A Grand Slam

Jan. 1, 2001
Situated just to the southeast of St. Louis sits the suburb of Columbia, Ill.
"The members of your staff either make or break you," Trost said. "This is a team effort and everyone has to work well together."
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Situated just to the southeast of St. Louis sits the suburb of Columbia, Ill. The city is just far enough away from the Midwestern metropolis that residents don't have to worry about the traffic and crime, but close enough to the "Gateway to the West" that travelers can see the Gateway Arch as soon as they get on the interstate. Another symptom of being that close to a big city is the fascination with the professional sports teams in the area.

St. Louis has had a lot to celebrate in recent years. After all, the NHL's Blues posted the best record in the league during the 1999-2000 season, and the NFL's Rams won what could have been the most exciting Super Bowl in history. But nothing in St. Louis takes the place of the beloved Cardinals, one of Major League Baseball's most respected and successful franchises. Yes, the Redbirds won the National League's Central Division this past season, but little in baseball has captivated the American public as much as the home-run race that took place between the Cardinals' Mark McGwire and the Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa during the 1998 season. McGwire eventually won the race, belting 70 home runs to edge Sosa's 66 and eclipse the previous league record of 61 set by Roger Maris.

Yes, the people of St. Louis were excited with McGwire's feats, as were the people of Columbia, Ill. But perhaps none felt more excited or felt more a part of the record than Dr. Lori Trost and her staff.

What does a dentist have to do with the most celebrated slugger in baseball history? Plenty! After all, McGwire's father is a dentist, and even the most powerful home-run hitter in the world needs dental care.

Shortly after McGwire was traded to the Cardinals by the Oakland Athletics, Trost and her office staff came up with a simple idea: Get him as a patient! -IMG SRC="icons/ogj/demcvr03.eps">

"At the end of March (1998, McGwire's first season with the Cardinals), we got tickets to a day game," Trost recalled. "We wanted to attract his attention, so 14 of us got tickets together on the first-base side (where McGwire plays) and held up a banner that read, 'We want to be the girls to clean your pearls.' After the second inning, he was coming off of the field and he gave us the thumbs-up. We couldn't believe it. After the third inning, he came off the field and saluted us.

"We knew we had to get into the dugout so, during the top of the sixth inning, we put the name and phone number of the practice on the banner and passed it down to the dugout. This was during a Wednesday day game. On Thursday at noon, the phone rings. The guy on the other end tells us he's Mark McGwire. We asked him what we had written on the sign and in what color we signed our names and phone number. He told us, and we were able to confirm it was him."

From there, Trost and her staff not only took care of the slugger's teeth, but also struck up a friendship with him. It began as an e-mail relationship, but quickly evolved from there.

"We didn't have a lot of contact with him during the season, but he would get us tickets to the game. When he needed some dental work, we would work with his schedule and would be very secretive about when he was coming to our office. We treated him like a normal human being. I think we were a balance for him in the crazy world that the home-run chase had created.

"On the nights that he hit numbers 62 and 70, he e-mailed us and basically thanked us for the support. In one of the e-mails, he said that he couldn't have done it without us, and that made me feel really special."

Like most dentists, Trost's career in dentistry began as an associate, with her days in dentistry starting in St. Louis. Acting on a suggestion from a patient, Trost drove to Columbia one day to look at the city as a possible home for her future practice. It was love at first sight.

"When I drove into this city, I saw the opportunities for growth and a good practice," Trost said. "This was a bedroom community with a low crime rate and an excellent school system. I knew that I wanted to raise my family here."

She began her career in a 900-square-foot office with one chair. As the "new kid in town," she knew she had to make her name and her face known in the community to draw a patient base. - IMG SRC="icons/ogj/0601demoff4.e">

"I put a sign up and did a little bit of advertising, but, more importantly, I got involved with a community reading program and some other activities that put my face out there," Trost said. "I feel like that if people can see you and meet you, you have the opportunity to win them over. I was the first female doctor in this community, and I knew I needed to be an active member of the community in order to succeed.

"This wasn't suburbia when I first moved here. Now it is," Trost said of Columbia. "There are a lot of professional people who live here. It's drawing attention from across the two states (Missouri and Illinois) because of the school system receiving such high marks. Those kids who come into this school system have moms and dads who need dental work. When this new wave of people moved into the city, I shifted my career from general dentistry to cosmetics and esthetics."

This shift and new patient base also caused Trost to bring "five-star service" and the latest in dental technology to Columbia. -IMG SRC="icons/ogj/0601demoff1.e">

"When you decide to focus on esthetics and cosmetic dentistry, you have to have top-of-the-line service for your patients," Trost said. "That includes always greeting the patient by his or her first name and helping patients fill out any necessary paperwork. We have a 'refreshment oasis' in the reception area where a patient can have a snack or cold drink. I once heard that a restaurant is measured by its restroom. We feel the same way about how patients look at our dental office, so we make sure the restrooms are always immaculate. Every nook and cranny in an office should have details that are pleasing to the patient. We have movies, videos, headphones, and DVDs for our patients who are going through longer procedures. If I was going through treatment, I would want my fears and anxieties lowered as much as possible, and that's what we try to do here.

"When patients refer other people to us, we send them a chocolate thank you. Who needs just a note?"

In terms of technology, Trost said, "I think technology is what separates one dentist from another. I think dentists have to see where they want their practices to go. Vision is so important. In terms of technology, every dentist has to decide what he or she is comfortable with. When you decide what makes you comfortable, grab what you think is buyable and go. Having technology in your office makes the experience neat for patients and your staff. Personally, I think dentists are gadget gurus."

When it comes to technology, Trost believes that there are certain items that her practice can't function without. - IMG SRC="icons/ogj/0601demoff2.e">

"I think the Diagnodent is a must," she said. "It is the best tool in dentistry today. It is used on every patient, and probably used practically as much as we use an explorer. We use a PowerPoint presentation to introduce it to the patient, which explains how and why it is used and what the results will mean. Patient acceptance is fantastic because they welcome early diagnosis and treatment. The Diagnodent has changed my practice's thinking to more 'conservative dentistry' because of the early detection. When you tell patients that you can detect decay 50 times earlier with the Diagnodent compared to a radiograph, they really are wowed by that. Plus, it really has opened my eyes to teeth that might look OK but actually have caries. My entire team would reinforce this. On a daily basis, we encounter teeth we would normally ignore, but once these teeth are 'opened up' by the Diagnodent, we find that they are carious. It's an amazing diagnostic tool that leads to more conservative dentistry with earlier detection.

"Also, by using the Diagnodent, we are doing more abrasion," Trost continued. "I haven't tracked exact bottom-line value yet, but I know that air abrasion is a necessary treatment adjunct to the Diagnodent. I have used air abrasion for several years and I believe in its ability, but early diagnosis certainly plays to the advantage of the dentist."

Other tools used by the practice that draw the praise of Trost include: CAESY, Tiger Express, Dicom Imaging, and Dentrix. - IMG SRC="icons/ogj/demcvr02.eps">

"The CAESY system is a great tool for education as well as interest provocation," Trost said. "The Smile Channel plays continuously in our reception area, and it always brings comments and questions. We can educate people about tongue-piercing and tobacco usage in a nonconfrontational way. We use the CAESY system in the operatories for everything from treatment explanation to postop instructions and explanations to outcome and treatment-completion expectations. Patients love to see pictures, and the before-and-after pictures are fantastic. We reinforce all of this with the intraoral camera. Put those two things together, and you have a wonderful marriage for the patient, doctor, and staff.

"Tiger Express is used primarily for specialty referrals, communication with the laboratory, intraoffice team questions, insurance filing and questions, and record transfer. In an effort to move toward a paperless office, we decided to implement this system because it scans everything. Patients benefit even though they aren't directly involved in the process.

"Dicom Imaging is our newest 'beast.' It's currently used most for treatment-plan presentations via PowerPoint. The before-and-after photos are great! Eventually, every member of my staff wants to become quick enough with it that we all can work with it chairside. There is a learning curve with it, as there is with any system.

"Dentrix has improved our office. It offers good access to a patient's files. I think its best benefit is the scheduling function and the short learning curve."

Her wish list in terms of technology for the upcoming year includes the incorporation of digital radiography, more continuing education for her and her staff, and the ability to master her current "high-tech goodies," as she calls them.

Having the best and most functional pieces of technology in her office make sense for Trost and her practice's bottom line.

"We are living in an era when patients are demanding more esthetic dentistry," Trost said. "The baby boomers and the Generation Xers want to look good. A lot of them equate esthetics with function, and that's what we try to do in this office. We've only placed five amalgams during the last year. We want to promote ourselves as a metal-free practice. This is a great time to be in dentistry because of all the wonderful advances in the field and the opportunities with the baby boomers and Generation Xers. You really can see the joy in patients' faces when you tell them that an implant isn't going to decay and that it will make them look and feel better."

Of course, all of this technology would be worthless without a quality staff, according to Trost.

"The members of your staff will make or break you," Trost said. "I try to empower every member of my staff with cross-training. This is a team effort, and everyone has to work well together. I make sure every staff member knows that no one in this office is above anything, whether it's cleaning or any other seemingly menial task.

"I think staff meetings are very important. We have a suggestion area on our computers where staff members and patients can put in a suggestion on how to improve the practice. We address those ideas in our staff meetings. We also try to share ideas and what each staff member has learned during the previous week. The staff members are the building blocks - not only for each other, but also for the success of the practice.

"We have a 'Bravo Board' where compliments from patients about staff members are placed. Knowing that you have helped a patient above and beyond the call of duty is not only great for the staff member, but also for me and the other members of the staff. We do a lot of continuing education as a staff, and we make one big trip per year as a staff for more continuing education. Team-building is important, and we do a lot of that on these trips. You want your team members to feel like they are truly part of the team. You can't just talk about it; you have to walk the talk."

Of course, the successful team has to be housed in an office that is not only laced with technology, but also pleasing to the eye. Trost has pulled off the blending of these two necessary ingredients beautifully.

"In my previous office, I was working all the time and the one chair I had always was full. When my current office space became available, I jumped at the chance. I went from one chair to six, and I've never looked back," Trost said. "When I first saw this space, it was one big room. My sister is an interior designer. She took a lot of photos and, from those photos, we got the ideas of what the new practice would look like."

That new look included operatories with windows that face outside and a completely blank wall in the front of the office.

"I wanted people to sign that wall when they left after having treatment," Trost explained. "I wanted those patients and the staff to see that all of these people considered this office as their new dental home. For about six months, this wall kept getting more and more covered with signatures, which made all of us excited."

The memories of the white wall may still linger, but the wall has been replaced with one much richer in color. The key color in Trost's office is now purple, and everything around the office complements the royal color.

"We wanted to find something that was going to be soothing for the patient and functional for the staff. We found that purple was a good color for that, as are some of the grays that we have scattered throughout the office," Trost said.

According to Trost, one important position that is often overlooked when moving into a new site is a project coordinator.

"I'd recommend having a project coordinator to anyone who is thinking about a new office," she said. "There's a fine line where construction and dentistry join. My father served as our project coordinator, because he had the necessary experience with construction and dentistry. He knew what to prepare for, which saved us a lot of time during the construction process.

"One of the biggest helps was his foresight of having wire placed for future uses. He also had the initial estimate of time and costs from the construction company, and made sure that when things came in, we were on track in terms of time and money. This took a load of stress off of me. I didn't have to worry about it, because I knew it was being taken care of. When someone is able to do that for you, it's well worth the cost."

Trost also eliminates stress by playing the piano, a hobby she has had since she was 3 years old. In the fifth grade, she began a serious study of the art with a teacher who had graduated from Julliard. Playing the piano for various organizations and groups was one of the ways Trost paid for dental school, and she has now reaped the rewards of her efforts by having a grand piano in her house, a lifelong dream for her.

"Anytime we have a party at the house, I have to play it. I love to entertain," Trost said. "Playing the piano takes discipline and dexterity, which is very similar to what is needed in dentistry."

Another piece of advice that Trost has for potential builders is an age-old adage: Remember that you get what you pay for. - IMG SRC="icons/ogj/0601demoff3.e">

"The wallpaper is made of a commercial grade, as is the linoleum on the floor. Yes, it cost a little more when we bought it than some of the other grades that were available, but it paid off in the long run. You have to look at the wear- and tear-resistance of what you are putting in your office. You have to look at your work spaces and really think about what will work and what won't. I don't think you can scrimp on an office and have a successful one. This office looks better now than it did when we first moved in, and it wouldn't if we had used some of the cheaper material initially.

"I spent as much this year on the office as I did during the year when we first moved in," she continued. "I think you always have to raise the bar. Some dentists will be left behind because they are fearful of either technology or spending money on their offices. I want to be in the forefront. Patients notice when you get something new in the office, whether it is a new piece of technology or a new piece of furniture or decoration. I want to be innovative, and I want patients to see the new and exciting things that are happening in this practice.

"This is a passion for me. I'm living, loving, and learning dentistry every day. Every Friday, I can look back at the week and see the wonderful things that have happened in my office. That's a great feeling!"

To contact Dr. Trost and her staff:
Phone: (618) 281-6161
E-mail: [email protected]
Web site: www.trostdmd.com