng says it is plenty for him.

Looking at other dental offices helped Dr. Spreng create the plan for his own office
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"This new building bumped me up from having 2.5 operatories to having five operatories," Dr. Spreng said. "Two of those rooms are used by me, two are hygiene rooms, and the fifth is used four days a week by an associate we brought in. Looking back, maybe I would have had a sixth operatory, which would have helped with storage, but working out of two rooms is plenty for me. I have never wanted to be a major producer. I guess you could say I'm old-fashioned like my dad. Everyone in this town knows me and everyone who comes in here expects me to fix whatever oral problem they have and get it done."

The office design has an open feel to it with openings at each end of the operatories to allow easy access between operatories. It also allows a feeling of relief from being "boxed in," according to Dr. Spreng.

"As dentists, we use small equipment to look in small spaces (mouths). When I am in the middle of a procedure, I don't want to look up and still feel like I am in a small place," he said. "This office was designed so that we would never feel like we were in a box. The operatories are open and each one has a window that looks out onto a field. That helps the patients to not feel cramped, and it also helps me and the employees to not feel boxed in as well."

Dr. Spreng now had the office building he wanted, but he now faced the task of equipping the office. To find out what he really needed, he did three things — talk to his dealer rep, explore other new dental offices in his area, and travel to Chicago for the Midwinter Meeting.

"I have Wednesdays off, so I spent six to eight Wednesdays driving around Ohio looking at other offices and what I thought they had done right," Dr. Spreng recalled. "I took pictures of things in the other offices that I liked and then showed those pictures to the building designer and said, 'I like this. How can we do that in our office?'

There is an open feel to each operatory, and that is by design. As Dr. Spreng said, "This office was designed so that we would never feel like we were in a box."
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"When we went to Chicago, we were really like kids in a candy store," he continued. "We looked at everything and saw a lot of things that we really thought were neat and would be great to have for our office. In the end, however, I had to be realistic about some of things that I saw that I really liked. I had to ask myself how much debt I wanted to have, and how long I really wanted to work to pay off that debt."

One of the items eventually selected by Dr. Spreng was Midmark chairs and cabinetry to go throughout his office.

"Matt Bitner (a Midmark rep) and Joe Benbow (a Patterson rep who previously worked for the company out of Cleveland) arranged to fly us from Cleveland to Versailles (Ohio, the home for Midmark). When we got there, we toured the plant and met the people who made and designed the cabinetry and chairs. We could see that they were great people who made great products, and we were hooked. The cabinetry is the main reason we chose Midmark, but I really like the durability of the chairs. They have an industrial standard to them, but they are very soft and very attractive to have in the office."

Also high on Dr. Spreng's list are:

  • StarDental handpieces from DentalEZ Group;
  • The Vistaclear water-purification system, which Dr. Spreng said, "works beautifully to bring pure water to the handpieces and syringes and removes nearly all biofilms and bacteria," and;
  • The AirDent II from Air Techniques.

"I think I probably use the AirDent as much as anything in my office," he explained. "It is built onto the arm of my delivery unit, and I use it for so many things. I use composites in probably 75 percent of my work, and I know that when I use the AirDent, that composite isn't going to come out."

Composite restorations with the Airdent allow the procedures to be conservative, and that helps to define the nature of Dr. Spreng and his practice. Dr. Spreng credits his conservative approach to dentistry to his father's teaching.

"Honestly, the conservative procedures are my favorites. There are still lots of need for amalgam in patients today. I know there are some people who don't feel that way, but I really try to look at things realistically. I don't want to crown every upper tooth or take off a lot of tooth just to put a veneer on in its place. Not every patient is going to be perfect. As a dentist, you have to do the best that you can do for people when you know their cooperation after the procedure isn't going to be the best."

While Dr. Spreng will do the majority of conservative cases, he will refer endodontic cases to his associate. He also handles the periodontic cases in his office by bringing a periodontist into his office on Wednesdays — the day Dr. Spreng is off each week. This allows Dr. Spreng to have his patients still visit the friendly confines of his office while the periodontist (who brings his own lasers) can reach a new patient base.

Now that he is happy with his new office, what advice would Dr. Spreng have for those who are looking to build?

"Go look at other offices. Make sure your ceilings are very high and you have enough room in your office that you won't feel boxed in."

To contact Dr. Michael Spreng: Phone: (419) 289-1813 e-mail: [email protected]