The Story of Building a Legacy

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Dr. Lee doubles his practice size to make room for his daughters.

Sangyoung Lee, DDS, has a lot to be happy about. He’s been practicing in a profession he loves for 31 years. His Elkhart Dental Center (now Elkhart Dental and Implant Center) has done nothing but grow since the day he opened it. He has two daughters who became dentists and joined him to create a family practice. And his wife designed and managed the recently completed ground-up project that doubled the number of patients the doctors can see per day and adds to the services they offer. It’s the realization of a long-held dream. “When my daughters were nine and seven, I believe, we talked about the future and they both wanted to be dentists,” Dr. Lee recalled. “So, I always wished or dreamt that they’d become dentists and work with me someday. And here I am, I’m living the dream.”

Chapter 1: Immigrating to America

Dr. Sangyoung Lee

Dr. Lee immigrated to the United States from South Korea in 1975 with his parents and two older brothers. He grew up in Michigan City, Indiana, and then attended Butler University as an undergrad. He graduated from the Indiana University School of Dentistry in 1991. “Dentistry was not my first career choice; I wanted to be an OB/GYN, but things change,” Lee explained.

“Because I always wanted to work with my hands, and I love to do surgery, my advisor suggested I look into dentistry. So, I did some research, and that was the end of that.” Dr. Lee became an associate with Dr. Steven Hunt in Elkhart. “He took me under his wing, and one year later sold the practice to me, which I took over on October 1, 1992,” he recalled.

 

His wife, Esther, is a physician who specializes in radiology, specifically breast imaging. She practices in a group called RANI (Radiologic Associates in Northwest Indiana) at Northwest Health Porter in Valparaiso, Indiana. So, their daughters, Sunny and JJ, knew from an early age they wanted to work in a healthcare setting.

Chapter 2: Growing the Practice

Dr. Lee’s original practice grew to 13 dental chairs and roughly 80 patients a day. Over the years, he expanded the space twice. Dr. Lee recalled that while each remodeling project was small, every one of those changes was complex and a lot went into completing them while taking care of patients. “The last renovation was about 10 years ago with DJ Construction, the same construction company we used for the new building,” Dr. Lee said. “My office manager was the project manager at that time and it was a daunting task to juggle both day-to-day office management while picking out the right colors and whatnot. It was very stressful.”

 

About four years ago, Dr. Lee knew that – with his oldest daughter in dental school and his youngest on track to do the same – he would need more space soon. “When Sunny and then JJ came on board, it would be too small for the three of us,” he said. “I also knew that I wasn’t going to retire anytime soon. So, I was contemplating whether to build a new office or try to find the right location with a larger office.” Fast-forward to last year and Dr. Lee hired an architect to draw up plans for a new office on the property next to his old office. “Esther volunteered to be the project manager,” he recalled. “So, I gave her 100% authority over the whole thing. I didn’t get too involved, just told her we needed certain things and she took care of all of it. Between the construction company, my wife and Patterson Dental, three people really took charge of planning for the new office.”

Chapter 3: Building the Office

The biggest challenges the Lees faced involved coordinating everything to get the job done and moving into the new practice. Originally, the office was on schedule to be completed in April, but with the delays caused by the pandemic and labor and supply shortages, the opening was delayed for months. “That was the biggest challenge, besides the stress you experience building anything, but you can’t control that, because it’s out of your hands,” Dr. Lee said.

Exterior of Elkhart Dental and Implant Center

The new 19,000-square-foot facility has 23 chairs, four surgical operatories and two inhouse dental labs. Among the three dentists and the hygienists, Dr. Lee expects to see 100 patients a day. At the old location, Dr. Lee had 24 employees, and he plans to expand to about 35 employees.

Chapter 4: Décor and Amenities

The new office’s décor is decidedly modern. “It’s semi-modern inside, and looks very modern on the outside,” Dr. Lee explained. “We wanted to change or upgrade many things from our original office. Not just the equipment, but the space, so we don’t feel too crowded. And we’ve upgraded the services we offer to both patients and employees.” By that he means having a receptionist right inside the front door. “We have a little reception desk, like when you go to a restaurant, with a receptionist who greets patients before they go to the front desk and check in.”

Elkhart Dental and Implant Center’s spacious reception area

The receptionist knows the patients’ names and helps older patients who might need help getting from the parking lot into the office. “And when patients leave, the receptionist escorts them out if they need help, especially when it rains, with an umbrella,” Lee said. “That’s a little extra service that I always dreamt I would have in a bigger office. We’re making it happen.”

 

In addition, the new location has improved access and enlarged bathrooms for people with disabilities. A beverage center provides patients with coffee, tea and water. For employees, Dr. Lee incorporated a nice break room and a gym. “Our employees have 24/7 access to the gym,” he said. “They can come in the middle of the night, early in the morning or on weekends to work out. It’s a full workout facility with treadmills, weights, a StairMaster and rowing machines so they can keep fit. We also have a yoga instructor who comes in at 2:30 every Friday for whoever wants to participate.”

Fitness room for the Elkhart Dental and Implant Center team

In the old office, the break area accommodated only seven or eight people at once, so employees had to eat lunch outside or in a hallway. Dr. Lee wanted his dream office to have a large lounge where staff could all sit down to eat and relax. Employees have their own lockers as well as access to an in-house laundry service. The staff member who operates sterilization also does laundry for an hour a day, so employees don’t have to worry about taking their scrubs and lab coats home to clean.

 

The new building also contains a conference room employees can use as a classroom to review procedures or watch compliance videos. “It’s like a teaching center for staff,” Dr. Lee explained. “We’re trying to make working here a bit easier and a better experience.”

Chapter 5: Adding Equipment

Dr. Lee purchased about $1.5 million worth of equipment to build out the operatories and other treatment areas. Of his 23 dental chairs, 17 are new, and the all-new cabinetry creates dividers between operatories in an open-concept floor plan. In addition, Dr. Lee doubled up on much of his equipment, including a second Dentsply Sirona CEREC Primescan unit and extra X-ray equipment, handpieces and instruments. Other new equipment included more sterilizers. “We now have probably four times as large a sterilization room,” Lee noted.

Team members in the sterilization room

The new plans also doubled the size of the in-house dental laboratory. The practice’s lab technician has been with Dr. Lee for more than 20 years, fabricating partial and full dentures for the practice. “But we’re also into the new technology now,” Dr. Lee added. “We have two labs in the new office because we’re going to get into 3D printing.”

Chapter 6: Creating A Unique Practice

“Personal care is what sets us apart,” Dr. Lee said. “A lot of patients come to our office because their previous dentist refers patients out to do this or that procedure. And they have to go back to their dentist to be referred to another specialist to do oral surgery, for example, or a root canal. But patients like to stay in one place if the dentist can provide full dental services. That’s what we do. My goal is to provide all of the services under one roof.” Some of those services include ridge augmentation, bone grafts and socket preservation for implants. That’s why Dr. Lee added a CBCT and implant guided surgery to the new practice. “We want to focus on more implants, and we want to expand 3D printing for dentures,” he said. “We’re already doing same-day crowns using CEREC, and we’ll do more Invisalign and add Botox and dermal fillers.”

Working in the on-site lab

It’s notable that the Elkhart Dental and Implant Center website indicates that the doctors and staff are bilingual and bicultural and which languages they speak. This communicates what Dr. Lee looks for in job candidates as well as another layer of comfort he and the practice offer patients. “I’m from another country, so it doesn’t matter what country staff members are from as long as they want to work hard and have a good work ethic,” Dr. Lee said. “Probably 40% of our patient base is Hispanic. I have one person from Brazil and another from Venezuela and a lot of Spanishspeaking employees. Another employee is from China and speaks Chinese fluently. And, of course, I speak Korean. Yeah, I guess that’s a lot of languages, but we have a lot of patients who come from different countries and they’re more comfortable speaking their own language. They usually find us by word of mouth.”

New Dentist, New Building

Dr. Lee, as Dr. Sunny calls her father, decided to build a new practice when he realized there wasn’t enough space for her to add much business to the practice. “We could only add one room where I could do operative procedures,” she said. “But even with two doctors, we were only seeing the same number of people he was before. With my sister joining us this year, we would definitely need more space. Having both of us coming on board really pushed him into finally deciding that investing in a new office space is worth it.”

Dr. JJ and Dr. Sunny discuss a treatment plan

 

Dr. Sunny recalled the planning process as fun. “We went to the A-dec headquarters in Oregon to look at the different chairs and new technologies and to see what we wanted in our future office. I helped pick the equipment we needed, and how we wanted it configured.”

 

“Most of the design work was done by my mom and an interior designer,” she continued. “She did ask for our opinions and I put my two cents in for where certain things should be positioned, how many sinks we needed and things like that.”

Working with Dr. Lee

“Working with my dad has been great,” Dr. Sunny said. “I know a lot of people don’t want to work with family, but my dad and I have very similar personalities and work really well together. It’s nice having him as a mentor and someone I can talk to and bounce ideas off of. I think with family, you can be a little bit more patient and understanding. Being a new dentist, it’s comforting knowing that someone has your back who will guide you, watch out for you and look after the patients, too. That way you can be a better dentist, but also give patients the best quality of care.”

Dr. Sunny with patient

Dr. Sunny enjoys working with her sister, too. “It’s a lot of fun,” she said, “to work alongside my best friend. I know that personality-wise, we are like our parents and we work well together. We’re taking ‘family practice’ to the next level!”

Chapter 7: Working with Patterson

Dr. Lee ordered all his new chairs and equipment through Patterson Dental. The Patterson team also was instrumental in the design process and putting the operatories together after getting a sense of how he wanted it done. “They finalized it,” Dr. Lee said. “I told them the way I wanted to work and what the dimensions should be as well as certain criteria I had to have. For instance, we had mobile nitrous that we had to move from one chair to another, but now with the new office, we have nitrous plumbed into all of the chairs. We don’t have to carry it around anymore.”

Dr. Lee has been a Patterson Dental customer for 20 years, and this experience has strengthened and broadened his relationship with the company. “Changing to Patterson initially gave me a friendship with my sales rep,” Dr. Lee explained. “And now I have a better relationship with the equipment guys, equipment manager and the service technicians because I see them more.”

 

Epilogue

The Elkhart Dental and Implant Center story came together chapter by chapter, with the vision provided by Dr. Lee and the support of his team and his partnership with Patterson Dental. “I look forward to working together for the next 20, 30, 40 years,” Dr. Lee concluded.

 

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