Emerging Group Spotlight: Neighborhood Dental

Though dentistry is a business, it’s also an opportunity to change people’s lives for the better, says Neighborhood Dental’s Tia Meyer.

By Pete Mercer

A career in healthcare and dentistry involves improving the lives and outcomes of your patients. Changing your career into that space can be the result of a perspective shift, from working for yourself to working to improve the lives of others – a shift that Tia Meyer experienced while working in retail. 

DEO Magazine recently sat down with Meyer to talk about her role at Neighborhood Dental, how she came to be in the dental industry, and the future of the practice. Meyer started in the industry as a dental assistant, went on to obtain her bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene, and currently serves as the Clinical Director/RDH of Neighborhood Dental. 

Mission and values of Neighborhood Dental

Founded in 2004, Neighborhood Dental is a multi-site dental organization with 12 locations in South Dakota and Nebraska. Dr. Nicholas Shawd and his brother-in-law Mike Scott had a vision to build Neighborhood Dental into a dental group that served the state of South Dakota.

While Neighborhood Dental started expanding its footprint through de novo offices, they are currently focused on acquisitions or prior established dental office spaces. Across the 12 locations and two states, they serve over 42,000 patients and are looking to grow strategically, ensuring that patient care is at the forefront of everything they do. 

“We understand dentistry is a business, but business operations don’t take place unless you have strong clinical practices and patients seeking your services. If you do it the right way, having patient care at the forefront, the business will take care of itself!” Meyer said, “Our goal is two to three acquisitions a year, which is a methodology that allows for positive transitions. This allows us to form relationships with the established team members, complete training, and ensure we have alignment with regard to overall philosophy/standard of care.”

Neighborhood Dental works to improve the lives of its patients through advanced dentistry practices and state-of-the-art technology and systems. “Our mission has always been to save our patients pain, time, and money. The way we do that is by making sure that we follow our standard of care, and operating systems, and set forth protocols. By doing these things, we are able to ensure that our patients are the number one priority.” 

As for the culture aspect of the company, Meyer says that it’s something that will always be prioritized. “We must continue to evolve in this regard, listening to feedback from our team members and then working to improve to become better. The stronger our team members are, the better the patient service and that is what it is all about!”

One of the new culture protocols Neighborhood Dental has implemented is a word that the entire team can stand behind for the year. “It’s one word that gives meaning, mission, passion, and purpose to everything we do throughout the year!” Meyer says. This one word is expressed throughout the offices and remains the focal point at the start of each day. One of the words the team has picked in the last few years is “teamwork”, which was reinforced in all the communications, training, education, and patient care processes. 

“This year, our word is ‘commitment,’” Meyer says. “It’s really neat how this has taken off, because you will hear the team using this word – you go into a location, and assistants, hygienists, leaders, and doctors are all expressing it in some way!” 

Improving patient care processes

Part of Neighborhood’s strategy for saving their patient’s time is same-day dentistry – when patients call to schedule appointments, team members at Neighborhood know to facilitate and move things around the schedule to make sure they can get into an office that day. For Meyer, this is one of the advantages of the operations of a multi-site dental organization. “With multiple locations, our teams can coordinate with other offices to ensure that the patients are being seen.” 

The Neighborhood teams are also equipped with the technology and tools that they need to take better care of their patients. Over recent years, they have implemented digital scanners, allowing doctors to digitally scan the mouths of their patients, preventing manual impressions. The same technology can be used to deliver crowns on the same day, preventing the typical process that includes multiple appointments, hence saving the patients, “time”.

“We are committed to creating value during the patient’s visits so that they know the importance of coming back for recalls and follow-ups,” Meyer says. “We want them to understand that establishing a dental home is necessary – not just when a problem presents, but for long-term purposes. Being proactive about dental health, which has a direct relation to overall health, is an investment, but will only save a person financially in the long run,” Meyer says. 

Selling what patients need

Meyer started her dental career about 16 years ago by applying for a dental assistant role at Neighborhood Dental’s first location in Tea, South Dakota. She’s spent her entire career with the organization, spending the early days training chairside and attending evening classes to get her dental assisting degree at Southeast Technical College in Sioux Falls. 

“I’ve been with Neighborhood Dental every step of the way in my career, and they have supported me through all of it. I worked clinically as a dental assistant for a while, and eventually applied for dental hygiene school at the University of South Dakota where I obtained my Bachelor’s degree.” 

She studied to earn a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of South Dakota, while still working at Neighborhood Dental when her schedule would allow. She said, “They were committed to giving me a job when I got done and I came back to work as a clinical hygienist, before eventually moving on to a leadership role.”

As the organization grew, a need arose to establish a support management team and standardize some of their processes and procedures. Meyer became the hygiene coordinator, where she began to develop standard operating procedures and protocols, before eventually stepping into her current role.

As the clinical director, Meyer works with all the offices, doctors, assistants, and hygienists to focus on developing leadership skills, obtain continuing education, and continue to enhance overall clinical systems. 

Before she joined Neighborhood Dental and started her career in the industry, Meyer sold clothes at a local South Dakota-based retail chain, The Buckle. Through Buckle’s unique and successful business model as well as renowned leadership training, Meyer was able to develop her leadership skills which only influenced her as she moved into the dental industry. 

About that experience, Meyer said, “I was really good at selling what people wanted. It was a learning process and a great leadership experience, but I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives by impacting what they need. Now, I am in the business of selling what patients need and making a difference. It is truly amazing to know that we are in an industry that is changing lives!”