Online booking. A waiting area verdant with plants. And — within the next couple of months — a juice bar stocked with tooth-friendly JuiceRx blends like “Cashew Crown” and “Deep Clean Green.”
You could be forgiven for mistaking the sleek new spot at 1625 North Milwaukee Avenue for the latest spa or eatery in Bucktown. But in fact, it’s the third location of Dentologie, a growing mini-chain designed to make tending to your molars and incisors more pleasant — or at least, less terrible, especially if you’re an urban Millennial.
“Most people hate going to the dentist,” admits dentist and co-founder Suhail Mohiuddin, 34. He and his business partners Hany Kurdi, 33, and Oussama Founas, 34 met as undergrads at the University of Michigan, before each attended dental school. They bemoaned this loathing for years, in person and on their long-running group text thread, wondering: “How do we change that?”
The solution they developed — a technology-enabled, customer-centric practice, with an experience modeled in part off Starbucks — first launched in the South Loop (1259 S. Wabash Ave.) five years ago; next came Streeterville (353 E. Grand Ave.). Bucktown opened in February.
Between the three spots, 13 dentists treat 700 new mouths a month, a total of 25,000 active patients. Of those, about 70 percent fall between ages 25 to 40, Mohiuddin says.
And like most in that demographic, more than two-thirds of them never pick up the phone. Dentologie patients book visits through the website and receive email and text reminders. (Soon — within a year or so — the brand aims to launch an app that integrates communication and adds features like billing and payment; they’re currently hiring an in-house tech expert.)
After visits, doctors distribute their personal email addresses and cell numbers, and pledge to respond to messages within 12 to 24 hours. It’s an expectation Dentologie makes clear when hiring new providers — though it’s not a big ask, Mohiuddin says, since the staff largely mirrors the demographics of their clientele. For more significant procedures, they’ll proactively check in with patients afterward.
That follow-up was especially meaningful to South Loop resident K. Aleisha Fetters, 32, who first became a patient in 2015. Last year, one of the caps that had replaced the two front teeth she’d broken off at age 17 popped off. She contacted the office the next morning, got in the same day, and completed the lengthy process of getting implants last week.
She was as impressed by the personal touches — the healing Moroccan tea they sent her home with post-surgery, the high-fives the staff gave her after her new teeth were firmly in place — as she was with the technology that enabled her to see 3D images of her jaw and skull and choose the precise ombre shade of her incisors. “You feel like they’re legitimately invested,” she says.
She’s seen all three of the founders — the entrepreneurs continue to treat patients themselves, as well as managing the other aspects of the burgeoning business. Founas handles operations and finance, Kurdi takes human resources and legal, and Mohiuddin oversees marketing.
His purview includes forward-thinking strategies like influencer marketing. That’s what brought Ali Stone, 27, of River West — the photographer and jewelry designer behind the lifestyle blog Those White Walls — to the practice. Mohiuddin reached out to offer her a chance to try SmileCycle, an accelerated Invisalign procedure Dentologie launched in 2017.
She was thrilled to straighten her teeth in less time and with fewer appointments (four visits in six months, compared to 15 and a year and a half for conventional Invisalign, thanks to digital scanning and a process of checking in virtually).
Stone liked the practice so much she stayed on as a regular patient, bouncing between the South Loop and Streeterville locations. Besides the pleasing aesthetics of the office, she appreciates watching the news or Fixer Upper on the TV screens installed on every ceiling. “It’s the first time in my life I haven’t dreaded going to the dentist,” she says.
The professionalism and efficiency of the business is what appeals to Andrew Leventhal, 37, a patient at the South Loop location. He’s never had to wait for anything for more than five minutes. And when he’s texted his dentist, Founas, afterward with questions, he’s “hyper-responsive,” Leventhal says.
Fetters said she’s had to wait a few minutes once or twice — but when she does, she’s awarded a Starbucks gift card. Even for timely visits, patients don’t leave empty-handed. They’re given a Brushbox, a customized gift box of goodies that might include lip balm or lipstick in addition to the customary toothpaste, and takes into account each individual’s personality and specific needs, Founas says.
For instance, patients with gum inflammation can calm it with an alcohol-based mouthwash like Listerine, while those prone to cavities do better at warding them off with a heavily fluoridated formula like ACT instead. Hygienists are trained to note these subtleties and deliver customized samples and recommendations.
By the end of 2020, the trio expects to open at least three more offices in Chicago, with a bigger goal of going national. “Don’t be surprised if you eventually see a Dentologie in L.A. or Miami or Atlanta,” Mohiuddin says.