Th 152528

Dreams come true in Northern California

June 1, 2004
At the age of 30, Dr. Don Wilson has taken the leap of faith that many practitioners twice his age have never done — follow their dreams.

Story by Kevin Henry, Editor

At the age of 30, Dr. Don Wilson has taken the leap of faith that many practitioners twice his age have never done — follow their dreams.

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Dr. Wilson has spent the last two years working in a very large orthodontic practice in northern California, seeing up to 100 patients in a single day. While it may have sounded like a good start, it wasn't what Dr. Wilson wanted.

"I became an orthodontist to make friendships with my patients, not just smiles," Dr. Wilson said. "I knew if I built my own practice, I could create one that was efficient, yet personable."

Within a year from that decision, Dr. Wilson is celebrating the opening of his new office in Novato, Calif., just 18 miles north of San Francisco. It's been a whirlwind year for Dr. Wilson. Six months after designing the plans for the office, it was open. Nine weeks after the first nail was driven, Dr. Wilson was seeing patients.

"There's no way this would have happened without such an incredible team of people working on the project," Dr. Wilson said. "Westridge Builders has built more than 500 practices, and they were wonderful to work with."

"Novato is really an ideal town for my practice," Dr. Wilson said. "Right now, it's at the tip of San Francisco's growth northward. It's a family town that still has parades and active youth sports programs. We wanted to find a place where people wanted the best for their kids. We think we found it here."

While the city certainly caught Dr. Wilson's eye, the building where he eventually landed his practice was a perfect fit.

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"When I saw the building, I knew I wanted to establish my practice there," Dr. Wilson explained. "The views of Marin's foothills are spectacular, there's plenty of parking, and the accessibility is ideal since we're located right across from the elevators and the bathrooms. It's a perfect location for us."

Being part of a new building also had another huge benefit in Dr. Wilson's mind.

"If you go into an existing practice, you're going to have to upgrade it in order to integrate technology. The problem with upgrading is that infrastructure can be compromised," Dr. Wilson said. "With a new practice and a new building, you can incorporate technology. If something is outdated in five years, you won't have to start over to replace it."

Now that a site had been chosen, it was time to concentrate on the interior design of the office. Dr. Wilson and his wife, graphic designer Charis Santillie, began an exhaustive search to make the office efficient as well as esthetic.

"We were on the Internet for at least 1,000 hours trying to decide what was the best equipment to put in the office and where was the best place to put it," Dr. Wilson explained. "For example, we found through Consumer Reports that a lesser-known 24-inch television's picture quality was as good as a more well-known brand, but at 20 percent of the price. The downside was that the less expensive TV had lower-quality sound, but since we were using them for picture only, we didn't mind."

When it came to patient treatment, Dr. Wilson invested in cutting-edge technology. Computers chairside allow Dr. Wilson and staff to review X-rays, photos, treatment plans, and digital animations of oral hygiene with patients.

Another part of the intensive online research focused on digital panoramic/cephalometric machines.

"When I saw the building, I knew I wanted to establish my practice there," Dr. Wilson said.
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"This is a machine that we decided was well worth the cost," Dr. Wilson said. "It reduces radiation exposure, and that's a huge benefit for my patients. Film-based machines are becoming a thing of the past due to the resolution of the new digital X-ray machines and the ability to manipulate the image to magnify and improve a clinician's diagnostic ability. Most important, however, is the obvious benefit that less radiation exposure has to a growing child."

While the reduced radiation may make parents happy, Dr. Wilson has installed a rewards system in his office that is sure to catch the imagination of any youngster. Tooth TokensSM were inspired by the tokens needed to ride San Francisco's famous cable cars, and Dr. Wilson has found them to be an immediate hit.

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"This is a very unique incentive program for good oral hygiene and compliance," Dr. Wilson said. "In the reception area, patients can view the possible prizes — including iPods, Playstations, Lava Lamps, Gameboys, and gift certificates to restaurants, Starbucks, etc. — in our display case.

"At each visit, our patients can earn multiple Tooth Tokens. They can earn one Tooth Token for clean teeth and healthy gums. Only if they have clean teeth can they win additional Tooth Tokens for such things as arriving on time, having no broken or loose appliances, wearing their rubber bands or headgear as instructed, achieving academic excellence, participating in community service, and winning monthly contests (question of the month, prize wheel, vacation postcards, etc.)."

While the Tooth Tokens have been a hit with the patients, Dr. Wilson is quick to point out that handing out tokens is not just about getting prizes.

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"During an 18-month orthodontic case, you have to have the kids' help in order for their teeth to respond properly to the treatment," Dr. Wilson explained. "If there's a method that can help inspire the child to finish his or her treatment on time and avoid cavities and decalcification, it needs to be done. It makes the kids and the parents happy when an 18-month case takes just 18 months.

"These Tooth Tokens help the kids do what they are supposed to do. They'll work hard to earn these tokens. We've had a family here in treatment for one month who has told me they're going to collect their Tooth Tokens for the iPod (which requires 200 Tooth Tokens). That's great. We've also had other offices in the area asking us about the program, so we know it's working."

Tooth Tokens, however, are just one of the methods used by Dr. Wilson to show his appreciation to his patient base. Every patient is given an Oral-B toothbrush, as well as other goodies ranging from stainless steel coffee mugs to T-shirts.

"We really tried to be unique in our marketing approach, and we're going to continue letting people know about our practice," Dr. Wilson shared. "We have distributed water bottles with Tooth Tokens and our Top 10 list (see below) inside. I'm planning to print full-size photo albums showing some of our success stories and mail them out to all members of the Marin County Dental Society. I want to get the word out that this is a unique practice where the doctor will sit down and diagnose the bite and oral hygiene at each visit. In a growing child, the bite can change fairly quickly and it is the doctor's responsibility to adapt to the changing jaws."

Dr. Wilson promises his patients will have the personal attention they deserve.

"I make sure that I'm the one who bends the wires and positions all of the brackets on teeth. It's important that these procedures are done right and that the patient knows the doctor is taking the time to do them the right way."

"We have appointments open for patients during the evening and on scheduled Saturdays. Parents are working so they need a little flexibility. My staff loves the hours as well. Since we're open on Wednesdays from 2 until 7 p.m., it gives all of us a chance to do some of the errands during the week that we need to do," Dr. Wilson said.

It was important for Dr. Wilson to come to an office everyday where he, his staff, and his patients felt comfortable. He feels he has accomplished that goal.

"We tried to make our office fun," Dr. Wilson said. "The animals painted on the wall have actual braces so kids can feel them before they go on their teeth. We have bear tracks in the ceiling which have been a big hit since it simulates the children's imagination and it makes them look more closely at the office for more of the surprises we have hidden."

With a chocolate and mocha color scheme throughout the office, Dr. Wilson describes his practice as "warm and inviting." Just as importantly, it's a place where his dreams are coming true.

"I enter into a partnership with my patients," Dr. Wilson said. "I make it simple — I straighten the teeth and the patient has to keep them clean. Kids want ownership of something for themselves, and I give them that with the responsibility of taking care of their teeth. You can inspire kids at a young age. I had a great orthodontist who inspired me to become an orthodontist. I want to inspire my patients as well."

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To contact Dr. Don Wilson (pictured with his wife, Charis Santillie), send an e-mail to [email protected]

In his own words, Dr. Wilson describes the interior of his office...

I have four clinical chairs with 19-inch flat screens at each chair to review treatment plans, oral hygiene, photos, X-rays, etc. (the office is completely paperless). In the clinic, patients can enjoy a panoramic view of Marin's foothills or relax to the 24-inch televisions playing DVDs overhead. In the reception area, patients/parents can sit and read a magazine, view the 24-inch TV recessed in the soffit, play video games, color, view the beautiful artwork, or gaze at the hand-painted chandelier over the front desk, and all of this can be done while eating and drinking from our complimentary area.

The practice was designed for maximum efficiency, clinical excellence, and convenience to the patient. The digital X-ray machine and camera work seamlessly with the networked diagnostic software (the office is networked with 13 PCs, but I do all of my tracings on the Mac because Apple still has superior graphic manipulation). All scheduling, charting, treatment review, and oral hygiene instruction with visual animations are performed on the 19-inch flat screen monitor at each patient chair.

Equipment Checklist

Autoclaves/sterilizers A-dec
Cabinets Midway
Cameras Canon
Chairs Dexta
Cleaners, ultrasonic Coltene Whaledent
Compressors, air Air Techniques
Computer hardware PC and.Mac
Computer software Ortho II, Quickceph, Dimax
Digital X-ray Planmeca
Handpieces StarDental
Impression materials Cadco, DENTSPLY Aquasil
Lab equipment Handler, PowerRite, Rocky Mountain Orthodontics
Lights, curing L.E. Demetron I
Lights, operating Dexta
Patient education system Custom screensavers
Stools Dexta
Vacuum units, accessories Air Techniques


  1. Personable care — Dr. Wilson treats every patient at every appointment.
  2. Hospital-level sterilization.
  3. Records taken in-house with digital camera and digital X-ray machine (less radiation exposure).
  4. Computer analysis for thorough diagnosis and treatment planning.
  5. Dr. Wilson uses wires developed by NASA that shorten treatment time and increase patient comfort.
  6. Oral health is a priority — every patient receives a Braun Oral-B® electric toothbrush.
  7. Friendly, comfortable atmosphere — PlayStation® in reception area and DVDs playing over each chair.
  8. Flexible hours, including early morning, evening, and Saturday appointments.
  9. We handle all paperwork to maximize insurance coverage.
  10. Prizes for good oral hygiene and patient cooperation.